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In this article, we reflect on the nature of innovation to lay the ground for a philosophy of innovation. First, we contrast the contemporary techno-economic paradigm of innovation with the work of Joseph Schumpeter. It becomes clear that Schumpeter's work provides good reasons to question the techno-economic paradigm of innovation. Second, we contrast 'innovation' with 'technology' and identify five differences between the two concepts. Third, we reflect on the process-outcome dimension and the ontic-ontological dimension of innovation to develop four characteristics of the phenomenon of innovation. These four characteristics move beyond the techno-economic paradigm of innovation and highlight, first, the importance of its process dimension understood as ontogenesis, second, the outcome of innovation, and third, the importance of the ontological dimension of innovation, which is considered adjacent to the ontic level of the outcome of innovation. After drawing conclusions, a research agenda for future research is provided.
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Techné: Research in Philosophy and Technology ISSN: 2691-5928
25:1 (2021): 72–96 DOI: 10.5840/techne2020109129
Vincent Blok, Philosophy Group, Wageningen University, Hollandseweg 1, 6707 KN
Wageningen, The Netherlands; vincent.blok@wur.nl.
Open Access Article (CC-BY-NC 3.0)
What Is Innovaon? Laying the Ground for a
Philosophy of Innovaon
Vincent Blok
Abstract: In this article, I reect on the nature of innovation to lay the groundwork
for a philosophy of innovation. First, I contrast the contemporary techno-economic
paradigm of innovation with the work of Joseph Schumpeter. It becomes clear that
Schumpeter’s work provides good reasons to question the techno-economic paradigm
of innovation. Second, I contrast ‘innovation’ with ‘technology’ and identify ve dif-
ferences between the two concepts. Third, I reect on the process-outcome dimension
and the ontic-ontological dimension of innovation to develop four characteristics of
the phenomenon of innovation. These four characteristics move beyond the techno-
economic paradigm of innovation and highlight, rst, the importance of its process
dimension understood as ontogenesis, second, the outcome of innovation, and third,
the importance of the ontological dimension of innovation, which is considered adja-
cent to its fourth characteristic, i.e., the ontic level of the outcome of innovation. After
drawing conclusions, a research agenda for future research is provided.
Key words: innovation, ontogenesis, philosophy of technology, technology,
Schumpeter
1. Introducon
In our current society, we are overwhelmed by new innovative products and ser-
vices on a daily basis, ranging from consumer products like smart consumables
to nano- and bio-technologies that mitigate climate change; from novel business
models like Uber to the social media enhancement of political engagement. Poli-
cymakers foster innovation as well. In 2017, the European Commission released
a statement arguing that we “need to do much better at turning our research into
new and better services and products if we are to remain competitive in the global
73What Is Innovation?
marketplace and improve the quality of life in Europe” (European Commission
2017). It is safe to say that our society is characterized by a fascination with and
quest for innovation (Nowotny 2006). This fascination is further characterized by
a so-called ‘pro-innovation bias,’ whereby “[r]esearchers have implicitly assumed
that to adopt innovations is desirable behaviour (rational) and to reject innova-
tions is less desirable (irrational)” (Rogers 1962, cited in Godin 2015, 235–36). In
this view, innovation is uncritically regarded as a good thing (Rogers 1976) and
self-evidently taken as a panacea for a wide range of socio-economic problems,
ranging from the nancial crisis to climate change, and from public health is-
sues to welfare in developing countries (Godin 2015). For institutions like the
Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the Eu-
ropean Commission (EC), it is self-evident that “most current social, economic
and environmental challenges require creative solutions based on innovation and
technological advance” (OECD 2010, 30; cf. European Commission 2010).
At the same time, the notion of innovation itself seems to be taken for granted
in these policy documents, as well as in scientic literature (Godin 2015). In man-
agement and economics textbooks, innovation is often dened as “the rst com-
mercial application or production of a new process or product” (Freeman and Soete
1997, 1). We are familiar with dichotomies like incremental versus disruptive inno-
vation (Christensen 1997), or closed versus open innovation (Chessbrough 2003,
2006)—but what does the notion of innovation itself mean? While the Cambridge
dictionary denes innovation very broadly as a “means to introduce changes and
new ideas” which originally concerned novelties in the broadest sense of the word
(including imitation, invention, change), it is nowadays self-evidently understood
as the commercialization of technological inventions (cf. 2.1).
