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What is the future of innovation? An interview with Daria Tataj

"Governments are innovators, they are entrepreneurial and creative people who work with different stakeholders and lead the collaboration to develop new regulation."

Tags: 'Daria Tataj' 'Digital Future Society' 'Innovation' 'Network Thinking' 'Technology'

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Dr. Daria Tataj is Founder & CEO of Tataj Innovation, world expert on innovation and Network Thinking. Based in Barcelona, Tataj Innovation helps companies, cities and entire countries develop new growth models using research and the Network Thinking methodology.

As a Chair of High-Level Advisors to European Commissioner for Research, Science & Innovation, Dr. Tataj leads the policy reflection on €100 billion Horizon Europe budget. Dr. Tataj played an instrumental role in setting up the European Institute of Innovation and Technology and the first Knowledge Innovation Community (KICs). She shapes the global agenda as author, influencer and thought leader of the World Economic Forum. Prof. Manuel Castells endorsed her book ‘Innovation and Entrepreneurship. A Growth Model for Europe Beyond the Crisis’ as ‘the fundamental book that will reshape the way we think.’

How would you define "innovation"?

What is important to understand is that innovation does not equal technology. Technology is a beautiful toy. But really innovation is about people. It’s about society. It’s about future. It’s about solving complex problems that otherwise cannot be solved. Technology has been disrupting society for the last 200 years, but today we are in a moment when the convergence of many disruptive technologies will create a tipping point in the world as we know it now. I’m speaking about 5G, AI, blockchain, and the internet of humans. 

What is important is that we engage broader groups of citizens into learning what this new world will be about. When I say learning, I mean innovating together.

Will policymakers and citizens have to work together to do so?

The traditional way of thinking about policymakers and governments is that they are bureaucrats. That their role is to control, that their role is to govern. The new way to think about policymakers and governments is that they are innovators, they are entrepreneurial people, they are creative people who work together with different stakeholders in the ecosystem and lead this collaboration to develop new regulation, to develop new frameworks, and to fund projects which really make sense for citizens. To do this, you cannot look at policymaking from your desk. 

How can innovating together become a systematic practice?

You really need to have new ways of interacting with people. You need to have networks. You need to be able to build the trust of networks with different citizens. This is not something you can buy or engineer. This is a process through which you slowly and steadily engage different groups, different stakeholders. First of all, it’s not about voting. Secondly, it’s not about asking experts. Of course this is still important, but what is really valuable is creating a space where you can co-create with citizens.

Digital Future Society is about creating a platform for discussion and for producing insights into what is below the radar, what is happening but we’re just not aware that this future is happening right now. 

Can initiatives like Digital Future Society play an important role here?

An important part of the work of Digital Future Society is creating recommendations for policymakers and for business leaders. These recommendations are, I would even say consulted, with the global society. During the recent Digital Future Society meeting in Barcelona we worked on the digital skills of the future of work, on data governance, on the climate emergency. Network thinking is one of the key competencies for the future. 

The Mobile World Congress was canceled at the last moment because of the global health situation. What I witnessed in the ecosystem was a social movement. Everyone in the ecosystem was doing network thinking, people got together, they created dozens of innovation spaces and stages and platforms where people could come, could speak, could listen, could connect with the investors and startups.

You cannot create an MIT today. You cannot copy Silicon Valley, but still we need new types of institutions. We need new types of universities. We need new types of platforms that bring different actors, different stakeholders to develop complex solutions to complex problems. 

How important is it that private and public sectors innovate together?

If you believe that this really makes sense, you start to collaborate across the borders, across the silos. And then what happens is that a portfolio of projects emerges where the public funding leverages private funding. Naturally some of these projects grow bigger, others fail, some get consolidated. But through this natural process of entrepreneurial innovation, you arrive at a future that seemed beyond your reach.

I do believe that Europe will be a carbon neutral continent by 2050. This is what I would like for my children.