Future Of Innovation Is… What We Imagine It To Be!

Professor Aino Kianto

Where do the new ideas that form the seed of any innovation arise from? Arguably, the human creativity. However, while an abundance of works have been written on the technological, economical and organizational antecedents of innovation, human creativity has attracted much less attention by innovation scholars outside the field of psychology. I believe that if we are to understand and accelerate innovation, what we need is not a better administrative process or better refined innovation funnel models, but a fuller understanding of the human bases of creativity and imagination.

During my years of working in the field of innovation, it has never ceased to puzzle me why even when the innovative individual is examined, our basic metaphor for the human mind seems to be that of a rational calculative man-machine. Why could it not be the joyful man, the playful man, the dreaming man? Surely the underlying metaphor and presumption of ourselves and others guides and delimits our capacities for innovation.

Also more generally, the existing approaches to understanding human mind seem to stem, more or less explicitly, from the presumption of individuals as – at least boundedly – rational, calculative creatures. But what about the imaginative capacities of the human mind? Imagination, intuition and inspiration have been left aside in the literature on innovation, even though every one who’s ever had a new idea will surely recognize these factors as related with the creative process.

We have a wonderful set of theories and models portraying the innovation process as a managed process proceeding through pre-ordained steps. However in a world characterized by continuous turbulence and discontinuous change, these planning-based approaches only can be useful to a limited extent. Rather than a directed, purposeful and linear process, could we see innovation as a deeply emotional operation characterized by serendipities and guided by intuition, taking place as improvisation-in-action?

In understanding how imagination and non-linear processes of creativity figure in innovation we have much to learn from two sources. First, imagination is perhaps at its purest and most observable form in children’s play before they have been overly socialized into the limiting realities of the surrounding educational systems and societal demands. Is there something we could learn from children about how to keep alive and to support the ability in adults to step outside the box and to question existing paradigms? How could we avoid being bounded and blinded by our expertise to retain the skills and courage to improvise and take conscious side-steps outside of the normative template?

The second context to learn from are the creative industries. How are artists able to continuously generate new ideas and implement them? Where can they find the inspiration providing the needed energy for taking the leap towards the unknown – a leap necessary in imagining what doesn’t yet exist? And what about musicians jamming together or actors putting up an improvisatory play unfolding in real time while taking the audience in? Could we use them for learning something about how to build those exhilarating moments when the space between people almost seems to materialize as new ideas are spontaneously created and executed and the whole truly becomes more than a sum of its individual parts. Surely understanding these issues would be just as useful for engineers struggling with NPD, managers striving to create business model innovations as for the professionals in creative industries.

To conclude, the future of innovation lies in better understanding the imaginative and improvisatory capacities of the human mind.

Article © 2009 Professor Aino Kianto. All rights reserved.

about the author...

Professor Aino Kianto

Professor Aino Kianto

affiliation:   Lappeenranta University Of Technology; School Of business

position:  Professor

country:  Finland

area of interest:  Knowledge management, dynamic capabilities

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other books and writings by

Professor Aino Kianto

Innovatiivisten ympäristöjen ja organisaatioiden johtaminen. (Leadership of innovative environments and organisations)

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Analyzing Dynamic Intellectual Capital. System-based theory and application

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Yritysverkostot ja tietojohtaminen. (Inter-firm Networks and Knowledge Management)

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