Emergent Innovation ~ The Next Frontier 

Emergent Innovation

An essay by J. Paul Duplantis | 1/13/2020

“Emergent Innovation is synonymous with breakthroughs, disruption, radical ideas, paradigm-shifting results, raw novelty, and market creation.” ~~FreshConsulting.com

A list of 20 current Emergent Innovators can be found below this essay

Look around. They could be in your community. At your workplace sitting next to you. Across the field at the baseball stadium. At your church. In the ghetto. At your child’s play. Across your dinner table. Who or what is it? A person, group or organization with an innovative approach to thinking or a game-changer of an idea to help improve the human condition to emerge from a marketplace of ideas to make a difference if given the chance.

Innovations to;

  • Create better opportunities for self-actualization
  • Promote a cleaner environment
  • Improve physical and mental health
  • Improve understanding between people and communities
  • Increase the value of the exchange in the free market by bringing more people into the benefits of it.

Of course, emergent innovations are not only the domain of improving the human condition as products can be improved upon and productivity increased to help the bottom line. But to me and hopefully many others, the concept of emergence speaks better to a role of innovation serving something greater than only a bottom line. 

In Steven Johnson’s book Emergence, he writes to the power of ant colonies working together for the benefit of the colony outside the control of the queen ant. Each ant innovating and communicating directly with other ants to grow and protect their colony. Common interests emerging from the efforts of the individual ant in service of themselves and their community. Just as with ant colonies, what is possible when the capabilities of humans working solo or with others innovate in service of themselves and their communities regardless of market forces or outside influences? Where innovation emerges from human inspiration and will. 

How do we get there? The path to progress in my estimation is to move the lens of innovation from the macro to the micro and from the expectations of short term gains to long term impact where opportunities to affect real change might be found. But this will only happen when we start to proactively look for Emergent Innovators in our midst to encourage, fund, and remove roadblocks in their way. 

Does a mindset to build this reality currently exist? Certainly. Just look at the growth of the social impact investment community where investments are made on both monetary value and social impact to fund opportunities in the market traditionally passed on. Look at the arrival of Certified B Corporations and Benefit Corporations to balance purpose and profit within a marketplace to positively impact workers, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment. And look at the efforts made by organizations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to tackle some of the world’s biggest challenges without chasing ROI. 

What is possible when you apply this momentum toward the discovery of untapped talent and ideas to help turn the tide toward a future more representative of human potential than the course we are currently on? I believe great things are possible but where are the opportunities to be found to help move this forward?

Could governments become more involved to help identify and fund Emergent Innovators living among us? Just as governments helped push humans into space and build the backbone of the internet, what could be done to help cut red tape and authorize the funding of programs to incentivize those who dare to break the mold of the status quo. 

Private Capital
Could social impact investing become woven into the fabric of philanthropic efforts to work more on root causes limiting progress rather than the symptoms?

Could consulting firms, NGOs, and organizations increase their focus on identifying innovative thinkers within their ranks to experiment on bold new ideas rather than sure money bets?

Could technologists grow their dual role as both a toolset for emergent innovators to build solutions as well as build tech to help innovators become discovered? 

Indeed quite a few “What ifs” but as with any frontier to explore, progress will not come without changes in behaviors. Although, if there were ever a new frontier to explore to pay large dividends for human progress it would be to tap the potential of the human spirit waiting in all corners of the world to rise to the challenge. They will most certainly fall and fail repeatedly but adding legions of innovators from all walks of life will only increase the odds of success. 

But will they be easily found? Probably not as how often does genius arrive in a nicely wrapped package. What would be the chances of walking past Nikola Tesla digging ditches in 1884 after he was fired from the Edison Company? Or leaving unimpressed after talking to a Swiss patent clerk with the crazy hair when filing for a patent in 1905. Ask yourself, could somebody in your midst today have the next great idea to move humanity forward? Are they a teacher, a student, a coder, a janitor, a CEO bogged down with meetings and margin calls, or an upstart organization with a radical idea for progress? 

What is possible when the spirit of innovation reaches beyond convention, stereotypes, and profit motives to harness the capabilities of members within society to contribute toward a society more reflective of a wider swath of capabilities? When innovation reaches past income level, gender, ethnicity, creed, education, or age to begin to dig deeper into the toolbox of human potential. Who knows, the next frontier for human progress could be right before our eyes.


Below is a list of innovators whether they are people or organizations I believe speak well to the ideas behind emergent innovation. I would like to add to this list in the future to help promote emergent innovators in our midst today. I will maintain this list at emergentweb.org/emergentinnovators. If you know of someone or an organization you believe qualify, please submit their bio, article, or write up on their efforts here.

Emergent Innovators

Morgan Vague
A student may have found a solution to one of the world’s most urgent environmental crises – breeding bacteria capable of “eating” plastic and potentially breaking it down into harmless by-products.

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
From attempting to eradicate polio globally to reimagining nuclear energy there’s no better test case of emergent innovation than through the efforts of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Tim Berners Lee, the Solid Project, and the team at Inrupt are reimagining the world wide web as a decentralized connection to put the user back in control of the world wide web. 

Dandelion Energy
Replace a home’s existing air conditioning and heating equipment with a powerful heat pump and safe, underground pipes to move heat between the earth and the home.

Adrian Lopez Velarde and Marte Cazarez
Mexican entrepreneurs Adrian Lopez Velarde and Marte Cazarez, created a clean alternative for leather from animal hides to reduce a reliance on the killing of animals. 

Sana Health
The first non-invasive bio-therapeutic device providing lasting relief for chronic pain sufferers.

The world’s first 3D-printed plant-based beefsteak in 2018

Humanising Autonomy
Building human-centered tools that define how autonomous systems interact with people through a better understanding of human behavior. Their pedestrian intent prediction platform makes autonomous vehicles safer and more efficient in urban environments.

Uses an immersive virtual reality environment – combined with a patented haptics feedback system, breathing apparatus, and heated personal protective clothing – to provide a unique training experience for firefighters. 

Tracks fisheries, ecosystems, and biodiversity using open data to examine private and industrial fishing around the world.

Vanguard Renewables
Provides farm powered organics to energy lifecycle to solve organic waste disposal challenges, generate renewable natural gas or renewables electricity, and support the American farmer. 

Utilizes AI-driven Social Emotional Learning programs to improve wellbeing for all.

Turner Impact Capital
One of the nation’s largest and fastest-growing social impact investment firms positioned to invest up to $3 billion in real estate solutions to address daunting societal challenges across the U.S.

Grameen Bank
Advanced to the forefront of a burgeoning world movement toward eradicating poverty through micro-lending.

Building technology to defend children from sexual abuse. 

Life Dreamer
A new approach in desalination could make use of up to 90% of treated seawater

Puts the two biggest levers (technology & government) to improve people’s lives at scale and help make government work in the digital age. 

Created an algae wall to purify polluted water without harmful chemicals

A social network inspiring deep and thoughtful conversations. 

Radford University Impact/ASSET Micro-credential Program
Competency-based model of professional development providing educators skills and strategies to more effectively meet the needs of their students.

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