The Case for Training A Million "Innovation Stewards”
For the innovation tide to lift all boats, every community needs an In-Betweener who bridges the gap between foundational tech and the everyday people it is meant to serve
In December 2022, I declared in my “Foundational Tech Manifesto” that we need to increase the number of “foundational technologists” by something like 10x.
I made this declaration based on the premises that 1) there wasn't enough innovation happening, and 2) the way to increase innovation was to increase the number of technologists interested in innovation.
Look, it's very possible that both of those premises are still true; It's very possible that we still need a lot more people to apply their talents to innovation in battery technology, water desalination, nuclear fusion, environmental credits beyond carbon credits, and so on and so forth.
Regardless, I have since realized that this way of overemphasizing one type of person—the tech entrepreneur—is irresponsible, especially because it implicitly undervalues other types of people we desperately need to level up America (and beyond).
One type of person I have come to realize is RIDICULOUSLY important to a better future is not someone who writes code or builds a company, but an In-Betweener who helps communities evaluate the sea of cool-sounding technologies and adopt the ones that are both right for the community (based on its members' needs) and collectively endorsed by the community.
I call these people "Innovation Stewards."
What is an “Innovation Steward”? 🤔
In a community that can benefit from foundational technologies, Innovation Steward are critical role players.
Innovation Stewards are trusted individuals who:
Foster consensus on a community's future vision.
Educate members on enabling technologies.
Vet potential technologies for adoption.
Manage prioritization and integration processes.
Care genuinely about the community's flourishing through technology adoption.
The thought experiment "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" relates to innovations not reaching the communities that need them most. An innovation's true impact isn't realized without proper dissemination.
Innovation Stewards connect innovators and their ideas with communities that can benefit from them, ensuring the "sound" of innovation is heard. They foster communication, collaboration, and capacity building.
Key functions of Innovation Stewards include:
Identifying community needs
Connecting innovators and communities
Ensuring accessibility and inclusivity
Building local capacity
Monitoring and evaluation
Innovation Stewards act as a bridge between innovation and communities, transforming potential into tangible, positive change.
How to make sure Innovation Stewards are serving the community 🫂
To ensure Innovation Stewards serve the community and not companies, communities should be the sole financial backer of Innovation Stewards. Startups can pay communities to explore a technology, with Innovation Stewards evaluating whether it's right for the community.
Communities could compensate Innovation Stewards for measurable improvements in agreed-upon collective success metrics, incentivizing them to support tech integration that benefits the community.
Honest and useful recommendations will come from Innovation Stewards who aren't punished for saying no to tech companies, who are rewarded for recommending and helping implement only what is truly useful.
Conclusion: Help Me Meme This Profession Into Existence
Innovation Stewards bridge the gap between innovation and communities by fostering trust, facilitating communication, ensuring accessibility, and building local capacity.
As demand for sustainability, social impact, and adaptability increases, the importance of Innovation Stewards grows. Their unique skills and collaborative focus align innovations with community values and needs.
To maintain integrity, Innovation Stewards should be compensated by the community, not external companies. This ensures they prioritize community interests when evaluating and implementing technologies.
By valuing Innovation Stewards and supporting their integration, we can promote inclusive, impactful, and community-driven innovation, leading to a better future for all.
This decade's foundational tech could lift all boats toward a collective Golden Age, but it's large part up to Innovation Stewards, schools that train them, and companies that help fund them to make it happen.
1 million Innovation Stewards by 2030?
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