Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ A Conversation on Innovation

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Oct 10, 2011

This is a summary of the 'expert discussion' at the conclusion of Day One of the International Monitoring Organization conference. Each paragraph denotes a different speaker, the speakers are not identifies, the result being to produce a single more-or-less coherent document.

Re: the negative side of innovation, there's a pretty consistent assessment of innovation & technology, a pretty consistent statement, by the youth in the occupy movement...

But, negative side of what? Is there a negative side of progress, of change?

If we go one step beyond innovation, we have actually reached a cusp in the west. The economists don't have a theory any more. We are discussing the restructuring of democracy. These are crucial aspects of the times. The issue has to do with 'management of uncertainty' - we have reached it.

I would follow the suggestion coming from the Israel presentation. The problem is "for whom and why have we made the innovation." This isn't just academic, it's also practical. Who will implement this system? Who are they? The vast majority of managers would not support this program. Does the general population support innovation? All innovation?

We need to start thinking about 'innovation' and 'Innovation'. More people than ever are talking about the fundamental and deep flaws of our financial system. Cf. Herman Daly, 'For the Common Good' - social cost accounting and triple bottom line. The role of the capital markets effectively running the world. How do we reconceive at a deep level these things that are in place now - 'Innovation' in how we live, vs 'innovation' being faster, cheaper, smarter.

We will encounter deep generational conflict - we see a gap now between generations - gen Y, the freaks, the nerds, those who promote tech progress, and the gap between those who feel sidelined, feel overextended. And as long as innovation is tech development, not social development, we will leave them behind.

The big four dilemmas were very nicely worked out, and you stressed they are inescapable, and I agree, and yet these dilemmas are so destructive, nobody can survive it. One indicator is the epidemic growth of stress disorders, especially among creative people. And there are lots of people going bankrupt as a result of these processes. So how can we influence these dilemmas you brought out.

We need to repeat our understanding of the problems faced by young people, through real examples.

You have been working with dilemmas, and you translated it into in English, and you used the word 'contradictions', but there are other ways dilemmas exist. There may be antagonisms, but there is an incommensurability - they belong to separate categories, so they are not contradictory, and they may be unify-able, if we adopt a distinct stance.

This IMO project is (finally) developing a new momentum, testing a dialogue in a completely different manner. It's fascinating because when we speak about innovation as scientists, we are usually at least able to find the variance, but not we see we can no longer stick to this as the only possible view of innovation. It's a question about values now. Pure economic success is no longer a value a majority of the population wants to stick to. And people are now much more able to express their value systems between populations; the conflict is on a global level. But at the same time, we see in SE Asia practices like Taylorism implemented to an almost perfect degree. And many companies that reply on economies of scale are relocating to that region. What, by contrast, are our values and skills? Maybe managing diversity in a productive way, having a true credible understanding of differences in our society.

I think the framework presents what we knew about innovation in the last decade. So if there is a paradigm, I don't think there's a paradigm shift here. And this paradigm has produced acceptable results. So what would the new paradigm be? Many it relates to what has been said about values.

That's the problem. For whom and why must we innovate. Maybe we need to keep the term 'dilemma'. If we can do the same exercise looking at the 60s, they couldn't understand why these are dilemmas. Because then these were not dilemmas at all. In the 60s this was not believable and not understandable. And this is a clue to values, as to why they became dilemmas. There was a paradigm shift in capitalist development. Eg. the shift to think that full employment was not the first goal of policy. If you don't consider these real forces, the risk is of talking about a dream. Which kind of actors will support this? Which kind of frame?

This framework was developed to understand innovation forces within one organization, but we have been discussing challenges that cannot be solved within one organizational perspective. How can we address those challenges from a different perspective, addressing these challenges through networking and process within society. The other thing is to define what we mean by innovative capability, and it is still unclear how we define that concept.

Values - unfortunately so closely related to politics. Let's look at the origins, where the values come from. One is teacher training. We could come up with different kind of innovation - teachers are so powerful in harnessing the ways of harnessing knowledge, and through the hidden curriculum how and what people can use knowledge. Another compass is management, business schools. This also includes continuing education for managers. They teach future managers how to manage knowledge in the workplace - and again, the power play, who is supposed to use the knowledge, and how. We know that the power to innovate is in the people, and a lot of the potential is not put into place, and we have to ask, why is that?

Let's focus on what IMO's task is, it's not to give recommendations as to what an overall innovation strategy for Europe, it's to focus on knowledge and skills development. We cannot save the world.

And that's the problem.

There is the underlying dilemma, if I look at these eleven strategies, I look at them more or less as constraints. "You want to be responsible, but there's cost pressure." I hear the deeply held idea that you want to control things. Planning and control are difficult in a complex world where there are all kinds of constraints. You cannot have control and innovation at the same time. You have uncertainty. Control is the denial of uncertainty. We are going to solve the problem - and if there are negative sides, we don't want to see it.

