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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

Is There A Coworking Space Bubble?

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An annual growth rate of nearly 100%, almost five years in a row? More than 60 coworking spaces in a city like Berlin? Are these the characteristics of a bubble? Nope, these are characteristics of a lasting change in our world of work, which has been further catalyzed by the recent economic crises in many countries. But what makes this change different to a bubble? We’ve summarized some arguments of why the coworking movement is based on a sustainable change. However, that doesn’t mean it’s an easy job to open a good working coworking space.

Five reasons why the growth of coworking spaces is based on organic and sustainable growth: 

1. Coworking spaces invest their own money and create real wealth

Already, there is a convincing argument supporting why coworking spaces are not developing in a bubble: the fact that they create real wealth.

Whether referring to the dotcom bubble a decade ago or the real estate crisis in Spain or the United States, the crisis originated in a glut of cheap money, in an environment in which the sender and the recipient were unacquainted. From funds and banks, money flowed in steady streams to investments which offered little resistance and the most promising returns – which only a little while later turned into delusions and ruined investments.

Redistributed risks create illusions. Those people who distributed the money rarely wore the risk of investment decisions. The risk was mainly taken by small shareholders or people who bought parts of those investments. This was because either both parties’ (better) judgement was drowned out by the noise of the market, or because shareholders were unaware of the risk, and were at the mercy of banks and funds for reliable information.

Another fundamental condition for the creation of bubbles are the sheer amounts of money that flow from various locations globally and are concentrated, by comparison, in much fewer places.

Most coworking spaces, however, receive their funding from local or nearby sources and do not operate within this financial system. In fact, the founders mainly inject the bulk of the required investment, and turn to friends or relatives for additional support. They wear the full brunt of the risks that are involved in small-time investment.

They have access to much more information, because it is their own project, rather than a foreign one thousands of miles away. This also includes failures and mistakes that are encountered along the way, but the risk is less redistributed, thereby decreasing the probability of failures.

2. Labor market changes demand on certain office types lastingly

Most users of coworking spaces are self-employed. The proportion of employees is also on the rise, in many cases simply because they work for small companies that increasingly opt to conduct their business in coworking spaces rather than in traditional offices. The industry of almost all coworkers fall within the Internet-based creative industries.

With flexibilisation of work markets, new mobile technologies that are changing work patterns, and the increase of external services purchasing from large and medium-sized enterprises (outsourcing), the labor market has changed radically in many parts of the world.

The long-term financial and emotional security of becoming an employee no longer exists, especially for younger generations of workers. Bigger companies are quicker to fire than hire, and precarious short-term contracts are on the rise. Promising options on the labor market are more often recuded to freelancer careers and starting your own company.

And that’s possible with less money to invest. All you need is a laptop, a brain and a good network. For years, the number of independent workers and small businesses has been growing worldwide – particularly in internet-based creative industries. Anyone who has sufficient specialized skills and the willingness to take risks may adapt more quickly to market conditions if they own a small business or are self employed; more so than if they were to work in a dependent position in an equally volatile market.

Coworking spaces provide an environment in which to do this. Once they have joined a (suitable) coworking space, these factors become apparent to coworkers, who will remain in their space for years to come.

Furthermore, independent workers rarely fire themselves in crises, and even small companies are less likely to give their employees the boot – compared to their large counterparts. This combination enables more sustainable business models – and less business models à la Groupon.

3. Coworking spaces don’t live on crises

Global economic growth is waning while the number of coworking spaces is continually growing. Do coworking spaces thus benefit from this crisis?

The current crises accelerate the formation and growth of coworking spaces, because they offer solutions and space for the resulting problems. Coworking spaces are therefore not a result of a crisis, but the product of change that pre-dates their existence. A crisis is simply the most visible expression of change.

The first coworking spaces emerged in the late 1990s; the movement’s strong growth started six years ago – before the onset of economic downturns in many countries.

4. Coworking spaces depend on the needs of their members

Most coworking spaces are rarely full. Does this mean they are unsuccessful? On average, only half of all desks are occupied. But the average occupancy rate of 50% refers only to a specific date.

In fact, coworking spaces generally serve more members than they can seat at any given time, since members do not use the spaces simultaneously. Coworking spaces are places for independents who want to work on flexible terms. Smaller spaces rely more on permanent members. Larger spaces can respond more flexibilty to the working hours of its members, and, can rent desks several times over.

If a coworking space is always overcrowded or totally empty, the purpose of said space would be defeated. Firstly, it is rather impossible to work in an overcrowded room. Second, it’s impossible to cowork in an empty room. Given the nature of flexible memberships, a coworking space only can survive if they fit the needs of their members. Members would otherwise be quick to leave, and membership would be much more transient.

5. The coworking market is far from saturation

Less than 2% of all self-employed – and even fewer employees – currently work in coworking spaces. Reporting on coworking may increase, but inflated reporting on the coworking movement in the mainstream media is still far away.