In this article, I reect on the nature of innovation in order to contribute to the
development of a philosophy of innovation. Philosophical reection on the con-
cept of innovation is important because it is an emblematic notion that character-
izes our time (Godin 2008). Why did innovation become so important by the end
of the 20th century that it became emblematic? Why is innovation self-evidently
associated with technology and commercialization? What does it mean that the
ideal of innovation is nowadays extended to all aspects of social life, ranging
from innovation in healthcare to innovation in politics? And, perhaps more fun-
damentally, to what extent can innovation be understood as a category of human
existence and the world in which we live? Shouldn’t we ask: why innovation? In
light of these questions, it is unclear whether the self-evident understanding of
innovation remains appropriate. Without a critical reection on this self-evident
74 Techné: Research in Philosophy and Technology
understanding of innovation, philosophy of innovation, Science and Technology
Studies (STS), and innovation studies remain restricted by the techno-economic
paradigm of innovation (Schomberg and Blok 2018), while neglecting their es-
sential task to develop new theories to answer these questions.
In this article, I employ the philosophical method of explorative confron-
tation to examine the concept of innovation and develop a critical understand-
ing of innovation in contrast with technology (Blok 2020). Our approach here is
explorative because it moves toward a deeper understanding and interpretation
of scholarship about innovation, in this case the analysis and examples provided
by Joseph Schumpeter, an inuential economic thinker whose work exemplies
many of the elements typical of the contemporary notion of innovation. My ap-
proach is confrontational because I analyse and disrupt the preconceptions held by
Schumpeter to develop a philosophical understanding of innovation.1
Although many authors before and after Schumpeter have contributed to
today’s understanding of innovation (Godin 2015), my focus on Schumpeter in
this article is justied as my main aim is not so much to provide a historical ac-
count of the emergence of innovation, but to contribute to the development of new
theory. Schumpeter’s work helps explain why innovation is normally understood
from within a techno-economic paradigm, while at the same time providing good
reasons to question the self-evidence of this conceptualization. Like many oth-
ers, Schumpeter associates innovation with technology, but his notion of creative
destruction enables me to question a unilaterally progressive understanding of
technological innovation. Drawing upon Schumpeter’s conceptualization of inno-
vation, I am able to theorize about the concept beyond its self-evident association
with commercialization and technology.2
Because philosophical reection on innovation is still in its infancy—in fact,
neither the philosophy of technology nor philosophy in general theorize about
innovation—I do not pretend to develop a full philosophy of innovation in this
article. Instead, I lay the groundwork for such a philosophy by making four con-
tributions. First, I critically analyse the self-evidence of the techno-economic
paradigm of innovation to raise the question: what is innovation (2.1)? Second,
because innovation is self-evidently associated with technology and economy,
I turn to Joseph Schumpeter (2.2). Third, I contrast innovation with technology
in order to open up the concept of innovation for philosophical reection (2.3).
There are two reasons for this approach. On the one hand, because Schumpeter
self-evidently associates innovation with technology as well, a reection on tech-
nological innovation seems to be a good access point to reect on innovation.
75What Is Innovation?
On the other hand, because the philosophical underpinning of innovation remains
unclear, while philosophy of technology is an advanced eld of study, a reection
on technological innovation seems to be a good access point to reect on innova-
tion. By contrasting innovation with technology, it will turn out however that it is
at least questionable to employ ‘technology’ to nd an answer to our question. For
this reason, I leave the techno-economic paradigm behind and reect on two other
dimensions of innovation in section two: the process-outcome dimension and the
ontic-ontological dimension of innovation. These dimensions enable us to develop
four characteristics of the phenomenon of innovation. Finally, I draw conclusions
and provide a research agenda for future research in the emerging subdomain of
philosophy of innovation, which resides at the intersection of philosophy of tech-
nology and philosophy of (techno)science.
2. Opening Up the Taken-for-Granted Concept of Innovaon
2.1. The Self-Evident Noon of Innovaon in Contemporary Reecons
on Innovaon
In a recent study, Benoit Godin analysed the history of the innovation concept. Al-
though the concept of innovation has existed throughout history and has concerned
novelties in the broadest sense of the word—including imitation, invention, cre-
ative imagination, and change—it has recently become restricted to technological
innovation (Godin 2015; Bontems 2014; Blok and Lemmens 2015). What is more,
innovation is now not only associated with the exploration of new technologies,
but also with the commercial exploitation of these new technologies (Schomberg
and Blok 2018).
