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Innovation is one of the key drivers of our time, offering evidence-based and disruptive solutions to economic and social problems. In this interview we talk to Magnus Penker – CEO of Innovation360 Group and winner of a Business Worldwide Award in two categories, ‘Most Innovative CEO Sweden 2016’ and ‘Growth Strategy CEO of the Year Sweden 2016’ – about how data can drive innovation, and ultimately, sustainable social change.

Information is one of the critical issues of our century. It has the potential to transform the way we look at social problems, replacing ideology with evidence. This perspective lies at the heart of new liberal democratic thinking celebrated by public figures from Gordon Brown to Barack Obama. Data can also lead to ‘disruptive innovation,’ employed to shake up and change the way we do business and policy in new and unexpected ways.

One organisation aiming to do both is Innovation360 Group, which was founded in February 2015 in Stockholm by Magnus Penker, CEO and some friends. The purpose of the Group, as described by Penker, is to use data to address core questions for companies such as: What is it that allows some companies to be more successful than others? Is it good management, or a talented team, or a more capable and well-connected Board and investors?

Innovation360 has developed a highly scalable, data-driven, evidence-based innovation management methodology and a tool that could help cut 65-80% of all manual work in innovation advisory services, at the same as increasing the quality of advice. This free-to-all digital online service is called InnoSurvey.™

Via this tool, consultancy services and through licensed practitioners, the Group operates in countries across the world and may have built the largest global innovation database.

However, the Group’s mission is not just to improve the way that companies work. It has a broader social mission to use data to support and strengthen the global innovation capacity needed to address humanity’s nine major challenges: Global Health, Water, Energy, Environment, Food, Education, Security, Poverty, and Space.

We talked to Penker about how information is connected to innovation, and how he sees Innovation360 Group playing a critical role in global issues.

You suggest that the key to understanding successful innovation is data, which is the basis for your company. Can you explain more about how that relationship works?

What people see about innovation is the brilliant insight, the great moment, all about creativity, but actually, innovation is a very structured process and you need data for that to work. That’s particularly so if you are dealing with large-scale projects and companies, for example, one that has ten thousand employees.

Larger companies represent a challenge about finding ways to manage the process of innovation and how it is deeply involved with capabilities and competencies. It boils down to working on a digital democratisation project that engages every employee. When it comes to small companies, we make it possible for them to run innovation swiftly, when they otherwise wouldn’t have the time or the resources to embark in digitalisation.

How does this relate to using data and innovation to resolve global social problems?

One of my inspirations is Michael Porter and his concept of social entrepreneurship – the idea that the core activity of business should be about meeting social needs. Business has a critical role to play in resolving social problems, and that’s where data comes in. Information and technology can help people free their capabilities to create and drive innovation. For example, placing renewable energy solutions in Africa can purify water, and dirty water is one of the most dangerous things on this planet.

It’s interesting that you mention resolving social problems because you’ve also noted that technology – the Fourth Industrial Revolution – may enhance social inequalities. How can Innovation360 Group help square these contradictions?

Technology creates more value with less effort and people will listen to its benefits. Of course, technological change can also creative massive social disruption, such as in employment, and people will need retraining in more highly skilled roles. That will take time, and there may be one or two lost generations; we don’t know. Personally, I don’t believe people will give up, and they will find clever ways to survive. The upheavals of the Second World War or the current refugee situation are two examples. If we don’t start applying technology to reshape the world, then there will be no planet left.

Technology and innovation are also delivering positive benefits. An example is edx.org, a free online training site delivered by some of the top universities worldwide and used by people across the world. Universities use these courses to observe emerging talent and offer scholarships to outstanding individuals who may never have considered applying to these institutions.  So for the first time in history, men and women across the world have equal access to information.

The formula is simple. All you need to do is provide an individual with a computer and Internet access, and voilá they have the same chances. That is the work of innovation, which is what we at Innovation360 Group do, and it can bring about new kinds of equality.

What do you think the future will look like, based on current trends, and where will your company sit within that future?

I believe that technology will help us to avoid self-destruction. For example, technologies that seem very new to us now, such as recycling, will be seen as a normal part of life. We will need a new social purpose, and that, I believe, will be the perspective and philosophy of global sustainability. These are big and necessary challenges.

As for Innovation360 Group, we have exciting developments on the horizon. On March 10th 2016 we became partners of GrowKomp, a millionaire project financed by the EU to grow sustainable and competitive business in the Småland region, which is at the heart of the entrepreneurship of Sweden. In this project, we are simultaneously working with 30 SMEs,  which is a major innovation lift both for the region and the EU.

We aim to become the leading innovation agency in the world, which can be possible given our participation in projects like GrowKomp and the expansion of our own Licensed Practitioners’ business. By accomplishing our goal of helping more than one million entrepreneurs, companies, executives and scientists all over the world to become world class innovators, we can make this happen.

We are therefore building a business in which equality of opportunities becomes a fact and spreads all over the world. Helping companies and individuals to improve their innovative capability in different parts of the globe corresponds with one of our long-term goals which should happen by, at the latest, 2030. That goal is to make a contribution to solving one of the nine social challenges mentioned at the start of this article and being able to track it down to something our company is doing now. We are naturally very excited about the future.