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Economic Obstacles to Innovation

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In her first guest post for WhichPLM, Georgia Knell, Creative Lead at Mindless Academy, explores economic obstacles when it comes to innovation in Fashion. If a computer can win a game of chess, and cars can drive themselves, why can’t we all have fair access and opportunity to innovate? 

Time Machines & Crystal Balls

Famous author, educator, and philosopher, Peter Drucker, once said, “Nobody can predict the future; the idea is to have a firm grasp of the present.”

With the notion of mindfulness and consciousness growing rapidly every day, remaining present appears to be an attainable way of life to aspire to. However, Drucker’s statement, “Nobody can predict the future”, has been in my mind as a prominent question of late. Now, I’m not talking about crystal balls or magic, but instead, I want to draw your focus to predictions.

In 1516, English Philosopher Thomas More explored the concept of something now coined ‘Universal Basic Income.’ In his book, he wrote, “No penalty on earth will stop people from stealing if it is their only way of getting food. It would be far more to the point to provide everyone with some means of livelihood”.

Over the past 500 years, UBI is an idea that has been explored frequently, most prominently by Karl Marx, who imagined a ‘post-capitalist industrial economy’ shared wealth that would allow society to “hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening and criticize after dinner”.

If we fast forward to the modern-day and look at the connections between standards of living, finance, and happiness, Denmark and many other Nordic countries are leading the way, and this comes down to the concept of basic needs. All Danes receive coverage of basic needs throughout their lives, including good wages, healthcare, free education (including university), one-year government-paid maternity leave, and leading elder care.

Modern Day Predictions

Ray Kurzweil made a bold prediction about the future of ‘free money’. According to Kurzweil, “in the early 2030s, we’ll have a universal basic income in the developed world, and worldwide by the end of the 2030s.” It is supposed that everyone will be able to live very well on that, with the primary concern being meaning and purpose.

If this prediction holds some tangible weight, what does that mean for the economy, the job market, the way that the world currently works? The rise of capitalism tore apart all the old relationships between humans and the natural world. It was driven by one principle: to make money. Nature and those living amongst it, were only seen as resources to exploit, valued by how much profit could be made from them.

People became workers and workers now made commodities that belonged to capitalists, who made a profit from the supply and demand chain created as a result. Human needs were now measured by financial gain, only to be met if it was profitable.

So why is the notion of Universal Basic Income being revisited today? The answer? Technology. Artificial intelligence, machine learning, and human singularity is a revolutionary tool that is making the impossible possible, and is reshaping the way we live and work. AI and other assistive technology generates new jobs and up-skills existing ones, but what happens if priorities are shifted away from the market, and towards meaning and purpose?

Passion for Fashion

Fashion, for example, is one of the biggest industries in the entire world, generating around $2.5 trillion in global annual revenues. Using Schwartz’s theory of basic human values as a model, it could be deduced that fashion innovators and leaders fall within four broad groups of values, self-enhancement, openness to change, conservation, and self-transcendence. All of these values lend themselves to the possibility of enhanced innovation. Innovation is one of the highest-ranking values of a company, particularly within the world of fashion. 

With this in mind, the great desire and need for innovation often result in brands wanting to be seen to be innovating as opposed to actually seeking consumer insight and becoming thought leaders. Genuine insight, rule-breaking, passion, and advancement is the only way to bring change within the industry, and Universal Basic Income can see consumers become innovators and break the mold.

What effect would innovation in the fashion scope see as a result of Universal Basic Income?

  1. Primarily, UBI would help us to rethink how and why we work. Employees have the freedom to explore, create, or re-train, with the knowledge that they are safe to maintain a good standard of living. Explorations of passions, purpose, and meaning can allow for new ideas, new approaches, and future thinking.
  2. One of the most prominent issues within the Fashion industry, in particular, is transparency within supply chains. High-profit margins often take precedent over workers’ rights and satisfaction. However, with the implementation of Universal Basic Income and the safety net that this provides, employees can challenge their satisfaction with working conditions without the fear of unemployment.
  3. Introduction of equal and fair financial support could see a reduction in wealth inequalities. Wealth would be shared, rather than contained within social groups. UBI provides the glimmer of hope that can raise everyone above the poverty line; wave goodbye to low wages, and help those who lose their jobs.
  4. From a macroeconomic perspective, jobs will be able to be more fairly and evenly distributed due to reduced hours, which could see an increase in long-term economic growth and shorter-term business cycles.
  5. Universal basic income could also lead to a strengthened democracy due to enhanced financial security. Innovation can be explored in everyday lives, citizens will be granted further ability to govern themselves rather than delegate power and responsibility to other social groups/representatives.

Future Thinking

Adopting a Universal Basic Income for all can help society think creatively with existing and new industries, leaving opportunities to focus on important future innovations. This practical social support program can develop as science & technology rapidly evolve, introducing steps towards world abundance.

A study suggested that, “Fashion innovators will be more likely to accept a new trend that represents these values because values are the motivations for these individuals to be the innovators of the fashion world.” With the implementation of UBI, these innovators can come from far and wide due to widened opportunity, the safety of exploration and expression, and encouraged innovation.

We need to create and support fashion solutions beyond the notion of cash flow, consumerism, and capitalism. Fast consumption, high margins, and constrained innovation leads only to replication of trends, pieces, and ideas dictated by a small number of industry conglomerates. Something needs to change. If a computer can win a game of chess, and cars can drive themselves, why can’t we all have fair access and opportunity to innovate?

Fashion, environmental, and future thinking activities are taking steps in the right direction by campaigning and working towards a fairer fashion future, and maybe money is the obstacle to be overcome to finally reach new levels of creative exploration.

Lydia Mageean Lydia Mageean has been part of the WhichPLM team for eight years now. She has a creative and media background, and is responsible for maintaining and updating our website content, liaising with advertisers, working on special projects like our PLM Project Pack, or our Annual Publications, and more.Joining mid-2013 as our Online Editor, she has since become WhichPLM’s Editor. In addition to taking on writing and interviewing responsibilities, Lydia has also become the primary point of contact for news, events, features and other aspects of our ever-growing online content library and tools.