• Innovation

Defending Human Centred Innovation

Mauro Porcini’s impassioned plea for people-centred, world-changing innovation


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Not since the economic crisis of 2009 have business leaders had to face so much stress and uncertainty. The pressure is on. This can undermine organizations’ ability to see beyond the short term—causing their innovation efforts to focus on profits at the expense of the people and the greater society their businesses serve.

In his new book, The Human Side of Innovation, Mauro Porcini, PepsiCo’s Chief Design Officer and SVP, calls out this potential error and makes an impassioned plea for people-centred design and innovation, which he sees as being at dire risk. At risk at a time when businesses urgently need to find new solutions, and to do this in close connection to people’s desires and society’s real needs.

Porcini subtitles his book the ‘Power of People in Love with People’. Such power was not in much evidence in decades past when too often innovation was seen as subordinate to scale, efficiency and short-term profitability. And design—he reminds us that everything not created by Mother Nature has been imagined and designed—was regularly perfunctory or done on the cheap.

In recent years attitudes have changed, innovation is seen as key to corporate success and design is lauded. We are now, says Porcini, “entering a new modern renaissance fueled by putting people at the centre of everything….an age of excellence.”

Porcini’s human perspective is not solely to do with innovation that delights us through the value, quality and attractiveness of the goods and services it provides. He believes that innovation can and should have a role in delivering a better world in terms of social and environmental good.

The concern now is: can the age of excellence and the power of love survive the post-Covid hangover, soaring energy prices, roaring inflation, and the cost-of-living crisis? He believes it has to, and ironically it is technology that gives hope.

Rather than being dehumanizing, technology—the era of digitization, e-commerce and social media—has brought a “celebration of the Person” and the “democratization of innovation.” It is an era in which only the best products, services and brands offering the best experiences will succeed—and only love-fueled design and innovation has the power to provide the best.

The core of the book, laced with real world illustrative cases, offers a guide to the principles behind Porcini’s human-centred philosophy of business and innovation that can be followed by any leader and applied in all manner of enterprises.

He speaks of the importance of listening, of curiosity, trial and error, unexpected mentors, design-thinking, entrepreneurship, social relations, risk taking and much more, and specifically focuses on the key attributes of the ‘innovator’. He describes the ideal innovator as being a ‘unicorn’ and suggests that for organizations to foster “world-changing innovation”—rather than merely incremental innovation, which he says can lead to mediocracy—they must identify and champion individuals with the mindsets of unicorns.

Being a unicorn is about not fitting into the norm, always questioning, operating outside one’s comfort zone, and constantly learning and evolving. The attributes of Porcini’s unicorns are broad and deep-seated, described in detail in the book under three main headings: Entrepreneurial Gifts; Social Gifts; and Enabling Gifts.

Porcini, a highly cultured Italian from Varese, having built from scratch the entire design capability of both 3M and then PepsiCo, is clearly the ultimate unicorn himself—one that prioritizes art, literature, culture and the human creativity that stems from the love of people. He makes his case profoundly and well.


‘The Human Side of Innovation: The Power of People in Love With People’, Mauro Porcini. Published by Berrett-Koehler, 2022, ISBN 978-1-52300289-4

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