Stop relying on technology to solve the world’s problems and invest in the minds behind it

·3-min read
The race to find a Covid vaccine showed what can be achieved through human innovation  (Reuters)
The race to find a Covid vaccine showed what can be achieved through human innovation (Reuters)

The current investment industry pays a lot of attention to technology. In 2020, $41bn (£29.8bn) was invested in tech start-ups in Europe alone, with investment in this space reaching record levels in the UK.

It is hardly surprising. Tech is an extremely lucrative avenue for growing profitable businesses. But beyond revenue, it offers us many viable solutions for a more sustainable and diverse future – from Heliogen’s world-first technology that replaces fossil fuels with sunlight, to Dots’ body movement-recognition system that makes smart devices accessible for disabled people.

As climate and civic responsibility climbs the global agenda, technological solutions that unite profit with purpose are destined only to become even more profitable.

But is our goal for the future really to become completely reliant on tech? In an era dominated by the climate crisis, Covid-19 and enhanced awareness of social injustice, a tech-first world should not be the ultimate objective. Our collective responsibility should be to steward the planet for the benefit of future generations and there is now, more than ever, a lucrative market for more human-focused endeavours.

Technology alone does not hold the key to unlocking the future – it is the human minds collaborating behind it that drive true innovation, and this discursive experience will determine the future we want. Technology is, instead, an enabler, a powerful vehicle for change.

Why, then, do we not invest more in the design processes and design capabilities, while toning down the over-emphasis on tech?

A great designer will be able to navigate across multiple disciplines – sciences, humanities, business, culture, applied arts and anthropology. Combining empathy and contextual understanding with user-driven insights and rapid testing, designers consider the world at large in its volatile and ambiguous state, to create effective solutions that suit diverse and complex needs.

But to investors, tech is more immediately tangible, with easily quantifiable returns and impact. Creativity is a moving target that is difficult to measure in financial terms, but something that touches every aspect of our lives.

Creativity orbits around identifying a problem and finding a way to fix it. Where there is a problem large and urgent enough, with a viable solution, there will always be a market. Creativity also doesn’t end in a single venture. There exists a perpetual cycle of founders finding new problems to solve, and drawing on their knowledge, experience and learnings from past ventures to inform new ones. Investing in creative minds therefore has unmatched longevity.

Investors must apply this thinking, coupled with an understanding of the challenges humanity faces, to their own investment strategies. We can see it happening with the rise in so-called ESG investments (which have doubled in the past year) – funds that aim to help the environment and promote social good.

We should invest in people to enhance the world for the betterment of humanity and to preserve our planetary boundaries. Nobody truly has the answer, but investors can make the difference by daring to enable the ideas that can save us.

From a personal perspective, as CEO of an organisation that celebrates design that improves quality of life through our awards programme, we have a naturally more creative approach than conventional fund managers. To me, investment is about taking risks and believing the world can be better through creativity and servicing real needs.

As investors, we hold the power to transform groundbreaking ideas into a reality. It’s time to think beyond technology alone and recognise the potential investing in creative thinkers has for building a more empathic, humane future.

Liza Chong is CEO of The Index Project and fund manager and general partner of Design to Improve Life Capital Management

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