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2023 | Book

Debating Innovation

Perspectives and Paradoxes of an Idealized Concept


About this book

Despite its complexity, innovation is often depicted within academic literature as a phenomenon that is innately good and always necessary. This thought-provoking volume presents a more nuanced view – through a number of paired chapters for and against, as well as more general critiques of innovation and several suggested new lines of inquiry, the book will be of interest to all with a broader interest in innovation.

Table of Contents


Innovation: Where We Are and How We Got Here

1. Introduction
This chapter introduces the book and, thus, the debate on innovation that the book contains. The editors offer a background as to why it is important to offer critique of innovation, but also why they find it important and prefer to do a book that offers both pros and cons rather than critique only, and emphasize that this book is to be seen as merely the beginning of a debate on innovation. The concept of “hyperobject” is introduced as a way to make sense of what “innovation” may be about. Finally, the editors present the structure of the book and offer a brief introduction to each chapter of the book.
Alf Rehn, Anders Örtenblad
2. Innovation, Labor Displacement, and the Role of the State: The Classical Economists’ Perspective
A recent report by the Institute for Public Policy Research estimates that 44% of UK jobs could be automated over the next decade or so and proposes measures to confront the consequences. The report suggests the desirability of reviewing past concerns with technological unemployment. This chapter focuses on the classical economists—Smith, Bentham, Ricardo, Malthus, and Mill—who, as utilitarians, identified social welfare with that of the majority class. On the whole these writers viewed innovation positively, but accorded the state responsibility to respond to adverse effects on employment and real wages extending, in Mill’s case explicitly and in that of Smith implicitly, to intervention to slow the process of adoption. Ricardo’s concern that intervention by one nation alone would be detrimental to the national interest suggests international cooperation to agree upon common standards as essential to a solution.
Samuel Hollander
3. Innovation Ethics
Innovation constitutes a novelty which brings about change that affects a variety of stakeholders, and innovation ethics concerns critically thinking about the impact and the values at stake when engaging in an innovation process. This paper surveys the reasons for discussing innovation ethics, ways in which it is discussed, including autonomous approaches, deliberative approaches, and the practice and research on Responsible Research and Innovation. The paper also indicates the barriers to innovation ethics in the private sector and in a global competitive environment. In a final discussion, based on our conception of ethics, we argue that innovation ethics must promote critical thinking and avoid reification of values; needs to also focus on care and maintenance of existing values; is processual and iterative and cannot be just invention ethics; needs to be open to innovation in a variety of contexts; and acknowledges the infinite demands of ethics, but still is action-oriented.
Thomas Taro Lennerfors, Kiyoshi Murata

Some General Critiques of Innovation

4. Creative Continuation: An Alternative Perspective on Innovation and Society
Innovation has during the last decades become a buzzword in academia as well as in politics and business. The contemporary imperative is almost: innovate or perish. This also seems to be valid for all levels of social organization. In our Western tradition we tend to cherish deep changes, those that make us take the big step forward. In this chapter, I start from the literature on the dark side of innovations, picking up the analyses of how societies often tend to deteriorate institutionally and economically in the wake of radical changes, to lift forward the concept of creative continuation. This concept should be a key to the understanding of how societies can grow and thrive by putting to use their own immanent resources for economic and institutional development. Snapshots of three cases having succeeded by doing it “their way” are used to illustrate the argument.
Jon P. Knudsen
5. Image, Imperatives, and Ideology in the Innovation Industry
Innovation in late capitalism is more than just an economic dynamic. It is also something that can be commodified and sold as cultural representations such as keynotes and business books, and in this chapter I critically analyze such representations. I further inquire into how “the innovation industry” presents and represents innovation, how innovations imperatives emerge and are enhanced, and how these processes form to normalize and naturalize notions of innovation, to the point where innovation becomes an ideology. Drawing on both auto-ethnographic work in the innovation industry, critical theory, and cultural studies, I here argue for the need for more critical engagement with both innovation as a valorized concept and its evangelists.
Alf Rehn

For and Against Business Model Innovation

6. In Search for the Holy Grail in Management Research: A Review of the Benefits of Business Model Innovation
During the last 20 years, business model innovation (BMI) has become a fundamental concept in strategic management and entrepreneurship research and practice. Tools such as the business model canvas or the business model navigator were used in business workshops around the world and have created numerous ideas on how business models can be innovated. Despite this hype for BMI, the question arises, if this effort really pays off? The simple yet biased answer is yes, it does. This chapter argues for BMI. I highlight three reasons why BMI may keep its promises to academics and practitioners: First, BMI stimulates the performance and creates competitive advantages for start-ups and incumbent firms alike. Second, firms utilize BMI for strategic shifts, such as digital or sustainability transformation or to react to crises. Third, tools for the management of BMI facilitate holistic thinking and help firms to develop new solutions to customer problems.
Thomas Clauss
7. A Critique of Business Model Innovation
This chapter puts forward that while the imperative of business model innovation (BMI) is having a prominent foothold in literature, the review suggests that it also has a dark side—with negative consequences. First and foremost, the process of BMI is full of uncertainty, risks, and ambiguity, and thereby unsurprisingly, many attempts at BMI fail and becoming more so. Second, many firms pursuing the BMI could not reap the benefit as competitors/new entrants copy the new business model and commercialize it in a more successful way. Finally, a number of BMIs that have been hailed as a success from the firm’s perspective produce greater negative consequences for broader stakeholders or society as a whole. With this phenomenon at hand, it urges a balanced view toward BMI and suggests a contingency perspective that BMI may not be always a good option to pursue or under certain contextual factors should be ignored.
La Ode Sabaruddin, Fathiro Hutama Reksa Putra

