Innovation is a state of mind. Learning the right mental tools can enable a new generation of digital entrepreneurs to make a difference to humanity.
Elon Musk gained massive financial success with a digital payment system (PayPal). But that was just a launch pad for the South African-born US citizen to start disrupting much more than corporate dynamics; he wants to reconfigure Earth and other parts of the galaxy.
Musk is poised to take ordinary people into space and move towards settling Mars (SpaceX) while combating climate change with storage batteries (Tesla Powerwall) that make solar energy viable as a staple power source for homes.
A SpaceX vision of what interplanetary transport could look like. Photo: SpaceX
Digital entrepreneurs – those who come up with agile technological solutions to disrupt existing industry – are showing they can use their thought leadership to change the conditions of human existence. Musk is not alone in starting with a good idea to develop business by using the potential of the internet, and then deploying the resulting financial muscle in a bid to create change on a planetary scale.
Others who clearly aspire to more than material success include Jeff Bezos, who has used some of the wealth accrued from founding Amazon and other companies to promote space travel and several scientific research ventures; and Mark Zuckerberg, who says he is on a mission to connect the entire developing world to the web via the internet.org initiative.
Some of these moves attract controversy, but it is undeniable that they represent an ambitious step forward from conventional philanthropy in which the wealthy have traditionally sent resources towards underdeveloped regions to improve living standards or respond medical emergencies. Digital entrepreneurs’ ideas seem to be more about radically changing the future than an attempt to right some of the wrongs of the past.
Elon Musk sees his dreams brought to life in the Tesla factory. Photo: Steve Jurvetson CC-BY 2.0
“I’m interested in things that change the world or affect the future,” Musk told CBS in a 2014 interview.
Anything is possible. And it does not need to start with deep and heavy technological effort. The separation between business and global leadership is over. Success in one specific field can become a platform for visions that could connect with billions around the planet.
“We are into agile technology; the way an algorithm can disrupt an entire sector”
Lee Newman, Dean of the IE School of Human Sciences and Technology
“We are into agile technology; the way an algorithm can disrupt an entire sector,” says Lee Newman, Dean of the IE School of Human Sciences and Technology, explaining the philosophy of IE University’s Bachelor in Information Systems Management. “Algorithms cost nothing, but the whole business of Google was built around a new algorithm. The same goes for Uber or Airbnb. They put technology together in new ways to completely disrupt business. What we are doing is using technology to innovate and disrupt businesses, industries, and create value,” Dr Newman says.
Technology should not be reduced to actual tools or mechanisms, but must encompass an opening of mental pathways and the ability to think into the future, however impossible that may sometimes seem.
“The best thing you can learn here is a way of thinking so that when you go out into the world, you know how to build your own tools”
Teresa Ramos, Director of the Bachelor in Information Systems Management
“We are preparing students for jobs that don’t exist, with technology that doesn’t exist to solve problems that don’t exist,” is how Teresa Ramos, the director of the Bachelor in Information Systems Management, puts it. “I tell my students that the best thing you can learn here is a way of thinking and a way of approaching problems, so that when you go out into the world, you know how to build your own tools. Technology is moving so fast, there is no way of keeping up to date unless you keep learning every day.”