A rst characteristic of this techno-economic paradigm of innovation can be
found in scientic literature on the phenomenon of innovation.3 Edward S. Phelps
denes a successful innovation in terms of its ability to nd a “demand among
users sufcient to warrant putting the innovation into regular production” (Phelps
2009, 68). Phelps analyses the emergence of innovation in terms of the interac-
tion between ‘ow supply’ of new ideas coming from entrepreneurs and ‘ow
demand’ from nanciers (Phelps 2009, 49); in his work, the economic paradigm of
innovation becomes clear, while the concept of innovation itself remains underar-
ticulated. Similarly, Eric von Hippel discusses the shift from manufacturer-centric
innovation to user-centred innovation that threatens the innovation model that have
been the mainstay of commerce for hundreds of years (von Hippel 2005, 1); once
again, the economic paradigm of innovation becomes clear, while the concept of
76 Techné: Research in Philosophy and Technology
innovation itself remains implicit. The same holds for classical dichotomies in
innovation literature, like incremental versus disruptive innovation (Christensen
1997), or closed versus open innovation (Chessbrough 2003, 2006). While it is not
clear what the notion of innovation itself means, it often remains taken for granted
in this literature.
A second characteristic of the techno-economic paradigm of innovation can
be found in management and economics of innovation textbooks. In these text-
books, innovation is dened as “the rst commercial application or production of
a new process or product” (Freeman and Soete 1997, 1). And although innovation
management literature acknowledges that innovation can also exist in the form of
new services, it self-evidently associates innovation with a technological inven-
tion—the technology behind Facebook’s or Amazon’s services, for example,which
enables the company to provide new services like social media platforms and on-
line bookstores. In his textbook on innovation, Smith for instance argues:
Hence innovation embraces both a technological and a creative dimension,
that we normally refer to as invention, together with a commercial dimen-
sion that involves the exploitation of the invention to turn it from a model
or prototype into something that is available in the market for consumers
to purchase. This latter aspect is much less heroic and less glamorous then
invention, but it is crucial. Without it an invention is little more than a great
idea, and all too often this is an element of innovation that is neglected, with
disappointed consumers the result. Only when both aspects have been ef-
fectively handled does one have an innovation. (Smith 2006, 6)
Even if we accept the ‘innovation imperative’ that is dominant in engineering and
business schools (Bessant and Tidd 2007), and even if we embrace the OECD’s
and the European Commission’s denition of innovation in the Oslo Manual
“the implementation of a new or signicantly improved product (good or service),
or process, a new marketing method, or a new organizational method in business
practices, workplace organization or external relations” (OECD 2005)—it remains
unclear what the philosophical underpinnings of this notion are.
2.2. Schumpeter: One of the Founding Fathers of Innovaon as Technological
And Commercial Innovaon4
If the concept of innovation remains underarticulated in contemporary literature
while a techno-economic paradigm dominates our understanding of innovation,
the question remains where this dominant conceptualization comes from. One of
the founding fathers of our understanding of innovation and its intrinsic relation
77What Is Innovation?
to technology and economy is the economist Joseph Schumpeter (1883–1950)
(Bessant and Tidd 2007).5 According to Schumpeter, the “capitalist enterprise”
and “technological progress” are “essentially one and the same thing” (Schumpet-
er 1943, 110). The entrepreneur is always seeking new business opportunities. By
doing things differently than others, i.e., by introducing innovative technologies
into his business practices, the entrepreneur enhances and secures his competitive
advantage over competitors. Because competitors will try to copy the entrepre-
neur’s innovation to secure the market for themselves, and because large rms
have an advantage over small rms, according to Schumpeter, the entrepreneur
has to continually explore new innovative business ideas, marketing strategies,
etc. According to Schumpeter (1943), this cycle, in which entrepreneurs explore
and exploit innovations to achieve a temporary monopoly, which are then copied
by large rms and necessitate new innovations by the entrepreneur etc., is what
drives the economy.
For Schumpeter, innovation not only concerns an invention at the product or
service level but is also connected with what he calls ‘economic waves’. Follow-
ing initial work by Nikolai Kondratieff, Schumpeter studies long economic waves
that are driven by clusters of industries and can be associated with technological
shifts—for instance the wave starting around 1845 associated with steam power
and innovations in the railway industry, or the wave starting around 1900 associ-
ated with electricity and innovations like the internal combustion engine (Schum-
peter 1983). Hence, for Schumpeter, it is technological innovation that plays a key
role in economic development.
