Angel Morales Figueroa

INNOVARE or the Phenomenon of the Unprecedented Question

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on NextBillion Español and can be read (in Spanish) here. Guest Writer Angel Morales Figueroa leads the venture NISA (Open Social Innovation Node), which NextBillion Español previously reviewed here.

The word innovation comes from the Latin word innovare and is defined as “the creation or modification of a product and its introduction into a market.” But is innovation merely a commercial act? Today, the significance of this concept escapes as “the linear sequence of the printed word” (emulating the view of anthropologist Margaret Mead). Well, to better understand this complexity we take a practical case and dare to see what’s behind the overused idea of innovation.

Today, Alejandro Aravena is one of the most internationally successful Chilean architects for his work in ELEMENTAL, a for profit “Do Tank” project with social interests that works on public impact projects at the Catholic University of Chile and COPEC. Aravena did what few can do: focus on asking the right questions to clearly define a problem to solve. This professional, known for his proposal to solve the problem of social housing, has made it clear that innovation has never been an objective in his work per se, but rather a consequence of his inquisitive interest in trying to respond to nonspecific questions, such as overcoming poverty, using his specific knowledge of architecture.

Pictured (left) is endorsed in this architect’s latest creation: Chairless, a robust textile belt that allows a person to sit on the floor or ground in a relaxed form without a seat or backrest. This product is the materialization of Aravena’s ethnographic observation of an Ayoreo Indian and has brought validity to the following synthesis: “Once the principle is identified, the ideas naturally become open source.” To me, the procedure for designing the Chairless seems to translate into an “elemental” concept, deserving the use of this term since the working logic of this product has more to do with the “subtraction” than with the “addition” of elements. In this sense, the ethnographic observation about the Paraguayan Indian as a synthesis yields precisely as explained above: the optimum is to work with what is absolutely essential at the time to defining a solution to a requirement or existing need in the community.

Therefore, what matters here is that it was not until this synthesis that he managed to design the innovative solutions that ELEMENTAL offers. In conclusion, when someone seeks to answer nonspecific questions, unprecedented questions arise by default and lead us to find new answers. In that sense, innovation would be “unexpected” in the creative/productive process as soon as you understand the phenomenon of the unprecedented question as the origin of all sustainable innovation over time.

Is innovation an exclusive private sector input, or can it be used as a tool to help overcome poverty? The cards are dealt. Let everyone have a position about this topic and act conscientiously. NISA has already chosen the path of social innovation as a beacon to illuminate areas that for years have lived in darkness.

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