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Why is imitation not innovation?

Alternative Approaches to the Pro-Innovation Bias

Benoît Godin

Innovation theorists relegate to non-existence a series of concepts outside the semantic field of innovation. Such is the case of imitation. The chapter looks at when, how and why imitation, as an early meaning of innovation, was removed from the discourses on innovation. The chapter suggests that cultural values, disciplinary work, market ideology and semantics are key factors in explaining the neglect of imitation in discourses on innovation, particularly theories.

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Unattended consequences of innovation

Alternative Approaches to the Pro-Innovation Bias

Karl-Erik Sveiby

A pro-innovation-biased management/business perspective inspired by neo-classical economics has been allowed to dominate and marginalize more balanced perspectives on innovation. The chapter tells a sad story about the consequences of not paying attention to the dark side of innovation, as wave after wave of radical change were introduced in the financial industry. Its starting point is the notion of innovation as the purposeful introduction of a process of social change. It then makes an ‘anachronistic’ analysis of a financial innovation case covering 25 years, up to the financial crash in 2008, by applying critical perspectives from organizational change management (OCM) and stakeholder theory (SHT). What could those perspectives have contributed had they been applied at the time? The chapter concludes by suggesting four issues for attending to the unattended consequences of innovation: How can the pro-innovation bias be addressed? How can non-economic effects and consequences be recognized in innovation research? What methods are conducive for this effort? How might STS/TA perspectives contribute?

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Socio-technical dynamics of counter-hegemony and resistance

Alternative Approaches to the Pro-Innovation Bias

Hernan Thomas, Lucas Becerra and Santiago Garrido

Innovation studies have, at least until now, neglected to analyse the actions of resistance to technological change. The neo-Schumpeterian and evolutionary economics of innovation focused on a particular range of socio-technical actions: those related to the generation of new products and production systems aimed at maximizing income by generating conditions of market monopoly. That is, the studies on innovation only consider a limited range of possibilities in terms of accumulation models, forms of production and circulation of goods, and problem-solution dynamics. Given these restrictions, it is not surprising that other processes of technological innovation generated by other social actors in other loci (public research and development institutions, public enterprises, non-governmental organizations, grassroots organizations, trade unions, indigenous communities as well as individual users) have not been critically examined. As these actors are key to processes of socio-technical resistance, the forms of rejection or construction of counter-hegemonic alternatives have not been addressed. The chapter aims at uncovering, analytically, resistance actions carried out by actors which have been so far been overlooked by mainstream studies on innovation. The idea is to analyse socio-technical resistance as a resignification of innovation, as a type of reinnovation.

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Resistance as a latent factor of innovation

Alternative Approaches to the Pro-Innovation Bias

Martin W. Bauer

Techno-scientific innovations seem to be the pinnacle of efficiency and rationality. However, the adoption of new technological practices is less than rational, often a sub-rational or even irrational affair. On the other hand, resistance from users and other by-standers to innovation is as rational as it is often thought to be very irrational. Could it not be that much of the ‘rationality’ of novelty is an ex post embellishment of a fait accompli otherwise achieved? In an attempt to elucidate this apparent paradox, the author explores models of technological change and their respective take on a social psychology of resistance. He demonstrates that resistance to techno-scientific mobilization is functionally analogous to pain in relation to movement: it contributes to the innovation project by focusing attention where needed; by enhancing the self-awareness of the protagonists, by evaluating activities and ushering in strategic adaptations. This ‘pain model’ of resistance offers a more realistic account of the innovation process than diffusion and acceptance models.

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Regulatory enforcement as sociotechnical systems maintenance

Alternative Approaches to the Pro-Innovation Bias

Lee Vinsel

With few exceptions, technology studies have traditionally focused on creation and diffusion of new things, or innovation. Such narratives often align with the stories that capitalist enterprises themselves tell about technological progress and the improvement of human life. But most technologies around us are not new, and a vast quantity of human labor is expended just trying to keep this world going and maintaining current sociotechnical orders. The chapter examines the history of automobile regulation in the United States and views regulatory enforcement as a form of sociotechnical systems maintenance. That is, regulatory enforcement is aimed at maintaining specific, legally established norms for technologies. This view conflicts with the innovation-centric narrative that automakers perfected in the early twentieth century, which celebrates and heralds ideas of novelty and newness through advertisements, auto shows and the creation of ‘concept cars.’ Using a case study of a vehicle recall case from 1969, the author argues that maintaining sociotechnical norms involves ensuring that the automakers themselves are properly testing their products. In other words, enforcing regulations involves maintaining practices across space, time and organizational boundaries. The author then turns to the Volkswagen emissions scandal of 2015 and argues that computerization of automobiles might be undermining traditional enforcement efforts. Paradoxically, maintenance (of sociotechnical norms) may require innovation (in regulation).

