Haupz Blog

... still a totally disordered mix


2022-05-22 — Michael Haupt

Recently, I read a newly published book on Sprunginnovationen (published in German only; "Sprunginnovation" is usually translated as "disruptive innovation"). One of the authors leads the German Federal Agency for Disruptive Innovation (SPRIND), which is a fairly interesting institution.

The book summarises the agency's spirit and mission. The concept of a disruptive innovation is defined as an innovation that has a sustainable positive impact on a majority of people on as many levels of the Maslow pyramid as possible, while ideally not having negative impacts on anyone. Two examples: the printing press, and the ur-bicycle dandy horse (called Draisine in German after its inventor).

SPRIND is strongly inspired by agencies such as DARPA (to which we owe such minor achievements as the internet). Thus, it needs to operate in ways that aren't too common in Germany. The book criticises German innovation funding for several reasons. It's too bureaucratic, frequently requiring hundreds of pages of complex paperwork to apply for funding. It's too risk averse, being too intent on really really promising ideas and avoiding those that might fail. It tends to ride dead horses as it will yield to follow-up funding requests without putting the output to a real test for whether it's going to be practical.

This well deserved criticism notwithstanding, the book has an overall very optimistic and friendly tone. The authors clearly believe that innovation and technology, done right, can help address many of our current issues. The authors also don't lose themselves in celebrating technology for its own sake (that would most likely violate their own definition of a desirable innovation) but maintain a broader view on society with an emphasis on education.

SPRIND is already funding some interesting technology. Two projects that stand out for me are one to remove microplastics from water, and a huge onshore wind turbine.

The only thing I'd have wished for in the book would have been some more concrete inspirations and first principles - questions to start with. What am I doing in my field or industry that could have the potential to have a long-lasting large scale positive effect on our lives? A framework of questions perhaps, that would guide the reader's thinking beyond reading the book.

Tags: books