The Innovation Iceberg

Image: Author

‘All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know.’

Ernest Hemingway

According Future Food 2050, a publishing initiative from the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT), between 33 and 50% of the food produced for human consumption is wasted every year in the world. So represents 1.3 Billion Metric Tones per year with a monetary value of US$936 billion as reported in 2013 by Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Only in USA this wasted food production drinks in 25% of the total country water consumption and 5% of its energy. British activist Tristram Stuart is one of the world’s leading food waste advocates. He argues that the way food is produced is wasteful, expensive and destructive. We lose it throughout the supply chain, with producers who throw out misshapen vegetables deemed unsuitable for supermarkets and to consumers filling fridges with food we will never eat. Attractive products we see in food markets are the tip of the iceberg floating above water. Everything else -wasted food and the incredible amount of resources used- floats beneath the water, out of sight from us.

Ernest Hemingway has been one of the most influential innovators in narrative form. He defined his writing style as ‘The iceberg theory’. An iceberg floats in the Arctic with only one‐eighth of its mass above water while the greater part hides beneath the surface and attracts our concern precisely because it is hidden. In the same way, he argued, the drama of a story can attract our concern if we are allowed to glimpse only a fragment of visible action that implies an earlier, unseen experience. This is why he also called it the ‘Theory of Omission’; because it was the things he omitted that made his writing more authentic. Essentially, Hemingway gives us the facts and we have to do the rest. You could omit anything if you know that you are doing it and this part would strengthen the story, otherwise it’s turning incomplete. If there is something familiar in these stories, the food waste and Hemingway’s style, is not the physical scale of how much of the iceberg is hidden to us. Hemingway’s suggesting style challenges the reader into thinking deeper than what is on the novel’s surface. The food waste problem challenges us into thinking deeper about how we can make the world’s food system less unjust and more sustainable every day. Greater portion hides beneath the surface but unlike Hemingway style does not enchant our interest.

The Innovation Iceberg

‘A record, if it is to be useful to science, must be continuously extended, it must be stored, and above all it must be consulted.

As we may think’, Vannevar Bush. Appeared in the July 1945 issue of The Atlantic Monthly

Global economy spent US$ 1,1 trillion on R&D in 2014 according OECD Main Science and Technology Indicators. Apart, most entrepreneurs and inventors work with new discoveries many of them won’t even have success in becoming a productive business. These hidden inventions are not deemed to be part of the statistic data. A huge number of novelties are presented every year to consumers. We can use as barometer retail and online stores near us, or going the extra mile to international shows done, year after year, around the world. For instance a handful of the thousands of new technology products have been launched at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show — CES. Few will change our lives and most of them not. About 250.000 new products are launched globally each year. Typical failure rate of new product launches can be anywhere in the 85% to 95% range. An amount even larger does not even get launched. This numbers outline something comparable to an iceberg floating above water. Innovations we see as new products ramping up every year are just the tip of the iceberg. We might think that hidden innovations would increase our interest in those succeeding as we flirt with the idea they are the only one really ready to change our lives. But we have to make no mistake about it. Omitted innovations do not make us more authentic but triggers a debate on the way we innovate. The logic is connected to food waste problem but with a less dramatic turn.

No Ordinary Innovation

‘… but still there were few things to be said.’

Death in the Afternoon, Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway liked to use a circular organization in his prose. He made the opening material reappears along the fiction yet with a new perspective, like something original. He introduces early a character that is re-entering into the storyline with a distinct significance than before, making it even more active. Hemingway omitted linear narrative because, after all, complexity of human relations is not linear. Innovation process isn’t either. As Hemingway narrative, innovation processes are enriched with a new perspective on above steps even if it has been considered before as a dead-end road. Innovation entails the actions of creating, combining but as well recycling. Breakthroughs hiding beneath the surface need to be made available as long as possible to write an efficient innovation prose. The paradox is that these omitted innovations exist because new technologies and data are easily accessible as powerful instruments. But nevertheless generates a vast amount of lost value. Rereading Vannevar Bush article from 1945 ‘As we may think’ we can trace certain similarities with the current situation. The difference is that computation is already in our lives but what is still missing is the effort to bridge between innovation accomplishments.

Many companies are tapping into the rapidly developing circular economy. To use our resources in a smarter, more sustainable way is the purpose of this new model of production, use, and management of resources. The difference stem from changing a linear process where every stage phased out all the previous, to a circular one where value is kept along the life-cycle. Products value becomes circular and these are ‘made to be made again’ and return to the cycle. Throwing away food, energy or water is starting to be seeing as immense opportunity that can produce significant returns quite rapidly. But if we talk about recycling ideas we are still in a material take-make-dispose model. As Hemingway wrote ‘… but still there were few things to be said’.

This article was originally published in Linkedin in on March 2, 2016

AI Evangelist