Is Space Exploration the Unreasonable Innovation we Need?

“We need to protect the Earth and the only way to really protect it is to eventually … move heavy industry off earth.” – Jeff Bezos

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos unveiled his vision for the future in the documentary The 21st Century Race for Space. He believes that space is a much more suitable place for heavy industry than earth. Because space provides 24/7 access to abundant solar energy, and it has large supplies of minerals that we can access through space mining. Bezos states that this shift would allow humanity to keep expanding its current lifestyle for another few centuries.

Thought provoking vision…

I could not agree more that we need to protect the Earth and our environment. And we are in dire need of some drastic action to make this happen. But although Bezos’ vision sounds very drastic and intriguing, I strongly disagree that this kind of innovation will help us transition into a brighter era. If we want to create a happier, healthier and wealthier future for ourselves, I believe we need a different kind of innovation. We need a kind of innovation that actually changes the course we are on. Not just extend what we have today or export it’s negative side-effects into space.

If we really want to turn things around, we need innovation that is highly creative and profound. That goes beyond our current logic and reasoning, so far I agree with Mr. Bezos. It needs to be unreasonable – but not necessarily in a shoot into space kind of way. To me, unreasonable innovation is more about shifting perspective than about grand gestures. For it to be successful and create a brighter future, it will have to live by three key principles that keep it on the right path:

  • It tackles the very core of a challenge we are facing.
  • It creates a sustainable ecosystem for all.
  • It opens up new opportunities for development.

So what could it look like? Let’s look at one of those heavy industry players who used unreasonable innovation to turn their business around: Umicore, a traditional metals smelting business that saw the opportunity for mining waste instead of the earth’s crust.

1. Tackle the very core of a challenge we are facing

Umicore realized early on that resource depletion was real threat and that commodity prices would only become more volatile. They saw the struggle their industry was facing and explored how they could shift perspective to win in the future. Examining the traditional metals value chain, they quickly realized that – although mining is getting harder and more expensive – we are massively wasting potential value by throwing it in landfills and incinerators when a product is at the end of its life or even sooner. They decided to start extracting all the precious metals from electronic waste like computers, smartphones, and tablets and refine it to 99% raw materials again – a process called urban mining. Making this shift in perspective and process allows Umicore to actively limit resource depletion and reduce our growing waste problem at the same time.

2. Create a sustainable ecosystem

Sustainability isn’t just about doing less, it’s about doing something different. We can only talk about a sustainable ecosystem when our actions have a positive impact on ourselves, our environment and everyone around us. Although it might sound like a tremendous challenge, that should be the benchmark. Diverting old electronics from our waste streams prevents toxic substances like lead or cadmium from leaking into our environment. It also limits landfills that otherwise might cause soil and groundwater pollution and impact generations in the area for years to come.

3. Open up new opportunities for development and growth

By shifting their perspective in an unreasonable way – and it sure wasn’t an easy transition – Umicore was able to capture value and build resiliency in an industry faced with many challenges. They looked at the core of the challenges and were able to identify that opportunity lying within. By the time the industry hits severe crisis due to resource depletion, stringent environmental regulation or other disruptive forces, Umicore will have a mature and perfected process. It has set them up for future success when others thought they were crazy to invest in such profound change – and they didn’t even have to go into space to do it.

Don’t we all want to win in the future? Set ourselves up for success without destroying our planet or our health? Then we need to focus on shifting our perspective, think out of the box. So I challenge you, what could unreasonable innovation look like in your industry?

Learn more about Talk Boutique speaker, Marianne Lefever and how to book her to speak at your next event.

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