The Innovation Spiral to Survive in the Age of VUCA

Takahisa Karita

Takahisa Karita



Takahisa Karita


Now we have entered a world where there are many black swans (events that can hardly be predicted in advance and have a large impact when they occur). By disasters such as typhoons, floods, droughts, wildfires, and rising sea levels caused by environmental changes in each country, along with the global spread of unknown viruses like COVID-19 due to changes in the biosphere resulting from deforestation, and the unending conflicts of beliefs and religions, as well as wars caused by geopolitical backgrounds, humanity is being drawn into an era of greater uncertainty and discontinuity. Humanity must solve these many problems simultaneously and sustainably. We have indeed entered the era of VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity). For us to survive in this era, all human beings need to bring about sustainable innovation and harmonious cooperation.

By the way, the word ‘innovation’ is used in various situations, but what exactly does it mean? The concept of innovation was first defined by Joseph Alois Schumpeter (1883-1950), an economist born in the Austro-Hungarian Empire (later the Czech Republic). He defined innovation as ‘the new combination of means of production, resources, and labor in economic activity in a different way.’ This was a time when the impact of human economic activities on the environment had not yet been fully elucidated.

However, at present, we are required to go far beyond the scope of his definition of innovation, not only improving labor productivity and maximizing profits but also reducing the burden on the environment (preferably achieving environmental improvement). This involves creating new combinations that can achieve both social development and environmental protection. In modern times, marked by environmental destruction and pollution, future socio-economic development requires innovation that reconciles opposites. We, living in the present age, need to view these opposing issues as vectors in the same direction and promote innovation while considering the balance between economic growth and environmental improvement.

Furthermore, without sustaining this innovation, there will be no bright future for humanity and all other ecosystems on Earth. Since 2000, advanced IT technologies such as Web 3.0, AI, XR, robotics, fintech, quantum computing, etc., have begun to emerge at an accelerated pace. We are now in an era where innovation can be triggered at the individual level by effectively using tools that transcend humanity. Most of these IT technologies are also extremely affordable. They represent innovations created by humankind, and new generations will build upon these tools to create further innovations. The key is to continue this positive innovation spiral, ensuring a promising world for our next generation.

Needless to say, Earth and its environment are common resources for humanity and ecosystems, all interconnected in an extremely complex system. Every minor influence mutually affects others. Among these influences, not only the negative events mentioned earlier but also the effects that drive positive initiatives can significantly spread throughout the planet.

To transform the conventional, create new values, and bring about change in society, unprecedented ideas are invented through the involvement of many people.

In particular, I believe that in our society, as demonstrated in network theory (where the interaction between people is regarded as a bond, and the structure of human relationships, consisting of multiple ties, is assumed to be a social network), a concept extensively explored in peer-reviewed papers, even from the individual level, phenomena such as the butterfly effect (a very small event that eventually leads to something big that we never expected) and emergent effects (the transformation of the conventional to create new value and bring about change in society; unprecedented ideas invented through the involvement of many people) can address numerous current negative issues and profoundly change this world for the better.

To navigate this VUCA era and address global problems, individuals worldwide need to recognize that individual innovation leads to local innovation, local innovation leads to national innovation, and ultimately, that innovation will spread to the entire planet. Regardless of individual circumstances, everyone has the potential to positively impact the world by connecting with like-minded individuals based on network theory.

To foster this “Positive sustainable innovation spiral,” it is crucial to cultivate a shared mindset that each individual can innovate. Preserving this positive and sustainable innovation spiral hinges on educating the next generation. Samuel Phillips Huntington, in his book ‘The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order,’ argued that contact and encounters with other cultures strengthen the uniqueness of a culture and its identity. The next generation in this century will witness an unprecedented clash between AI and other heterogeneous IT cultures.

To avoid being swallowed up by the wave of heterogeneous IT culture, it will be essential for the next generation to receive education that enhances their uniqueness and strengthens their identity as human beings. In the midst of the clash of IT cultures, we find ourselves in an era where a more humane way of life is required. With this in mind, I hope that the next generation learns from an early age how to balance the threats and uses of IT technologies and continues to foster a ‘Positive sustainable innovation spiral.’

Lastly, in the era of VUCA, I would like to address measures against environmental change, a crucial consideration that we, as individuals, must prioritize to initiate a ‘Positive sustainable innovation spiral.’ As you know, one of the major contributors to climate change is global warming caused by the increase in greenhouse gases. Since the Industrial Revolution from the 18th century onwards, addressing global warming has become an unavoidable imperative for improving the standard of living.

It is estimated that 2 trillion tons of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) have already been emitted since the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century. The projected total for a two-degree rise is 3 trillion tons, with approximately 1 trillion tons of remaining carbon dioxide emissions. If the current emissions of the past few years (40 billion tons per year) continue, the total amount will reach 3 trillion tons by 2040.

An international debate surrounds when to reduce gas emissions and achieve carbon neutrality (reducing greenhouse gas emissions to zero as a whole). This involves ‘absorbing’ or ‘eliminating’ the same amount of waste that had to be discharged, effectively reducing the total amount to zero. The Paris Agreement, signed in 2015, set a target of warming below 2 degrees Celsius, and ideally, 1.5 degrees Celsius. Based on various prediction simulations, the international consensus has set 2050 as the target.

While more international challenges are being undertaken to address this proposition, I believe that the next generation of individuals in both developed and developing countries holds diverse solutions to environmental problems.

In all developed countries, there is a crucial need to develop systems and applications for measuring daily data collection of individual CO2 emissions (Scope 3: Indirect GHG Emissions) and offsets. This allows each person to cultivate an environmental mindset. Furthermore, the ability to build big data from accumulated personal life-related data, accounting for nearly 20% of CO2 emissions by industry, can lead to significant solutions and associated innovations.

In developing countries, it’s possible to establish preventive measures to reduce CO2 emissions based on the analysis of personal data. This precautionary approach has the potential to initiate a ‘Positive sustained innovation spiral’ during the development stages in these countries. Although developing countries currently have relatively low CO2 emissions and may need to use energy with emissions for societal and economic development, there is an international consensus that carbon neutrality should consider the circumstances of each country.

If developing countries can approach the living standards of developed nations concerning energy infrastructure, sanitation, and living conditions, they can utilize their innovations internationally in a more equitable and efficient manner. Overall, I support the widespread use of cryptocurrencies and a fair blockchain ecosystem. However, residing in Japan, which is prone to natural disasters, I can easily envision an infrastructure crash due to cyber downtime as everything becomes IT-dependent. Considering this, I believe it’s essential to maintain a balance and not entirely eliminate offline banknotes. Compassionate diversity and a ‘Positive sustained innovation spiral’ are innovations that are truly needed, striking a balance in implementing environmental measures.