The Ecology of Innovation – What Can Drive the 21st Century

Can one describe a society that is focused on innovation in ecological terms? Ecology, by definition, is a branch of biology that studies species within the larger context of the environment: how the species interact with each other and their surroundings. A branch of ecology called human ecology studies the interactions between humans and the larger society including economics, politics and socio-psychological relationships.

So what is found in our global society today that can be described as an ecology of innovation? As a futurist who studies technological and scientific achievements, it is clear to me that one can define today a distinct, innovation ecology.

Here are some examples:


The Internet is the ubiquitous platform upon which this new ecology is built. It, along with global communication facilitated by cellular networks, connects all of human society today like never before. With a Wikipedia, a Google or a Bing it is hard to imagine not finding answers to almost any question you pose. Of course in the free flow of information also comes misinformation.

That’s where education plays a powerful role in an ecology of innovation. And today we are seeing more of those in our global society who have been denied access to learning finally making strides. I’m speaking of girls who in so many cultures have often been ignored as a resource capable of driving innovation. Today more and more of them are getting educational opportunities very much facilitated by access to inexpensive smartphones and the Internet as well as formal education.

Another is the notion of prizes, the offering of cash rewards to individuals or organizations that develop a specific technology or scientific accomplishment in pursuit of a defined goal set by those making the offer. This old 18th century idea continues to be renewed here in the 21st and is fostering innovation in space, aviation, transportation, biomedicine and environmental science. Even NASA and DARPA have announced prize competitions to encourage innovation within the private sector to meet the goals of the space program and the Pentagon.


x prize2


Probably the recent phenomenon of crowdsourcing and crowdfunding through the Internet is the best example of an ecology of innovation. Sites like Indiegogo and Kickstarter are an inventor’s paradise, connecting those who create innovation with early adopters who are prepared to invest to see the technology get to market. The results have been astonishing to the point where crowdsourcing funding for pure science now exists at Petridish.



But it is the use of the word ecology that keeps making me think of the environment and the planet we live on. Of all areas of pursuit today we need our modern society focused on addressing the environmental challenges we face in the 21st century. We need as a society to create the innovation necessary to ensure our survival as a species. We live in interesting times, in a period when we know that we may be subject to significant environmental disruptions as the century unfolds and face challenges human society has never experienced before. Critical thinking, innovation, and invention will be ours and the planet’s salvation.


climate change crowdsourcing

Len Rosen lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He is a researcher and writer who has a fascination with science and technology. He is married with a daughter who works in radio, and a miniature red poodle who is his daily companion on walks of discovery. More...