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The Ethics of Innovation

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A Chinese-Korean joint venture plans to build the world’s largest cloning factory in Tianjin, eventually producing 1million head of cloned cattle a year, as well as dogs and even endangered species. This announcement by BoyaLife, a Chinese biotechnology company, underlines the scale of China’s ambitions in agricultural biotech. In contrast, Europe does not allow cloning of farm animals. Xu Xiaochun, BoyaLife chief executive, said that the main aim was to mass-produce elite calves to satisfy demand for quality beef that China, as it gets richer, is consuming in greater quantities. (Financial Times, 24 November 2015)

The prospect of bespoke beef is startling in the light of the forthcoming talks in Paris on climate change, where 138 heads of state will be in attendance. After all, livestock, whether cloned or not, contributes to climate change: the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation [FAO] estimates that the global meat industry belches out 14.5 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, more than all the world’s cars, trucks, ships and planes combined. (Financial Times, 27 November 2015)

For many business people, scholars and policy makers, innovation has become a mantra that can’t be anything but good and exciting. To make something new seems to be necessarily better. However, has innovation brought about more sustainability? Has financial innovation led to a more productive economy? Has innovation really advanced the well-being of people? What are the standards to evaluate and measure whether innovations are ethically justified, questionable or not acceptable? And, focusing on morality and ethics themselves, are these norms and values immutable and absolute, or do they also need innovation? If so, what kind of innovation?

Given these intriguing and far-reaching questions, the evaluation of ethical innovation in business and the economy can’t be postponed. Therefore, serious and sustained efforts are necessary to examine these questions from multiple perspectives.

First, we need to explore and clarify several key concepts crucial for a thorough study of innovation such as business ethics, moral innovation, creativity, and wealth creation. Without clear concepts, both empirical investigations and theoretical reflections are useless. Such concepts are a prerequisite for meaningful exchanges of ideas and experiences. Moreover, we have to take into account the broader contemporary context in which these questions are embedded: Whether we like it or not, globalization in multiple ways is shaping our lives. Sustainability in economic, social and environmental terms and for future generations is an immense challenge whose magnitude cannot be overestimated. And, since finance not only impacts our assets and debts but also our patterns of thinking and behaving (now called financialization), it must be questioned as to how innovative and ethical it actually is and ought to be.

Another broad set of questions concerns how ethical responsibilities should be allocated in a fair manner to different types of actors and institutions in the economic sphere of life: business leaders and employees, consumers and investors, global corporations and small and medium-sized enterprises, national and international regulations and laws. Can we find ethical and economic criteria which provide reasonable guidance for identifying ethical responsibilities at the individual, organizational and systemic levels of business ethics? Recalling, for example, the production of 1million head of cloned cattle a year (mentioned above), what is the ethical responsibility of BoyaLife, its chief executive, its Korean partner, the policy makers in China and Korea, the UN’s FAO and other international institutions?

Furthermore, when we zoom in on a specific level of business ethics, we may investigate individual initiatives for ethical innovation. A case in point is the Maker Movement that consists of individuals dedicated to making things using advanced and widely available technology. Creative types are now manufacturing robots and cars and even producing designer Ecoli bacteria. How can we evaluate these innovations from an ethical stance? Another subject includes many challenges which business leaders face nowadays: Are they guided by morality and imagination? How innovative should leaders in the food industry be in using their space of discretion to establish living wages for low income workers? What does it mean for managers to do their job well in an ethical and innovative way?

Ethical innovation pertains also to economic and other organizations: what kinds of products they design and produce; what processes they invent; and what business models they establish. One may ask how the once innovative cooperative model can and should reinvent itself in an ethical way under new and harsh circumstances. In the financial industry, what are innovative and fair approaches which link executive compensation more closely to risk management? We may learn from concrete examples how social innovations can be successful by not only serving the interest of commercial markets but also by advancing social development, strongly motivated by a spiritual vision: the Aravind eye care system in India, the organization SEKEM in Egypt, and the Economy of Communion in Latin America.
If we want ethical innovation to succeed on a larger scale, it would be foolish to ignore the importance of systemic factors that deeply influence individual and organizational actors. Market capitalism certainly needs ethical innovations, given its intransigence of libertarian individualism and its destructive externalities. Thus, we may ask how to bring about systemic changes through ethical innovations. Besides indispensable top-down approaches, bottom-up approaches can also lead to significant changes through emerging enterprises, which can be supported by a proper interpretation of Adam Smith. It is of upmost interest to observe, evaluate and learn from innovative enterprises such as the Nollywood film industry in Nigeria and M-Pesa for mobile banking from Kenya. They show that innovation can occur in informal firms and even bridge the informal and formal economies. Needless to say, this kind of innovation is vital for the survival and advancement of the poor.

