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Innovating with ethics is more innovation

innovacion etica

Our organizations need people with a capacity for innovation. When we confront disruptive business scenarios, we set great value by the ability of our people to think differently, to break with conventions.

Our organizations need people with a capacity for innovation. When we confront disruptive business scenarios, we set great value by the ability of our people to think differently, to break with conventions.

We can only compete if our way of thinking keeps abreast of new developments or even anticipates them. Through experience, we know that to innovate some skills are required. The most well-known ones are:

  • This is the ability to think differently and to seek out new solutions to new problems.
  • Innovation is rarely the outcome of an individual’s genius. Ever more frequently, innovation arises from the heart of multidisciplinary teams embracing complementary approaches and a high standard of debate, oriented towards the same goal.
  • Critical sense. Innovative people cross-examine and call into question past procedures and solutions. They are highly demanding and do not conform to results already recognized. While compatible, this also often requires the right organizational fit. Critical does not mean anarchic or undisciplined. Sometimes, the best kind of loyalty is constructive disagreement.
  • Ability to take responsible risks. Innovation is not only a matter of intelligence, but also of courage. Risks need to be thoroughly evaluated, and then the inevitable margin for contingencies must be assumed when making decisions that involve intense changes.
  • Results-oriented. Innovation is always targeted to achieving goals. It is not a simple quest for originality. In a business environment, it is based on cost / benefit calculations, and the return on investment. This analysis also includes the cost of not investing and the loss of competitiveness from maintaining obsolete processes or resources.

The people who declare to have these skills in a recruitment process become highly desirable candidates. We hire them not only for what they already know how to do, but also for their potentially innovative way of thinking and working.

From Galileo to human cloning

However, there is a variable that is not usually associated so directly with an individual’s capacity for innovation: their ethical orientation. The problem, in my opinion, is that innovation has sometimes been presented as a transgressive attitude, a challenger to the prevailing values of a particular period. Circumstances like Galileo's (16th and 17th centuries) set the idea that great discoveries made inroads despite the ideological resistance of that historical period. Later on, some scientific advances faced suspension, opposition and mistrust from those who were the custodians of the moral order coupled to the prevailing understanding of nature and our place in it. Even today there is a certain tension between those who wish to explore all the possibilities of genetic engineering and those who strongly oppose certain forms of experimentation or human cloning, even if it is done for the purpose of eugenics.

Rising above the simplification of such scenarios, the fact is that ethics and innovation are not inversely related variables, but actually the opposite. Every new scientific breakthrough, every industrial innovation opens up unprecedented possibilities for companies and for society. Moreover, in doing so, we face the ethical dilemmas that these achievements bring about. The main incentive for ethical thinking is to respond to a world constantly transforming through man’s ingenious endeavour. Ethics does not slow down progress, but rather accompanies it and empowers it, to some extent.

Furthermore, conversely the ethical debate relentlessly drives innovation. If it were not for our growing concern about the sustainability of our planet, there would not have been many of the developments available today in fields such as power generation, mobility models, among others.

My advice is that, when selecting those who are called to lead innovation processes in our companies and in society, we should value their inventiveness, but let us also focus on their ability to integrate the ethical factor. Those who innovate the best are the ones who understand the impact of their development on people's lives and their surroundings.


José Aguilar

José Aguilar López es Doctor en Filosofía (PhD) y Programa de desarrollo directivo (PDD) por el IESE. Socio Director de MindValue. Imparte seminarios y cursos numerosas Universidades y Escuelas de Negocios de Europa y América. En 2006 obtuvo, junto a Javier Fernández Aguado, el premio del Management Internacional Forum al mejor libro de Management del año, por la obra conjunta “La soledad del directivo” (Lid, Madrid, 2006).

Ha participado, en calidad de autor, coordinador o coautor en los trece libros. Es colaborador habitual en diarios, revistas de información económica, radio y TV.

José Aguilar is a Managing Partner of MindValue - a company specialized in professional services for C-level management - and the VP of the International Association of Management Studies (Asociación Internacional de Estudios sobre Management - ASIEMA). He is also a management coach and a senior member of the club, Top Ten Management Spain. He is recognized as one of the key Spanish experts in change management consultancy and training.

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