The Commons as an Engine for Innovation

by David Bollier

This evening, I’d like to get innovative about how we think about innovation itself.  The corporate cliché is to “think outside the box.”  That is such an inside-the-box way of thinking!  I say let’s get rid of the box!  Tonight I want to talk about a new vector of innovation:  how we’re going to manage our dwindling, finite natural resources and arrest the pathological growth imperatives of our economy while recovering a more sane, socially constructive way of life for human beings.  Now there’s a radical innovation challenge!

The subtext of most innovation-talk these days is efficiency and profitability.  Innovation is essentially the bigger-better-faster ethic – the next super-computer or bio-engineered cow or Segue scooter.  But the grim reality is that there are a whole class of societal problems that are not likely to become market opportunities,ever

Worse, conventional markets, in the course of creating new wealth, are generating all sorts of illth, in John Ruskin’s phrase – cost, unintended byproducts that must be put on the ledger sheet in any calculation of our supposed wealth.  Our market economy is generating whole new classes of illth such as  global warming, dying coral reefs, biodiversity loss and species extinctions. ...

Which brings me to the focus of my talk, the commons as a source of innovation. ... [T]he most imperative, innovative thing that we can do is to step outside of the market paradigm and its norms and begin to cultivate some different ways of knowing and seeing, and begin to develop some different ways of relating to each other and to the Earth.

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(Hat tip to Illahee, host of David Bollier for this talk in Portland.)