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About the Author

This article was written by Professor George Enderle of Edwar Elgar Publishing. Edward Elgar Publishing‘s blog is a forum filled with debate, news, updates and views from our authors and their readership. see more.

9781784719968

Ethical Innovation in Business and the Economy is a first mover in the new world of ethical innovation. Many of these important issues will be further discussed in the World Congress of Business, Economics, and Ethics on July 13-16, 2016 in Shanghai under the theme: Ethics, Innovation, and Well-Being in Business and the Economy (see www.isbee.org).

Professor Georges Enderle holds the John T. Ryan Jr. Chair of International Business Ethics in the Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame.

The first chapter of Georges’s new book Ethical Innovation in Business and the Economy can be downloaded for free on Elgaronline.

Entrepreneurship

Women on Top in Tech – Tara Velis, Growth Hacker and Digital Innovation Strategist

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(Women on Top in Tech is a series about Women Founders, CEOs, and Leaders in technology. It aims to amplify and bring to the fore diversity in leadership in technology.)

I am talking to Tara Velis, Growth Hacker and freelance Digital Innovation Strategist. Tara was selected and recognized by TheNextWeb.com as one of the 500 most talented young people in the Dutch digital scene during the 2017 TNW edition. Tara is known for her creative, entrepreneurial spirit, which she is using to her advantage in leading the change in SMEs and corporates around the globe.

What makes you do what you do?

I tend to see life as a big, complex puzzle. Because of my curious nature, I am in constant development, looking for new angles and new approaches to business problems. Innovation through technology is exploring ideas and pushing boundaries. The most radical technological advances have not come from linear improvements within one area of expertise. Instead, they arise from the combination of seemingly disparate inventions. This is, in fact, the core of innovation. I love going beyond conventional thinking practices. Mashing up different thoughts and components, connecting the dots, and transforming that into something useful to businesses.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?

I consistently chose to follow my curiosity, which has led me to where I am today. If you want to succeed in the digital industry, you need to have a growth mindset. Seen the fact that the industry is evolving in an astoundingly quick rate, it’s crucial to stay current with the trends and forces in order to spot business opportunities. I believe taking responsibility for your own learning and development is key to success.

Why did you take on the role of Digital Innovation Strategist?

The reason for this is twofold. On the one hand, I got frustrated with businesses operating in the exact same way they did a couple of decades ago. Right now we are in the midst of a technology revolution, and the latest possibilities and limitations of cutting-edge technologies are evolving every single day. This means that companies need to stay current and act lean if they want to survive. On a more personal level, I noticed that I felt the need to use my creativity and problem-solving skills to their maximum capacity. In transforming businesses at scale, I change the rules of the game. I love breaking out of traditional, old-fashioned patterns by nurturing innovative ideas. This involves design thinking, extensive collaboration and feedback, the implementation of various strategies and tactics, validated learning, and so on. I get a lot of energy from my work because it is aligned with my personal interests.

Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries?

Yes, I look up to Drew Boyd. He is a global leader in creativity and innovation. He taught me how to evaluate ideas in order to select the best ones to proceed with. This is crucial because otherwise,you run the risk of ideas creating the criteria for you because of various biases and unrelated factors. He also taught me a great deal on facilitation of creativity workshops.

How would you describe your leadership style?

I tend to have the characteristics of a transformational leader. People have told me that my enthusiasm and positive energy is motivating and even inspiring to them. Even though I take these comments as a huge compliment, I am not sure how I feel about referring to myself as a leader. To me, it still has a somewhat negative connotation. I guess I associate the concept with being a boss who’s throwing around commands. But if a leader means listening to others and igniting intrinsic motivation in people, then yes, I guess I’m a charismatic leader.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?

Yes, one hundred percent. I believe that creativity and innovation flourish when a highly diverse group of people bounces ideas off each other. Diversity in terms of function, gender,and culture is extremely valuable, especially in the ideation phase of a project, as it can help to see more possibilities and come up with better ideas.

Do you have any advice for others?