Schumpeter’s conceptualization of innovation resonates with the self-evident
understanding of technological and commercial innovation found in the above-
mentioned OECD and EC frameworks. And yet, Schumpeter diverges from our
common understanding of innovation when he talks about waves and not about an
endless economic progress. According to Schumpeter, entrepreneurs disrupt the
Fig. 1. Schumpeter’s business cycles (source: The Economist 1999)
78 Techné: Research in Philosophy and Technology
status quo or economic equilibrium with their innovations. These disruptive inno-
vations will lead to economic growth (upswing), which then end in decline when
a new economic equilibrium is reached in which large rms dominate, and the
role of the entrepreneur diminishes. This periodic economic decline or depression
is explained by two factors: 1) the capitalist concentration of power and capital
by large rms and corporate groups, in which no place is left for entrepreneurial
behaviour; 2) the emergence of an intellectual class that on the one hand emerges
because of economic growth but on the other hand holds social-democratic val-
ues that are hostile to capitalism. Although we have not (yet) experienced such
a decline in our present economy, we can recognize Schumpeter’s ideas in our
current society, where competition is crushed by technology giants like Google
and Amazon, and where it becomes difcult for new entrepreneurs to enter the
market while social democratic movements against the Transatlantic Trade and In-
vestment Partnership (TTIP), for instance, are hostile to capitalism. This intrinsic
tendency towards power concentration by large corporates is inherent in capital-
ism. For this reason, Schumpeter is pessimistic about the abilities of capitalism to
serve long term economic progress. According to him, the negative consequences
of power concentration can only be broken by innovations that disrupt the existing
status quo of the market and prevents the collapse of the capitalist system.
The role of innovation in the upswing of economic cycles becomes clear in
Schumpeter’s notion of creative destruction. According to Schumpeter:
Capitalism ... is by nature a form or method of economic change and not
only never is but never can be stationary. ... The fundamental impulse that
sets and keeps the capitalist engine in motion comes from the new con-
sumers’ goods, the new methods of production or transportation, the new
markets, the new forms of industrial organization that capitalist enterprise
creates. ... The opening up of new markets, foreign or domestic, and the
organizational development from the craft shop and factory to such con-
cerns as U.S. Steel illustrate the same process of industrial mutation ... that
incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly
destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one. This process of Cre-
ative Destruction is the essential fact about capitalism. It is what capitalism
consists in and what every capitalist concern has got to live in. (Schumpeter
1943, 82–83)
The innovation of the diesel engine in locomotives, for instance, was not just the
creation of a new technology but also the destruction of the existing industry in
steam engines, just like the innovation of the compact disc destroyed the indus-
79What Is Innovation?
try of cassette tapes and LPs and has now been replaced by MP3 and streaming
services. Schumpeter identies ve forces of creative destruction: product inno-
vation, innovation in the production process, creation of new markets, discover-
ing a new source of raw materials, and developing new organizational structures
(Schumpeter 1943).6
This brief consultation of the origin of our taken-for-granted understanding
of innovation as technological and commercial innovation shows that Schumpeter
can legitimately be seen as one of the founding fathers of our current understand-
ing of innovation. At the same time, our initial reections show a clear difference
between Schumpeter’s conceptualization of innovation and the contemporary
taken-for-granted notion. While innovation is nowadays seen as contribution to
economic growth per se, and as a panacea for all kinds of societal challenges,
Schumpeter’s notion of economic waves and creative destruction already enables
us to question the unilateral progressive and constructive connotation of the
concept.
