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Starting a WAVE of ingenuity: Q&A with Navi Radjou

Jeff Hoffmann
Private Client Services

Navi Radjou, a well-known author and entrepreneurial advocate, is the curator of WAVE, an exhibit that celebrates global innovation and its potential to improve societies and create a more sustainable planet.

Navi Radjou speaking in front of a WAVE panel in San Francisco.The exhibit, created by BNP Paribas last year, has been traveling the globe, and major portions of the collection have arrived for display in Bank of the West’s wealth management centers in San Francisco and Palo Alto through Nov. 27.

I’m thrilled to present this brief Q&A we had with Navi before the collections opened in Northern California, and I hope you’ll be as inspired as we are by his vision and insights.

Q: As curator of the WAVE exhibit, what about this show excites your passions, particularly around innovation? A: We need to demystify innovation, long perceived as an elitist activity conducted by a few “high priests” in insular R&D labs. In today’s Internet age, innovation is now happening in the streets of Mumbai, Shanghai, Paris, Johannesburg, San Francisco — led by resourceful entrepreneurs and self-motivated citizens who are leveraging increasingly cheaper technologies like 3D printers and social media platforms to co-develop effective solutions that address big issues in education, health care, energy, and transportation worldwide.

WAVE is an ode to sheer human creativity: Through 20 real-life examples, the exhibition shows how by harnessing the collective ingenuity of the 7.3 billion people on Earth we can co-build inclusive societies and a sustainable planet.

Is there a particular project that’s part of the San Francisco or Palo Alto portion of the WAVE exhibit that has inspired you in a unique way?

WAVE chronicles five mega-trends that are radically transforming businesses and societies worldwide: the sharing economy, the Maker movement, the circular economy, co-creation, and inclusive business. I am proud that the sharing economy and the Maker movement were both born in the Bay Area.

So this is like a homecoming for WAVE: It celebrates the fact that the Bay Area is the birthplace of two major trends that are revolutionizing economies worldwide. Indeed, the common thread uniting the sharing economy and the Maker movement is that they both empower citizens to evolve from passive consumers to active “prosumers” who can share goods and services among each other and use DIY tools to produce goods themselves.

What themes from the WAVE exhibit resonate with those in your latest book, “Frugal Innovation: How to Do More with Less”?

Frugal innovation is a disruptive business strategy that enables companies to “do more (and better) with less” — that is, to create more economic and social value while minimizing valuable resources such as capital, natural resources, and time. As such, all themes in WAVE resonate with frugal innovation.

However, the theme of circular economy perfectly connects with frugal innovation, especially in the context of California, a region facing severe water shortage. Indeed, circular economy is a strategy that calls for reusing and recycling materials and resources in a closed-loop fashion.

I believe U.S. companies — particularly in the Bay Area — need to think and act frugally in how they use scarce natural resources like water. By adopting the principles of the circular economy these companies can learn how to do more — and better — with less.

You live in Palo Alto, where one of the WAVE exhibits is displayed. How would you like to see this show influence your local area, which is already a hot spot for innovation?

Companies and entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley have much to learn from WAVE. Innovators in Silicon Valley know how to do “more with more” — that is, create increasingly complex and expensive gadgets (think of iPhone 5, 6, 7!). But in today’s resource-constrained environment, the new mantra should be: “Do more with less.” That’s easier said than done in a resource-rich region like Silicon Valley.

I believe in the coming decade, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs will need to embrace concepts like circular economy and inclusive business covered in WAVE if they wish to serve the needs of consumers worldwide who are becoming both value-conscious and values-conscious. I hope WAVE will induce a “shift in conscience” among Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and show them it’s possible to “do well while doing good” for the planet.

The WAVE exhibit may also inspire visitors to get more involved in making a difference in the world, through personal efforts or larger initiatives. What would you suggest as next steps to help them?

I would recommend two things. First, I encourage visitors to start “making” things by leveraging increasingly affordable 3D printers and joining DIY communities like TechShops and FabLabs. I invite visitors to unleash their “MacGyver” instinct to create valuable products that can make a big difference in the world. For instance, four Stanford students used a TechShop in the Bay Area to develop Embrace, a portable infant warmer that has already saved the lives of over 150,000 premature babies worldwide.

Second, I recommend visitors to start organizing themselves in communities and share best practices, thus amplifying their impact. They could arrange meet-ups to discuss the five trends covered in WAVE and explore how they can collectively apply these trends in their own organizations, and even their personal lives.

In sum, after visiting WAVE, I want visitors to start making huge “waves” in their local communities and beyond!

For more information, visit the WAVE site.

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