Coverage of coworking space are most likely to be found in the career or local sections in larger publications – front cover coverage remains the dream of many space operators. This is because the whole coworking movement can’t be photographed in one picture. What appears to be a disadvantage, however, is actually a beneficial truth: niche coverage allows the industry to grow organically, and avoid over inflation.

Conclusion

Coworking spaces don’t operate in parallel universes – like the financial market. Demand and supply are almost exclusively organic and operate in the real world economy.

For the same reason, there is no guarantee that opening a coworking spaces will be automaticly successful. Anyone who fails to learn how to deal with potential customers in their market, or is unfamiliar with how coworking communities function, will have a difficult time of making one work. In the same way that business people in other industries will fail if they do not understand their market.

Those who simply tack on the word ‘coworking’ to their space’s facade will need to work harder. The structure of most coworking spaces is based on real work, calculated risk, and real-world supply and demand.

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About the Author

This article was produced by Deskmag. Deskmag is the magazine about the new type of work and their places, how they look, how they function, how they could be improved and how we work in them. They especially focus on coworking spaces which are home to the new breed of independent workers and small companies. see more.

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Callum Connects

Dextre Teh, Founder of Rebirth Academy

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Dextre Teh is a consultant and marketing guru, helping F&B businesses to tighten their operations and grow their businesses.

What’s your story?
I help frustrated F&B business owners stuck in day to day operation transform from a glorified operator into a real business owner. I’m a 27 year old Singaporean second generation restaurant owner and a F&B business consultant. Entering the industry at 13 years old, I have always been obsessed with operations and systemisation. At the age of 25, I joined the insurance industry and earned a six figure yearly income. However, I left the high pay behind because it was not my passion and returned to the F&B industry. Now I help other F&B companies to tighten operations and grow their businesses with my consulting and marketing services.

What excites you most about your industry?
The food. I’m a big lover of food and even have a YouTube show on food in development. But that aside, it is really about impacting people through food. Creating moments and memories for people, be it a dating couple or families or friends. Providing that refuge from the daily grind of life. So in educating my consulting clients and training their staff to provide a better experience for their customers, I aim to shift the industry in the direction of creating memories instead of just selling food.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and bred in Singapore. I love the culture, the food and travelling in Asia.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore hands down. The environment here is built for businesses to thrive. The government is pro business and the infrastructure is built around supporting business growth. Not to mention the numerous amount of grants available in helping people start and even grow business. If I’m not mistaken, the Singaporean government is the only government in the world that offers grants to home grown businesses for overseas expansion.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Learning to do things you do not intend to master is a BIG mistake in business. Focus on what you are good at and pay others to do the rest.

Many business owners including myself are so overwhelmed by the 10,000 things that they feel they need to do everyday. We try to do everything ourselves because we think it saves us money. The only thing that, that does for us is overload our schedules and give us mediocre results. Instead we should focus on what we do best and bring in support for the rest.

Who inspires you?
Christopher M Duncan.

At 29, Chris has built multiple 7 figure businesses. He opened me to the possibility of building a business on the thing that I loved and gave me a blueprint of how to do it. He also showed me that being young doesn’t mean you cannot do great things.

Imran Mohammad and Fazil Musa
They are my mentors and inspire me every single day to pursue my dreams, to focus on celebrating life and enjoying the process of getting to where I want to be.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Time is always more expensive than money. Money, you can earn over and over again but time, once you spend it, will never come back.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I am a firm believer that your experiences shape who you are. I am grateful for every single moment of my life be it the highs or the lows, the successes and the failures because all these experiences have led me to become the person I am and brought me to the place that I’m at so I will probably do things the same way as everything was perfect in its time.

How do you unwind?
Chilling out in a live music bar with a drink in hand, listening to my favourite live band, 53A. Other than that I’m big on retail therapy, buying cool and geeky stuff.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Bangkok. It feels like a home away from home where the cost of living is relatively low, the food is good and the people are friendly.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Everything you know about business is wrong by Alastair Dryburgh. It is a book that challenges commonly accepted business “truths” and inspires you to go against the grain, think different, take risks and stand your ground in the face of the challenges that will come your way as a business owner.

Shameless plug for your business:
I’m the creator of the world’s first Chilli Crab Challenge. It gained viral celebrity earlier this year with 3 major newspaper features and more than a dozen blog and online publications featuring it in the span of two weeks. In the span of the two weeks, the campaign reached well over a million people in exposure without a single cent spent in ads.

Now I help F&B companies to tighten operations, increase profits and grow their businesses with my consulting and marketing services. Chilli Crab Challenge (https://www.chillicrab.com/nationalday)

How can people connect with you?
You can connect with me on Facebook (www.facebook.com/djtehkh) or visit www.rebirthacademy.sg for more information or book a 10 minute call with me @ www.tinyurl.com/dexclar

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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