Innovating at the roots
The logistics industry cannot advance without innovation, and thus one of the questions driving logisticians forward is how to deal with changes and how to approach innovation. Professor Markus Peschl teaches innovation research and cognitive science at the University of Vienna and advises companies in these fields. ITJ correspondent Josef Müller met him in Vienna.
Mr Peschl, you’re a computer scientist, psychologist and economic philosopher. You address how new things come into the world. What does society have to adapt to?
In recent years so much new knowledge has come into the world; this increase in knowledge is a pre-requisite for innovation, both in organisations as well as in society at large. 10 or 15 years ago society was still reasonably stable. It had direction and a vision. This has changed radically in the meantime.
To put it philosophically, relativism has prevailed. Everything takes place in larger dimensions, there are less rules and everything is less binding. It’s all about earning money and about a capitalist monoculture. Capitalism is more exploitative than ever before.
Let’s take the logistics sector as an example. How Amazon and other logisticians operate is a modern form of slavery, to put it brutally frankly. This leads to an erosion of our ethics.
Digitalisation, automation, robotics are themes of the day. How are these technologies changing the world of work?
Everything that can be automated will indeed also be automated in future. This is obvious and understandable – from an economic point of view. The big question, however, is what are we going to do with the growing workforce that will then become available?
Simple jobs will soon be lost and people with lower qualifications will come into the labour market. Those who have too little training will fall by the wayside. Investment has to focus on this field. To educate people, to make them what they are destined to be, which is an intellectual being that acts autonomously and creatively. Creativity is one thing that won’t be automated in the near future.
What is a radical innovation?
A radical innovation is a form of innovation that changes things from the very roots upwards. Radical – which literally means at the root, after all – innovation is a strong contrast to incremental innovation. In the latter case processes, products or services are gradually optimised. The thing itself remains the same, there is no fundamental change.
Radical innovation, on the other hand, has to commence at the roots. Take a look at the topics internet of things, 3D printing and logistics together. If you analyse this triangle, things could become difficult for logistics, because 3D printing requires (almost) no transport anymore. So the question is – how signi- ficant is logistics in this triangle? What happens if I change the overall business model?
Of course, radical change involves high risks, because it’s impossible to predict how successful a product will be.
How should companies approach radical innovation in order to be able to keep risks under control?
Radical innovation means thinking in the context of the system. For example: I’m a logistics service provider and a small link in the chain. If I change something, I can be wrecked, because others won’t change with me. What environment do I operate in and how far can I go?
I have to innovate in this unknown environment. It’s about exploring and understanding potential. What happens when 3D printing and artificial intelligence develop further? As a logistics specialist I see the potential, but I don’t quite understand it yet.
Thinking about the future means recognising things even though they’re not clearly visible yet. Anyone running a logistics company should develop a good understanding of the future beyond their own industry and then try to see where the road leads us to.
What advice would you give logistics managers on their path to the future?
Serious changes are imminent in the economic and technological fields that companies simply can’t manage alone.
So logistics managers should involve every partner if they want to see change as an opportunity. It takes empathy and the willingness to get involved in the future to proactively shape it.