When it comes from turning idea into innovation Luis Perez-Breva, director and lead faculty of the MIT Innovation Teams Programme at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is an expert on the “experimental, nonlinear, and incremental” process involved.

EACD member Maria Gaton Fraile asked Luis what communicators can learn from his recent book, Innovating: A Doer's Manifesto for Starting from a Hunch, Prototyping Problems, Scaling Up, and Learning to Be Productively Wrong

How is innovation evolving in artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, etc? Which are the most important challenges from a research standpoint?

We've seen a tremendous evolution in the tools for AI. But there is more to come. Beyond automation and analytics, which is what most startups focus on today, the real opportunity ahead for AI is to offer a different way to interrogate problems. It isn't about how much data you have, or about the model, but about the new questions we get to ask now that machines are capable of processing data so differently than humans do. This applies across the board and even opens questions that traditional models of science have a hard time formulating. This is more consonant with our desire to solve real-world problems. 

Where will innovation occur in the communications field and how is it going to change citizens’ lives?

You're already seeing it. Not that long ago, you were a consumer of whatever the TV network would think is news. Today you can be the creator as well as consumer and you have ample choice from YouTube to podcasts to messaging apps and tweets. The expectation is now set for communication to be free: the biggest challenge is to rise above the noise and to figure out a way to sustain that infrastructure. I think we will see an evolution away from marketing models to fund infrastructure and towards other models that value quality and curation (realvision is one example). The news industry is wrestling with this now as well.

Although the Fourth Industrial Revolution is relevant in multiple sectors, which sectors are especially innovative and which are the sectors with most potential for innovation?

Media content production, film production, healthcare, internet of things, additive manufacturing security, retail and banking are all undergoing digital transformation empowered by analytics and machine learning and receiving a lot of attention. What may be more surprising to many is to realise that biotech, manufacturing energy systems are now starting to realise the potential of AI to address questions that weren't addressable just a few years ago. These are questions like designing a family of microorganisms to protect crops. And as AI penetrates these domains and matures in the communications industry, new jobs are being created - they just look very different to previous jobs because the nature of the problems addressed are different. An example? Check how many people Amazon employs in its warehouses and compare to how many warehouse jobs existed before. Or check Twitter to understand how the job of a publicist has changed.

How do you achieve a constant attitude of innovation and creativity for employees and the board of directors?

This is something I talk about in my latest book. Innovation is an outcome. Most professionals, large corporations and entrepreneurs get this wrong. It isn't there at the beginning: you make it happen. However, driven by the desire to get innovation most companies will set up committees or organisations intent on finding the "idea". As if the idea was the innovation and it had to be about something new that they don't currently do. They start building from the roof down. What they ought to do instead is drive aspiring innovators within their companies to demonstrate how to use what the organisation already does and knows for a new purpose. Innovations will emerge as they learn how to start with what they already have and discover what's missing. And committees will be able decide whether to allocate more resources based on whether the tangible demonstration of value sought by those aspiring entrepreneurs at the next milestone matches their desires. In other words, don't focus on the innovation, focus on innovating and learning and on how to demonstrate the value at scale. 

What are examples of smart practices in hubs of constant innovative evolution?

I will comment on MIT, which is where I am based. The key is simple, though sometimes counterintuitive: the job of an innovator is to target problems that may appear impossible today, make them possible and commit not to fail in any way that can be predicted. The alternative would just be waste. You do that by putting a tangible demonstration of value ahead of publicising a rosy future. Innovations help us reach further, they break the previous ceiling, and you don't achieve that by publicity alone - you ought to make real world problems tangible and learn your way to a solution. 

Interview by Maria Gaton Fraile

Luis Perez-Breva, an innovator and entrepreneur, is a lecturer and a research scientist at MIT's School of Engineering and the originator and lead instructor of the MIT Innovation Teams Program.

Maria Gaton Fraile is a communications consultant with clients such as European Audiovisual Observatory, Council of Europe, ICOM, International Council of Museums. She has worked as head of communications and public relations in ICOM  and in iCmedia. As global communications manager she has worked in Sanofi Aventis and TUI Travel, with previous positions in The Economist Group and CFO Europe. She has been a member of the European Association of Communication Directors since 2013.

Image: Alex Kingsbury