In this Reading List, I approach innovation and the transmission of knowledge with the aim of innovation. Starting with thoughts on innovation in universities and in companies, I conclude with an alternative approach to communicating newness that goes back to Paulo Freire: conscientization.
Innovation as mission
Without reflection, I adopt the language of the funding and legislative bodies, of the management consultancies: Innovation and innovation communication are the be-all and end-all of a thriving location. The urge for renewal, which is etymologically inscribed in the concept of innovation, has taken on new meaning in the climate crisis. We are supposed to be innovative: all of us. Individuals, companies, and the administration. On the role of universities in this changed environment, Maximilian Vogt and Christoph Weber formulate that we can no longer avoid a science without a “New Enlightenment” and without a social mission.
For companies, the question of the role is no less urgent. Somehow, however, it seems to me that companies are assumed to be quite good at social innovation anyway. It is not innovation that needs to be admonished here; rather, it is the culture of innovation. How can innovation be supported in a more targeted way? This is where innovation communication comes into play. Innovation communication is the communication of new ideas, concepts, products, services, and processes that differ from those that already exist. Innovation communication is not only a critical feature for the success of innovation but a condition for innovation itself:
“The lonely innovator is a myth. Solo innovation does not exist. Unlike invention, it’s a team sport. Working in solitude may lead to invention, but not onnovation because it requires communication with others.”Alex Goryachev, Forbes Council Member
Not surprisingly, Goryachev concludes that innovation is successful when communication is at its peak. That is, when ideas, concepts, products, services, and processes have been shared and assimilated in as diverse a team as possible in such a way that everyone involved in the innovation process is aware that they can bring about change with the innovation. The order situation is undisputed; tips and recommendations for cultivating a culture of innovation are plentiful and in all forms. For example, here, here, or here. Some of them are almost embarrassingly banal.
Boundaries of innovation
A comprehensive and multi-layered treatment of the concept of innovation can be found in Benoit Godin’s book “Innovation Contested: The Idea of Innovation over the Centuries”. Godin begins his journey on the topic with the ancient Greeks and, starting from there, addresses not only the successes but above all the resistance that innovation has had to experience and overcome time and again. Only excerpts of the book were freely accessible on Google Books, but reading the relevant passages was fun. Godin discusses the roles of faith and the church, as well as the initial difficulties in the collaboration between universities and companies.
Ronald C. Beckett and Paul Hyland also address the limits of innovation and the communication associated with it. In their essay, the two argue that innovation happens above all where there is friction. This friction, once perceived as an obstacle, must be overcome – a communicative challenge. The authors’ response to the challenge seems to me to be too conventional, or not explicit enough. Adapting the structures that host innovation processes. Ok, but is that all?
Innovation communication is at the limit. Or: Conscientization
Conscientisation is a concept developed by Paulo Freire that aims to liberate people through education. People should learn to recognise and understand their own reality in order to then assess how new things can change their lives. This could be read as preparing people to participate in innovation processes. An introduction to the term, which has also found its way into the literature as critical consciousness, can be found on Wikipedia. If you want to better understand the basic framework of Freire’s thinking, watch the 8 minutes 14 seconds of “An Incredible Conversation” with Paulo Freire.
Well done: we have now arrived at post-Marxist thinking for innovation culture and communication.
The use of conscientization-inspired innovation processes has recently increased again after a first peak in the 1980s: Karin Berglund and Johannson argue for a strengthening of rural areas through a culture of innovation based on conscientization among small enterprises. Juan Díasz Bordavene et al. highlight the need to integrate South American farmers into the innovation process through conscientization in order to develop sustainable solutions for the region. Hsu Meng-Jun et al. documented the life-saving acceleration of innovation processes starting from a common and shared knowledge sharing that is in line with critical conscientization.
At the tipping point
Actually, I didn’t want to write a pamphlet here. In the end, it has become one. My point is that, as everyone seems to be tasked with innovation, it is time to rethink approaches to innovation communication that stem from business administration. We should start with the question of who should be involved in the process. And then what language will enable everyone to express themselves adequately? If these are paintings, then they are just as legitimate as visits to the field, conversations, or Lego sessions in which a team playfully exchanges ideas about innovation. Let’s try out new ideas; also in development departments where only supposedly everyone speaks the same language.