Even if we do not agree completely with Schumpeter’s diagnosis—the idea
that large rms are better able to foster innovation, for instance, is challenged in
the literature—the idea that economic decline follows every upswing of the eco-
nomic cycle due to the creation of new technologies makes clear that innovation
may be a necessary, but not sufcient, condition for economic growth; innova-
tion may account for the upswing of the economic cycle but innovation is at the
same time in need of additional and maybe even non-economic interventions to
prevent its decline. We may even argue that innovation, despite its contribution
to the upswing of the economic cycle, is itself non-economical, to the extent that
innovation limits the concentration of power and capital in the capitalist economy,
which would collapse without its temporary disruption by innovations. If innova-
tion prevents the collapse of the capitalist system, then we can formally conclude
that innovation itself doesn’t belong to the capitalist economic system but con-
stitutes its limit. Furthermore, the idea that every upswing of the economic cycle
involves the construction of new and innovative solutions and the destruction of
the existing markets, industries and rms, i.e., the idea that the positive impact
of innovation is accompanied by negative impacts elsewhere, makes clear that
innovation may be a necessary but not sufcient condition for the solution of the
societal challenges we face today; innovations that address societal challenges are
accompanied with negative impacts elsewhere, and therefore raise new societal
challenges. This intrinsic Faustian or dark aspect of innovation is largely ignored
in the policy documents dedicated to innovation (Blok and Lemmens 2015). In
80 Techné: Research in Philosophy and Technology
other words, our brief reection on Schumpeter’s notion of innovation brackets the
presupposed notion of innovation as economically progressive per se, as well as
its conceptualization as a solution for societal challenges. This raises the question
about the extra-economic conditions that must be fullled if innovation is to con-
tribute to economic growth and to the solution of societal problems. An overview
of the differences between the self-evident understanding of innovation and its
origin in Schumpeter’s work can be found in table 1.
Table 1: Differences between the common understanding of innovation and its origin in
Schumpeter’s work.
Contemporary self-evident understanding
of innovation Schumpeter’s concept of Innovation
1) Newness (product, process, marketing
method, organizational method, workplace
organization (OECD)), ranging from new to the
rm to new to the world
=1) New to the World (good, process, market,
source of supply, industrial organization)
2) Technological Innovation = 2) Technological Innovation
3) Serves economic progress per se 3) Serves economic cycles with temporary
progression and depression
4) Human actor (businessman) as subject of
innovation =4) Human actor (entrepreneur) as subject of
innovation
5) Conceived as good in itself and as solution
for societal challenges 5) Faustian aspect of all Innovation
acknowledged
These differences problematize the self-evidence of the techno-economic para-
digm of innovation and raise the question: what is innovation?
2.3. Technology versus Innovaon
Because Schumpeter connects innovation with technology as well, the notion of
technology could provide a potential further point of access for our reection on
the notion of innovation.7 Furthermore, because the philosophy of innovation is
in its infancy while philosophy of technology is an advanced eld of study, our
reection could benet from ndings in the domain of philosophy of technology
by applying them in the context of innovation.
Surprisingly enough, however, philosophers of technology do not seem to
be interested in the notion of innovation at all. Classical philosophers of technol-
ogy like Martin Heidegger never reected on the notion of innovation, while con-
temporary philosophers of technology like Don Ihde and Peter-Paul Verbeek use
the term sporadically and only in connection with technology (Ihde1979, 1990;
Verbeek 2005, 2011). There is sufcient reason to dissociate innovation from
technology. For Heidegger, technology is associated with a type of knowledge—
81What Is Innovation?
a sich auskennen or a “know-how in taking care, manipulating and producing”
(Heidegger 1979, 16)—which is contrasted with instrumental and anthropological
conceptualizations of technology (Heidegger 1977). However, disruptive inno-
vations like the internet or the combustion engine are rather associated with the
un-known, those things with which we are unfamiliar because they disrupt what
is known and concerns something new to the world. In other words, contrary to
Heidegger’s notion of technology as that which we know and that with which
we are always already familiar, innovation ruptures this technological familiarity.
Innovations are not based on what is known, but emerge from what is un-known,
as they are new to the world.8 Another example concerns Gilbert Simondon’s con-
ceptualization of technology. While for Simondon economic considerations do
not intervene directly in technological progress (Simondon 2017, 76), innovation
seems to be inseparable from economy. And while Simondon focusses mainly on
the invention as creation and evolution of a new technological object (the creation
of the rst internal combustion engine for instance), innovation can also relate to
the rst adoption of this new object in the market of users (Tarde 1903), or the
whole process from creation to market adoption (cf. Bontems 2014). There seems
to be therefore sufcient reason to suspend our self-evident association of tech-
nology and innovation, and to philosophically reect on the notion of innovation
itself, i.e., beyond its conceptual identication with technology.
We therefore return to Schumpeter’s notion of innovation in this section to
further articulate innovation in contrast with technology. Although Schumpeter
never thought about the difference between technology and innovation, his work
on innovation provides a starting point for our philosophical reections on the
concept of innovation in contrast with technology. Innovation can be understood
both as a process—i.e., the process of innovation—and as the result of this pro-
cess—i.e., the innovative product or service as an outcome of the process. Al-
though Schumpeter ultimately maintains that the innovative product or service
provides a competitive advantage, his reections on innovation primarily focus on
the process of innovation; creative destruction is not a characteristic of the innova-
tive product or service, but of the innovation process.