For and Against Social Innovation

8. The Pros of Social Innovation
Rationale for social innovation can be based on different arguments. First, it is a socioeconomic reality covering an important part of what is new or improved nowadays: it refers not only to social initiatives, third sector, and social entrepreneurship, but also to the social dimension associated with any kind of socioeconomic activity and it has the power to put social goals at the heart of the innovation processes. Second, it is an emerging research field with many scholars and practitioners from different areas working on it, creating knowledge for boosting this innovation area. Third, it is a concept strongly related to other types of innovation, such as service innovation or systems innovation, so promoting social innovation can have positive outcomes in all the innovation ecosystem. Finally, there is a need to study its barriers, so the challenges it faces can be better understood and generate policies that promote it.
Luis Rubalcaba, Ernesto Solano
9. Against Social Innovation
This chapter offers a critique of social innovation (SI). I am not interested in making a case to reject outright the promise, potential, or hope for social innovation (SI). Even if it is indeed just an empty signifier, social innovation can still serve a larger political purpose. Instead my purpose is to point to the limitations of this phrase and the dangers in using the term uncritically. What is lost when we unthinkingly take on board an expectation that SI has a coherent meaning and that, therefore, it (somehow) happens? I pose four questions. What is SI? Where does it reside? How does it happen? And why is SI important?
Nidhi Srinivas

For and Against Service Innovation

10. For Service Innovation: Some Arguments in Favor of Services and Innovation in Services
This chapter is devoted to an advocacy for innovation in services, which cannot be done without a more general advocacy in favor of services, insofar as it is impossible to dissociate the negative view of innovation in services from the negative view of services themselves. The supposedly deficient innovative capacity of services is just one of many closely related myths characterizing the service economy, including low capital intensity, low productivity, low skill levels, and low tradability. This chapter examines how the evolution of economic and managerial thinking has led to a full appreciation of the importance and necessity of innovation in services. This recognition or rehabilitation of service innovation is embedded in the analytical assimilation, demarcation, inversion, and integration framework, which reflects different ways of approaching innovation in services, depending on whether the focus is on differences or similarities with innovation in manufacturing.
Faridah Djellal, Camal Gallouj, Faïz Gallouj
11. Against Service Innovation: Why Service Innovation Is Not Sustainable
Service innovation is often viewed as the main source of growth in the modern economy. There is a general agreement that service innovation can provide a positive change for the environment, creating new types of jobs and making consumers’ lives easier. In this chapter, we challenge the positive view and provide arguments against service innovation. While service innovation might seem positive, there are negative effects on the financial development, the social development, and the environment. Service innovations do not replace existing services, but create complementary services and as a consequence most positive effects do not appear, which results in increased use of resources and negative effects on the environment. The lack of critical studies on service innovation has resulted in a flawed and somewhat overpromising picture of service innovations and what they can do.
Lars Witell, Hannah Snyder, Per Carlborg

For and Against Open Innovation

12. For Open Innovation
We argue in favor of Open Innovation (OI). It is the idea that firms can intentionally appropriate complementary knowledge from external sources. OI considers inbound and outbound activities—for profit or not—to access, transform, use, or release knowledge, through the establishment of partnerships and alliances. We suggest that OI should not be considered as an independent theory, but rather as an evolution of the linear (closed) innovation process—a strategic response to profound transformations of technological, social, and economic regimens. However, regardless of its popularity as a strategic tool for value creation, OI is not yet a formal activity in firms, and therefore it does not have a considerable effect in their operational performance. In this context, organizational culture plays a key role. We argue that once formalized, OI can be a powerful strategic asset to develop new business models for products and services.
Lykke Margot Ricard, Sergio Jofre
13. What Could Possibly Go Wrong? Reflections on Potential Challenges of Open Innovation
Open innovation (OI) has attracted great interest from both scholars and practitioners during the past decades. While the benefits of OI have been examined a lot, the potential challenges of OI have been less noted and studied. This book chapter addresses potential OI challenges in (1) value creation based on knowledge; (2) innovation appropriability and appropriation; and (3) innovation network orchestration. It introduces several “what-if” considerations and discusses some scenarios where open innovation could go wrong. The chapter reminds that open innovation has both the valuable bright side, and the challenging dark side. By recognizing and embracing the challenges, risks, and costs, innovators may be able to find a balance and turn the challenges into opportunities.
Pia Hurmelinna-Laukkanen, Ioana Stefan, Jialei Yang