Yes, I have some pieces of advice I’d like to share.
First of all: Develop self-awareness. You can do so by actively seeking feedback from the people around you. This will help you understand how others see you, align your intentions with your actions, and eventually enhance your communication- and leadership skills.

Surround yourself with knowledgeable and inspiring people. They might be able to support you in reaching your goals, and help you grow both personally and professionally.

Ask “why?” a couple of times. This simple and powerful method is useful for getting to the core of a problem or challenge. Make sure to often remind yourself and your team of the outcome of this exercise to have a clear sense of direction and focus.

Data is your friend. Whether it’s extensive quantitative market research or a sufficient amount of in-depth consumer interviews (or both!), your data levels all arguments. However, always be aware of biases and limitations of research.

Say “Yes, and…” instead of “No”. Don’t be an idea killer. Forget about the feasibility and budget, at least in the ideation phase. Instead, encourage your team to generate ideas without restrictions. You can compromise certain aspects later.

Prioritization is key. There is just no way you can execute all your ideas, and, quite frankly, there is no point in trying to do so. Identify the high potential ideas and start executing those first.

Encourage rapid prototyping. Don’t wait too long to experiment, launch, and iterate your product or service. Fail fast and fail often. Adopt an Agile mindset.

If you’d like to get in touch with Tara Velis, please feel free to reach out to her on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/taravelis/

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Callum Connects

Marek Danyluk, CEO of Space Ventures

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Marek Danyluk has a talent for assessing the competencies of management teams for other businesses and pulling together exceptional teams for his own businesses!

What’s your story?
I am the CEO of a venture capital business, Space Ventures, which invests in seed and pre-series A businesses. I also own and run Space Executive, a recruitment business focused on senior to executive hires across sales, marketing, finance, legal and change.

My career started as a trainee underwriter in the Lloyds market but quickly moved into recruitment where I set-up my first business in 2002. The business grew to around 100 people. I moved to Asia in 2009 as a board member of a multinational recruitment business with the mandate to help them scale their Asian entities, which helped contribute to their sale this year, in 2017.

My main talent is assessing the competencies of management teams as well as building high performing recruitment boutiques and putting together exceptional management teams for my own businesses.

What excites you most about your industry?
Building the business is very much about attracting the best talent and being able to build a culture which people find invigorating and unique. It’s an exciting proposition to be able to define a culture in that regard and salespeople are a fun bunch, so when you get it right it’s tremendous.

From a VC point of view there is just so much happening. South East Asia is a melting pot of innovation so the ideas and quality of people you have exposure to, is truly phenomenal. The exposure in the VC has taken me away from a career in recruitment. Doing something completely different has given me a new level of focus.

What’s your connection to Asia?
Whilst I came here with work, both my boys were born in Singapore and to them this very much is home. That said, my father in law spent many years in the East so coming and settling here was met with a good degree of support and familiarity.


Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Possibly Hong Kong. It’s the closest I’ve been to working in London. Whilst there are massive Asian influences people will work with you on the basis you are good at what you do and work hard. I find that approach very honest and straightforward.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“Always treat people well on the way up!”

Who inspires you?
I like reading about people who have excelled in business such as Jack Ma, James Kahn, Phil Knight, Sir Richard Branson, Elon Musk, all have great stories to tell and they are all inspirational. No-one has inspired me more than my parents and they are well aware as to why…

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Pretty much any technology innovation blows me away.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Whilst it is important not to have regrets I do continually wake up thinking I’m still doing my A’ Levels. So, I’d have probably tried a little harder in 6th form.

How do you unwind?
I like the odd glass of red wine and watching sport

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Japan skiing. I love skiing and Japanese food and it’s a time when I can really enjoy time with the wife and kids. I recently tried the Margaret River which was divine, although not technically Asia.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Barbarians at the Gate

Shameless plug for your business:
Space Executive is the fastest growing recruitment business in Singapore focused on the mid to senior market across legal, compliance, finance, sales and marketing and change and transformation. Multi-award winning with exceptional growth plans into Hong Kong and London this year, and the US, Japan and Europe by the end of 2022. We are building a truly global brand.

Space Ventures is interested in any businesses that require capital or management and financial guidance or any or all of the above. We have, to date, invested in on-line training, food and beverages, peer to peer lending platforms, credit scoring as well as other tech and fintech start-ups. We are always interested in hearing about potential deals.

How can people connect with you?
[email protected]

Twitter handle?
@Spaceexecutive

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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