What’s Innovation Got to Do with It?

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The Flourishing Business Canvas is a Systemic Management Innovation

Here at the Flourishing Enterprise Co-lab, we have a vision: we believe that business must innovate to become a key enabler for the possibility for human and all other life to flourish on this planet for generations to come (John Ehrenfeld, MIT).

The Co-lab is the Canadian not-for-profit with a mission to realize this goal by building a community to bring a number of systemic management innovations to the world.  These are innovations to the way in which the management and leadership of enterprises is practiced.  They are innovations that can enable leaders of established businesses and entrepreneurs to design the future strategies for their enterprises so they can enable sustainable flourishing: delivering social benefits, regenerating environments and creating financial value. (I compare sustainable flourishing with sustainable development in this blog post)

First of these systemic management innovations is the Flourishing Business Canvas.  This is a visual, collaborative design tool, to help leaders and entrepreneurs co-create their more innovative future business models.  These are business models that over time contribute to sustainable flourishing.  (Check-out the website, download the canvas and associated interactive guide: www.FlourishingBusiness.org).

Our mission is to co-create a community to bring the Flourishing Business Canvas to the world so it becomes widely used to design the business model for fit-for-the-21st Century Enterprises – business models that are socially beneficial, environmentally regenerative and financially viable.

The Co-lab’s strategy to realize this mission includes co-creating, with the community, a toolkit of systemic management innovations.  This toolkit includes the Flourishing Business Canvas, methods for its effective use and much else. The toolkit will make it practical and pragmatic for business leaders and entrepreneurs to design innovative business models that contribute to sustainable flourishing of their enterprises, their stakeholders, society and the environment as a whole.

So what’s innovation got to do with the Flourishing Enterprise Co-lab?  In short, innovation is at the centre of what we do!  We are building an innovation community who work to design innovative business models using our systemic management innovations.


The Innovation Deficit

But why do we at the Co-lab see innovation being key, and required, to undertake our mission and realize our overarching purpose of contributing to the possibility of sustainable flourishing?

Today, in the early decades of the 21st Century, the signs are clear that there is a massive and growing insufficiency of innovation. According to the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [1], the likelihood is increasing of global warming triggering mass human economic and social suffering. This is just one example of the “mega-forces of change”, the significant science-based concerns for future human well-being.  Unfortunately today we are not effectively addressing the root causes of the negative effects arising from all these mega-forces of change.  The negative effects are all growing, and increasing the rate at which they do so [2].   Some are now referring to humanity’s situation as a “polycrises” [3].

This suggests humanity has an urgent need for a significant increase in and sustainment of innovation.  We are not being innovative enough to solve the problems created by our past and on-going choices in time to avoid mass human suffering.  In other words, today humanity has a massive and growing “innovation deficit” – the gap between how innovative humanity needs to be to enable the possibility for sustainable flourishing, and humanity’s current level of innovation.


Why is Our Innovation Deficit Growing?

A key factor in why the innovation deficit is growing, despite society’s existing significant efforts to innovate and be innovative, is that we are not thinking with the end in mind.  Leaders and entrepreneurs continue to think about the relative short term, and about incremental change.  

This means we only attempt to solve the problems in front of us rather than asking the larger question of “how good we could be?”  

Humanity is limiting ourselves by the way we frame our understanding of the current situation, and hence we are limiting our ability to imagine possible innovations to respond (contrast this to another systemic management innovation “Appreciative Inquiry” [4]).


We Need Enterprises to be More Innovative, Faster

Society and the economy is not a single thing. It consists of millions of startups and established businesses all trying to remain viable.  Therefore, the innovation deficit that exists at a planetary scale, also exists for each organization.  As the impact of the mega-forces of change grows ever stronger the very definition of enterprise viability – socially, environmentally and financially – is changing by greater and greater degrees.  More and more innovation is required simply to remain viable in these changing conditions.  (See my recent blog post on the topic of enterprise viability to learn more).  

Business is one of the most critical sources of innovation towards human well-being in the 21st Century – socially, environmentally and financially. Indeed, no modern society has improved human well-being without viable enterprises of many types driving innovation of many kinds, e.g. technological, product, service, process, management or business model innovation.  But it is also clear that humanity’s and individual enterprise’s problems are growing, and that our current innovations and innovation processes are insufficient to stop the innovation deficit from growing further, organizationally and globally.

We must tap into our enterprises’ capacity and need for innovation to remain viable in a changing future, reducing the innovation deficit, and so avoid mass human suffering, and enabling sustainable flourishing.  We need the ambition, pace, scope and scale of innovation to be increased in every organization.  Without such aspiration and ambition the possibilities for sustaining flourishing are quickly receding into the distance.


Setting Our Purposes: A Duty for Leaders and Entrepreneurs

At the Co-lab, we believe a first step that the leaders of all our enterprises need to undertake is to set purposes for their organizations that respond to the question “how good could we be?”   As we explore in these two blog posts Why Flourishing and Six Reasons for Enterprises to Aim to Flourish, we believe the best possible purpose an enterprise can adopt is to “sustain the possibility for human and all other life to flourish on this planet for generations to come” (John Ehrenfeld, MIT).  