The Road Forward from Here

14. What Does It Take? Feminist Readings of Innovation Studies
While innovation studies traditionally ignore gender issues, predominant means of attending to this oversight tend to reinforce gender stereotypes. Thus, innovation is cast as male by default and female innovators are given niche roles, prompting us to ask: what does it take to make the gendered practices of innovation visible without re-confirming essentialized gender dichotomies? In answering this question, we promote a “third wave” of feminist readings of innovation studies that takes issue with both the assumptions of gender-blindness and gender stereotyping. Gendered norms, we argue, result from innovation practices, which means that changing the practices can change the norms. We illustrate the methodological and practical purview of this argument through analyses of three illustrative cases. The first reproduces gender-blindness, and the second focuses exclusively on innovation for and by women. The third case adopts a norm-critical perspective, which, we conclude, is an effective driver of innovation for gender equality.
Sine N. Just, Sara Dahlman
15. Non-Western Perspectives on Innovation
In the Western world, the proposition of “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it” is démodé and indicates a fixed mindset. Also, the famous philosophy of “thinking outside the box” is restrictive and can subvert innovation rather than foster it. Also, a large part of the literature about (new) product development assumes of resource sufficiency for following a structured process of development. So much so, in various developing economies such as India, firms have emulated the same product development model and have suffered new product development failure. Besides, given the poor state of new product success, Western organizations endeavoring to bring new products into the international markets (especially in the developing economies) face various problems. The chapter explores the Western bias in the field of innovation, which has influenced the developing world enormously for the vested interests of the developed world.
Abhinav Chaturvedi
16. Innovation, AI, and Materiality: Learning from the Arts
This chapter develops our understanding of innovation through learning from the arts. Empirically, I focus on four Finland-based new media artists who co-create with Artificial Intelligence (AI). I ask how the artists relate to AI, a material agent potentially changing their practices of artmaking, as well other significant materialities, like human bodies and other tools present in the artistic innovation process. Building on eight interviews with the artists, I discuss the varied meanings the artists attribute to AI and materiality in their work. Also, I illustrate how the artists describe the artistic innovation process emerging through the relational dynamics between objects and human bodies. Besides the human artist and AI, other vital materialities have a central yet often neglected role in artmaking. Finally, I conclude by discussing why the materiality of the innovation process merits fuller scholarly attention, also in ways that go beyond the artistic context.
Astrid Huopalainen
17. Peace Piece: On the Machiavellian Moment in Organizational Innovation
In contrast to accounts that describe innovation as solely a matter of disruption, this chapter explores the role of stabilization in innovation. Starting from a brief review of Machiavelli’s views on innovation, it introduces the work of sociologist David Stark as a contemporary account of how successful organizational innovations are dependent on negotiations, settlements, and resolutions. For Stark, innovation is a play between dissonance and resolution; a clashing of contradictory values, succeeded by a negotiated resolution of such tensions. In reviewing critiques of Stark’s account, the chapter seeks to extend his work by embellishing the musicological connotations of the dynamic between dissonance and resolution. In so doing, the chapter suggests that music may assist in conceptualizing the simultaneous occurrence of dissonance and stability in organizations.
Karl Palmås, Stefan Molnar
18. The Animal Spirits of Innovation: On Companion Species, Creativity, and Olly the Airport Cat
What happens when a feral cat turns up at a place of work? The turn to animal studies in management and organization studies has little to say about how this might affect human creativity and innovation at work. No doubt this silence is the product of the serious methodological and theoretical challenges posed to organization studies by the recognition that organizations are only partly made by humans. Non-human and human/non-human relations require considerable revision to our ways of thinking and working in organizations and demand new modes of attention and descriptive practice. This chapter studies the impact that Olly the Cat made at Manchester Airport in the UK and shows the extraordinary unsettling of organization that ensued. Ontologically it was no longer clear who was in charge of the organization, but this unsettling helped stimulate unprecedented levels of creativity among senior staff in the airport.
Damian O’Doherty
19. The Future(s) of Innovation
It would be a fool’s errand to try to predict the future of innovation, yet this chapter leans into such foolishness by suggesting a number of scenarios that may play out in the coming years or decades—separately or (more likely) in hybrid forms. Here I suggest that there are particularly four scenarios that should receive extra attentions. One, fast futures, in which new technologies super-charge innovation capabilities. Two, slow futures, where resource limitations force us toward more considered innovation engagements. Three, diverse futures, where new innovation players and modes of organization emerge. Four, weird futures, which are fundamentally unknowable. The chapter does so not to predict the future, but to guide the reader in their own thinking about the possibilities and problems of future innovation.
Alf Rehn
Debating Innovation
Alf Rehn
Anders Örtenblad
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