A man checks Twitter on his laptop. According to Cisco Internet Business Solutions Group, there are more connected devices than there are people on the planet. How should technology play a role in helping address global problems? Photo by: Arne Hoel / World Bank / CC BY-NC-ND

Our world is being shaped by inescapable global trends that cannot be ignored by any business or innovator hoping to alter the course of some of the most threatening social and environmental issues of our time.

Now, more than ever before, it is clear that the disruptive thinking that is a necessary part of the process of innovation is no longer enough. Innovation in itself isn’t the solution. Ideas need to be scalable, and they need to be informed by the global forces shaping our world so that they can withstand them. Simply put, we risk missing the opportunity to turn a great idea into a truly innovative solution if we only consider solving the issues of today’s world, not tomorrow’s.

Consider some of the most interesting global shifts occurring as we speak. According to Cisco Internet Business Solutions Group, there are more connected devices than there are people on the planet. What will it mean for business models and consumer expectations when in 2020, there are more than 7.6 billion people on the planet with almost seven connected devises per person? How should technology play a role in helping address the problem?

According to the Population Division of the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the world population living in urban environments is expected to increase by 72 percent by 2050, from 3.6 billion in 2011 to 6.3 billion in 2050. How will that impact job availability, trade flows, health and security? How will the availability of resources and ongoing climate change affect — and be affected — by this shift? And when the U.N. report on World Population Ageing (1950-2050) predicts that 21 percent of the world’s population will be older than 60 by 2050, what will be the impact on taxes and social programs? How will businesses reengineer to accommodate their aging workforces?

With an awareness of these trends, we can begin piecing together what the world of tomorrow will look like, and we can begin to create lasting solutions.

The problems plaguing our world today will not be cured by yesterday’s remedies. New ideas need to be informed by the past but not constrained by it. To achieve real change, we must push ourselves beyond incremental solutions. This is as true for society as it is for business. According to PwC’s Breakthrough Innovation and Growth survey, companies are largely focused on innovating in incremental ways that are safe, profitable and important for their growth. However, organizations with the most aggressive growth targets are concentrating on a greater proportion of breakthrough and radical innovations that truly change the game. These leaders, or those who are taking a more comprehensive approach to innovation (20 percent of our study), are expected to grow by more than 60 percent over the next five years, a growth target that is twice as fast as the global average in our study.

Innovators must also have the willingness to collaborate and work together. Nearly all respondents in our survey plan to focus on strategic partnerships. These relationships are the ones most likely to help companies find new ventures, share the risk and commit more resources to develop innovative ideas. But it’s this diversity in perspective that is critically important to identifying and cultivating the best ideas.

The Social Innovation Summit has served as a catalyst of change. It helps illustrate the beauty of what can be created when two or more groups unite, across sectors, pool their assets and ideas, and address an issue in a way no one else has before. But these collaborations aren’t just about getting someone else to do half of the work. They are about re-imagining what can be done when we challenge ourselves to utilize our strengths in ways no one has previously.

Money isn’t our greatest asset when solving societal issues. If you take a look at education, for example, it’s clear to see on both a global and national level that simply spending money hasn’t fixed the problem. It’s time to commit to tackling these societal issues with our other assets — our talent, resources and ideas.

We can no longer afford to keep our assets too closely guarded out of fear that our competitors will step in and achieve an advantage. It is only by sharing our ideas and assets that we can re-imagine solutions that can be sustainable in our rapidly evolving world, and that is where true social innovation lies.

This article is part of a series of op-eds from key speakers and delegates participating in this year’s Social Innovation Summit, which took place on Nov. 19-20 at Stanford Business School. View the full series here.

About the author

  • Shannon Schuyler

    Shannon Schuyler has been with PricewaterhouseCoopers for 15 years and is the firm's corporate responsibility leader and an officer of the board for the PwC Charitable Foundation. She oversees the actions, programs and initiatives for the firm's global internal strategy around PwC's four CR pillars: marketplace, community, people, and environment.