Purposes based around enabling sustainable flourishing create a powerful North Star to guide organizations into the changing future.  Such a North Star enables enterprises to create deep innovations that are more likely to enable their near, medium and longer term viability socially, environmentally and financially, and contribute to reducing the likelihood of mass-human suffering at a planetary scale (See my recent blog post on the topic of understanding viability in the future to learn more). 

We believe leaders have a vital role in setting such new visionary purposes for their organizations, and using these to drive the innovation required to reduce their enterprise’s and humanity’s innovation deficit.  Only by taking such an ambitious and aspirational stance can humanity generate the scope and scale of innovation required to avoid mass human suffering, and move society, environment and economy towards the possibility for sustainable flourishing.     

There is a critical connection between leadership, purpose, innovation and reducing the likelihood of mass human suffering over the coming decades.  This connection is so important that we believe leaders of established enterprises and entrepreneurs have an ethical duty to reduce their innovation deficits. And, that this must start with setting new purposes for their enterprises. This is vital work for their organization’s own future viability and the well-being of humanity.


How Do We Become More Innovative and Accelerate Our Innovation Processes?

But leaders and entrepreneurs should rightly ask: how do we do this?  None of the current approaches to management equip us to lead our teams on such innovation journeys (with a few notable exceptions [4]).  Leaders and entrepreneurs should rightfully be looking for fundamental innovations in the way innovation is practiced in our organizations and startups.  

Which brings us back to the vision, mission and strategy of the Flourishing Enterprise Co-lab. We exist to help leaders innovate the way they innovate.  My colleagues and I believe that we have an ethical duty to help leaders and entrepreneurs update and accelerate their innovation processes, imagining innovations of an ambition, audaciousness, scope and scale that can reduce their organization’s innovation deficits, and so lead toward sustainable flourishing.  And, we believe that the best way we can do this is by co-creating a community of leaders to bring to the world a number of significant systemic management innovation that provides fundamentally new ways to be innovative and to undertake innovation.  The first of these is the Flourishing Business Canvas.

We believe we have an important part to play in enabling new ways of innovating, helping organizations close their innovation deficits, maintain, and hopefully improve, their viability short, medium and longer term.  In turn, this contributes to a reduced likelihood of mass human suffering and an increase in the possibility for sustainable flourishing.  

As a leader, entrepreneur, or an advisor to leaders and entrepreneurs, are you ready to embrace your duty to enable sustainable flourishing?  Are you ready to work to reduce your innovation deficits to ensure the future viability of your enterprise?

Are you ready to embrace the required new systemic management innovations, such as the Flourishing Business Canvas, to make taking on this duty both practical and pragmatic?





2018, IPCC – https://theguardian.com/environment/2018/oct/08/global-warming-must-not-exceed-15c-warns-landmark-un-report 

2012, KPMG – http://home.kpmg.com/xx/en/home/insights/2012/02/building-business-value.html 

2015, International Council for Science, https://council.science/publications/review-of-targets-for-the-sustainable-development-goals-the-science-perspective-2015 

[2] Homer-Dixon, T. F. (2001). The ingenuity gap: Can we solve the problems of the future? Vintage Canada.

[3] https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2023/01/polycrisis-global-risks-report-cost-of-living/ 

[4] People such as Dr. David Cooperider have labelled our current predominant way of thinking “deficit based”: we frame our problems by questions such as “how can we achieve the minimally acceptable improvement so we can consider our problem ‘solved’?”  This means the maximum innovation, the maximum improvement, can only be what gets the problem solved.  There is no room to explore beyond that minimum because the problem solvers’ imaginations are constrained by the way the problem is framed: as a gap between current poor performance and a minimum improved level of performance deemed acceptable.  A gap to be closed by the ‘solution’.  Further the problem is only solved based on the world-view of the people who defined the problem in the first place; there is no room to explore alternative perspectives, again limiting the potential for innovation.  Together these two aspects of deficit based thinking are at the core of what is limiting our ability to be innovative, and hence limiting our ability to close the innovation deficit. 

Dr. Cooperrider and others have proposed an alternative way of thinking, another systemic management innovation, called “Appreciative Inquiry” (perhaps a more interesting “AI” than tech enabled artificial intelligence?).   Appreciative Inquiry starts by inquiring of all the stakeholders facing a particular situation “what would our situation look like if we tried to make it the best it can be?”.  This means that the maximum potential innovation can be imagined: the innovation that improves the current situation for the most number of stakeholders by the largest amount.  This increases the likelihood that the innovations that can be imagined are significant enough they may dramatically impact the innovation deficit in that situation. In other words it enables a  greater ambition, scope and scale for possible innovations. 

To explore more about the differences between deficit based, or problem based, thinking and appreciative inquiry, open this video and pause to explore the table which compares the two approaches

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