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Physics or biology as models for the study of innovation

Alternative Approaches to the Pro-Innovation Bias

John Langrish

The author draws attention to some past studies of 1960s technological innovations in the UK and claims that the debates that ensued are relevant today. Much of the present literature on innovation has two false premises: (1) innovation is ‘a good thing’ and (2) the way to study it is by imitating classical physics. The author claims that both these premises are mistaken and that the way to study the complexities of innovation is to use a neo-Darwinian method with memes as imperfect replicators. The chapter also describes the results of a study of the effects of innovation – good and bad, predicted and surprising.

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Karl-Heinz Leitner

The chapter originated in scanning the literature for new innovation models and strategies around the globe, which revealed that certain types of companies increasingly resist adopting traditional innovation strategies and have started to choose some type of ‘non-innovation strategy’. The author explores different rationales to explain why companies may deliberately slow down their innovation efforts. These activities are either the result of a proactive conduct to shape markets and customers’ behaviour or reactive strategies to changing market conditions and a lack of technological opportunities. The slow technology movement and discussions on de-growth and sustainability offer directions for this development and enrich and expand our common understanding of innovation.

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Moving towards innovation through withdrawal: the neglect of destruction

Alternative Approaches to the Pro-Innovation Bias

Frédéric Goulet and Dominique Vinck

Innovation scholars and dominant discourses relegate destruction and withdrawal as being secondary, collateral or unavoidable aspects of innovation processes. The chapter qualifies these dominant thoughts on innovation, be they classical or contemporary, and identifies destruction, exnovation and withdrawal as relevant phenomena. It uses a case study on the withdrawal of tilling in agriculture to propose an alternative way of thinking about innovation, one whereby withdrawal is not an evidence phenomenon but a complex process, engaging strategic thinking and controversies, as well as creativity, invention and innovation. The chapter suggests that innovation through withdrawal is a growing phenomenon requiring empirical and theoretical investigations. It also suggests that disciplinary bias, cultural values and ideology explain the neglect of destruction or withdrawal in discourses and theories about innovation.

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Learning thanks to innovation failure

Alternative Approaches to the Pro-Innovation Bias

Dominique Vinck

Scholars, political and managerial discourses focus on successes and relegate failure as a problem or of no interest. The chapter looks at these dominant thoughts on innovation but also to literature opening a new way to think about failure. It first gives an account of the prevalent views of innovation as a search for success and the few considerations regarding failure and the absence of the conceptualization of failure dynamics and outcomes. It documents a case study of failure through which an alternative way to think about innovation is proposed. The chapter then develops an alternative view on failure using the lens of the learning processes and examines innovation failure as interesting processes that generate resources and could be modelled to improve the performance of the failure. It highlights the relevance of integrating these questions into the innovation models and the necessity to improve our understanding of what is going on with this aspect of innovation. The chapter offers a critique of current representations of innovation as success and some avenues for a way of thinking about failure, its diversity (disaster, minor failure, near-failure, not expected results), its dynamics and its interest regarding political, social and managerial issues. It also suggests that success needs more scrutiny to be useful for innovation dynamics.

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Introduction: innovation – from the forbidden to a cliché

Alternative Approaches to the Pro-Innovation Bias

Benoît Godin and Dominique Vinck

The study of innovation became voluminous with a lot of theories, models, frameworks, narratives and handbooks but still reflect an innovation bias. The theorists contribute to the construction of a dominant representation of innovation, an ideology, as technological and industrial, and as a good for the economy and the society. Little attention is paid to the non-innovators. Starting with the question ‘what has been left out?’, this book suggests a change of approach. It examines innovation from a different perspective, dealing with phenomena rarely taken seriously by scholars of innovation: resistance to innovation, non-adoption, sluggishness of innovators, imitation, non-users, failure, outlaw innovation, unintended consequences, maintenance of (existing) innovation, non-innovators, de-adoption, slow innovation, innovation fads, re-shaping and adaptation of the innovation, rationale for not innovating, the social and political nature of innovation and so on. The purpose of this book is to assemble studies on these phenomena and to examine them under the umbrella of NOvation.