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Systemic innovation dialogs
This conversation is not about innovation
Or better said – it is about innovation as well, but it is also about a lot more than what we normally mean when we say "innovation".
This conversation is about the way in which we handle a most precious resource we have, and a most characteristically human of our abilities – the ability to create and induce change. This then includes technological innovation as its characteristic part, but also more, a lot more.
It is best to consider our theme here to be the paradigm or the elephant as a whole – as viewed from a certain specific angle. A paradigm, just as an elephant, is a complex web of innumerably many interdependent things. But if there is a single point of view that represents the whole big thing in a nutshell, a signature theme that sets us on this new track, a meme that changes everything, an insight, a bit of information, a simple yes-no question that triggers the change... – then systemic innovation is, in our view, a very strong candidate.
This conversation is about our evolution
To see how systemic innovation "changes everything", observe what limits and directs our innovation today. On the one hand it's the institutionalized practices, what the people out there do, and what they might want to speed up and make more efficient. On the other hand it's the market, which regulates what's going to live and continue through "the survival of the fittest". The alternative we are talking about is (as we suggested with the help of the Modernity ideogram in Federation through Images, that bus with candle headlights) to look at what we are innovating as part in a larger whole, and updating it or recreating it if necessary in a way that best suits the wholeness or function of the larger whole. The key point here is expressed by the keyword wholeness: if any essential piece is missing in a mechanism, if any vital organ is dysfunctional in an organism, then the whole thing is dysfunctional. By relying on habitual ways of doing things we inhibit our (technological, societal, cultural...) evolution; and by relying on "the market" to direct it – we create possibilities for vast and sweeping misdirections. As we'll see next.
Innovation on the level of institutions
If we interpret the "systems" here as being our institutions, or more generally "the systems in which we live and work", then systemic innovation might easily be seen – that is, if we think about this matter rationally or logically (recall Jantsch's phrase "rational creative action") – as the kind of theme that naturally stands highest on our agenda of themes. Indeed, what could be more important than to secure that those gigantic 'socio-technical mechanisms', which take our daily work as input and (we naturally expect) produce socially useful results as output, are structured so that our efforts are well spent and not wasted. And if we are concerned about "global issues" – then what would be more natural than to secure that this 'machinery' is not dysfunctional, and applies our best efforts to create problems rather than solutions?
Systemic IT innovation
Yet of course already systemic innovation understood as technological innovation, and in particular IT innovation, will give us more than enough to talk about. Here The Incredible History of Doug, which we recounted in Federation through Stories, will serve us well to both make this theme palpable and concrete – and also to reflect on the larger theme of directing or misdirecting innovation, by serving as a metaphor.
If you haven't read the story now is the time to do that. The conclusion that interests us here will be simple: The new information technology makes it possible for us to self-organize and communicate and collaborate in a completely new way – and to specialize, self-organize... so that each of us contributes in a best way to the right kind of knowledge and amounts being produced. Just as cells specialize around a nervous system in an organism... But when we use the technology to just broadcast information – as we do – then the result is just confusion and chaos – and that's what we've got.
Systemic academic innovation</em> <p>Applied to our academic culture, systemic innovation leads to a complete paradigm shift. You'll recall that when Erich Jantsch applied "rational creative action" to our present condition, he concluded that "the university should make structural changes within itself toward a new purpose of enhancing society’s capability for continuous self-renewal". The university responded by ignoring him.
Today our academic and general knowledge work suffers from the Wiener's paradox in its general form – where new results end up burying even deeper the basic insights of giants, which led to the very formation of academic fields, but were never really communicated to the public. The academic system is organized around disciplinary traditions, and the principle of "publish or perish" which on the one hand keeps us unbelievably busy, and on the other hand exacerbates the problem.
Instead of enhancing society's capability for continuous self-renewal – we have self-organized in a way that has proven to exhaust the resources and pollute the environment in the material production...
Systemic innovation of zeitgeist
Think again about our "pursuit of happiness". White sugar might be a suitable metaphor pointing to a general pattern. The feeling of pleasure – and any other feeling such as interest or attraction – has a natural purpose. Emotions have, in other words, a systemic function. Let's say that when we chew complex hydrocarbons long enough sugars are created in our mouth – which are both well tasting and nourishing. But our industries have succeeded in separating the pleasant-tasting substance from the nutritious rest. We – or they – can then add it to virtually any substance to give it an attractive taste. Now already the white sugar, as substance, has turned out to have all sorts of unwanted consequences or "side effects". Those are, however, hidden from us because they develop in the long run – while all we experience are the instant pleasant effects. Furthermore many of those things that give us instant reward but are not good for us in the long run are habit-forming; they are traditionally called "addictions". And addictions are known to be lucrative sources of revenue for the people who sell them... And so on.
An interesting and more recent phenomenon of this kind are the new media games. The interest, the attention, the time of our children is a most precious resource. Isn't that just another kind of things that is most intimately linked with our society's and culture's evolution? Should it not be "rational" to direct it purposefully, so that the right knowledge, right values, right motor skills are maintained? And yet the innovation as we have it is not only taking our kids' attention away from traditional-academic pursuits such as maths and literature, but also their bodies from playing in fresh air! Is this the way to fulfill the "agenda for the rest of the century" that Peccei was pointing to?
- This is a good moment to review our systemic innovation "evangelizing prototypes" (the vignettes) in Federation through Stories. They are intended to serve as background material for these conversations
- The Lighthouse
- The Game-Changing Game and the Club of Zagreb
- Leadership of Systemic Innovation