I appreciate the task of the project, but everything is nested in a context, and if we focus on a non-shifting paradigm of innovation while society if on the cusp of paradigm shift, then you're really dooming innovation to irrelevance.

Planning and control. If we had been sitting here before the Arab spring, would we be having this discussion? I doubt it. Underlying the discussions here is that uncertainty can be planned for and controlled. To me the project plan now looks aged. It looks like a perspective that the financial crisis and other events have already passed. The dilemmas are still with us, but would we use the same strategies? Would we even use strategies? We certainly wouldn't put 'management of uncertainty' there.

Ten years ago it was very fashionable to have risk management - you didn't manage uncertainty, you accepted it and went with it. The possible generation conflict leads me to think of potential generational collaboration. Thinking of the very European values. The potential to avoid marginalizing large groups of society. Eg., an IMO project about innovative capacity in an era of demographic change. We need to investigate the ways to promote and encourage the multigenerational dialogue. Look at 2025, when the baby boomers push 80. What will the challenges look like there.

You mean cohesion. To avoid marginalization, means cohesion.

My point was to talk about the firm's perspective, to find advantage in some of the things we've been talking about. But we have been trying to come up with soltions that are larger than we can find within one firm. Coming up with strategies or other ways to network. This is perhaps a good model for everything good.

If the strategies are to be used by different organizations then there's just a different reference point. They are elaborated as a point of departure together.

Need to think beyond organizations. Beyond cohesion. These are dilemmas precisely because we are thinking of the good of the organization as posed against both the individual good and the social good. We don't need more cohesion, we need less. We need looser structures - but the problem is how to let go of the fabric that currently defines our structures today. Management is one of them, values another, common understanding another. We need to learn how to let go of these.

In terms of IMO, we need to raise questions in terms of agency. The question is, who is going to do it. Kids today have no faith that corporations will start a progressive innovative strategy any more. How do you get people to be able to redistribute wealth or whatever you need to get others to be able to join the conversation? Part of this IMO study should be to figure out who might be the agents.

I am both inspired by this and quite lost. There is a list of very important issues, but I don't connect what is written up there to what are the current hot topics. It's more, how to bring all these aspects we have discussed into some kind of order. There is a saying, form follows function. What are the forms of work organization? It depends on the goals that you've got. We've been reporting on these experiences. The question is how we transport these experiences into our lives, how do we change the paradigms here? We had much better strategies before the financial crisis; no we're not judging any more. We have to get it in line - the structures of our schools have to be different if we are to not hierarchically teach people, which means we have to change the schools.

A hammer slightly damaged is still useful. But it's not true that function follows form. We have to consider how these strategies come to be. After two and a half years of monitoring, etc., we had a huge amount of knowledge that was unstructured. I can't take 1000 pages of unstructured information to our government and say, "here, make a structure for yourself." It is structured - it is a map that defines what we are talking about. It may refer outside the scope of the IMO project, but it's a structure or pattern we can use.

I'd like to add a 12th strategy. We should add the actors. Eg., I don't learn from a computer course, I learn from a hotline. If I have a problem I call the hotline. I learn from colleagues. On the shop floor they learn from each other. We need to pay more attention to these new actors. Look at managers, one of the new roles of managers is to be coaches and trainers.

Of course, we have heard of the new actors, and these eleven strategies are not it, we have addressed as well various cross-sectional categories, the cross-section and cross-linkages of alliances. Targeting of knowledge, enabling and dispersion, of knowledge, etc.

It (the discussion of knowledge) complements the existing design.

Jay Cross and Harold Jarche were involved - they would say "to learn we need a certain amount of unlearning". I want to add a 13th strategy, the certainty of unmanagement.

Maybe we should join the other group and talk about uncertainty. The framework is an excellent compilation of how an organization could go about the project of encouraging innovation. But there is a problem - look at the research on resilience, etc. The models we are working on are growing so complex we cannot explain anything any more, because we cannot understand all the variables. Try to use the model to explain - we can't explain anything. When we go to companies, we show them the eleven points - but it's almost like a historical document - but companies don't want to hear the 25th version of the model, they are on the brink of performance level. We know that it's important to give people autonomy - but we're not doing that any more. Companies are working with only 10 percent of their resources, because they don't know what to do with the remaining 90 percent. This is a good starting point, but these discussions should happen with very diverse groups, not the academics any more.

I sometimes feel it's very necessary to compile and structure it. But to me what's necessary is to discovery the application - to research any apply is not a contradiction. To apply is a process of research. It's like children learning language - they do not proceed without uncertainty, reading all the grammar books - they just adapt. Adapting, applying and them making new discoveries.

Innovation is dynamic. Innovation carries obsolescence. And the third is that value and ethics need to be with organizations. And sustainability if going to be critical in the next few years.

Yes, sustainability was one of the dilemmas. And the definition of innovative capability includes this. And we have many different perspectives, from Russia to Canada.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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