Here, the rst possible difference between technology and innovation
emerges. The word technology has a primarily substantive meaning; it concerns
an object that we can encounter in the world. This explains why contemporary
reections on technology often nd their point of departure in concrete artefacts:
new technologies like drones or robots that are outcomes of the innovation process
(Ihde 1979, 1990; Verbeek 2005, 2011). Innovation, on the contrary, has both a
82 Techné: Research in Philosophy and Technology
substantive and verbal meaning and is primarily thought of in the verbal sense of
the word, which is to say as process.9 This does not imply that technology can-
not be thought of as a process. We can think for instance of the work of Gilbert
Simondon, who is primarily interested in the individuation process of technology
(Simondon 2017). But we can say that while technology tends to be taken as an
artefact according to the substantive meaning of the word, the verbal meaning of
innovation makes it impossible to omit a reection on the process of its emergence
and further development.
A second possible difference between technology and innovation now
emerges. While all technology can be considered an outcome of an innovation
process—all technology originates from an innovation process somewhere in his-
tory—not all innovation processes lead to technologies. Schumpeter’s discussion
of the creation of new markets and the development of new types of organizational
structures make this clear, as do contemporary notions like social or political in-
novations. The possible second difference between technology and innovation is
therefore that all technology originates from an act of innovation, while the act of
innovation may result in outcomes beyond technology (e.g., social innovation).
Here, a third possible difference between technology and innovation emerg-
es, namely between intrinsic and extrinsic determinants. Classical philosophers
of technology like Heidegger and Simondon focus on the intrinsic conditions of
technology. While Heidegger argues that technology is a particular way of uncon-
cealing truth, Simondon focusses on the tendency to concretization of technical
structures:
A certain number of extrinsic causes no doubt exist, in particular those
which tend to produce the standardization of spare parts and organs. Nev-
ertheless, these extrinsic causes are not more powerful than those that tend
toward the multiplication of types, appropriated for an innite variety of
needs. If technical objects do evolve toward a small number of specic
types then this is by virtue of an internal necessity and not as a consequence
of economic inuences or practical requirements; it is not the production-
line that produces standardization, but rather intrinsic standardization that
allows for the production-line to exist. (Simondon 2017, 29)10
In postphenomenology, we can observe a focus on the intrinsic determinants
of artefacts themselves and the way they mediate the world (Verbeek 2005). This
does not imply that technology cannot be considered extrinsically conditioned—
we can think for instance of Feenberg’s or Kaplan’s criticism that postphenom-
83What Is Innovation?
enology focusses on the mediation of artefacts without taking the political and
economic dimensions of its emergence and use into account (Feenberg 2009;
Kaplan 2009), or our own criticism that contemporary philosophy of technology
does not take the Earth as an ontic-ontological condition for the possibility of
technology into account (Blok 2017; Zwier and Blok 2017). Rather, it implies
that technology is primarily taken as intrinsically determined; at the same time,
Schumpeter’s embedding of innovation in market needs and economic waves
makes it impossible to discard a further reection on the extrinsic determinants of
innovation processes.
A fourth possible difference between technology and innovation emerges if
we consider Schumpeter’s idea that innovations change ‘the rules of the game’.
Innovations like the steam engine are denitely instances of the innovation of a
new entity—the rst engine for instance—but their creative and destructive aspect
primarily consists of the fact that they destroy the old economic equilibrium—the
world that is associated with water in which the water mill was embedded (e.g.,
the textile industry)—and create a new world order which can be associated with
steam (e.g., the railway industry)(see section 2). This ability of innovation to de-
stroy the old rules of the game and create new rules can be contrasted with the
conceptualization of technology (technique) as rational rule-following behaviour
according to efcient means-end patterns. Jacques Ellul for instance argues: “In
our technological society, technique is the totality of methods rationally arrived at
and having absolute efciency (for a given stage of development) in every eld
of human activity” (Ellul 1964, xxv). Rather than following the rules of a rule-
governed system, innovation destroys the existing rules and creates new rules of
the system.
Taking the ndings of this section together, we propose ve differences be-
tween technology and innovation in table 2.
Based on this rst round of reections on preliminary differences between
technology and innovation, we cannot draw conclusions about the nature of inno-
vation yet. By contrasting innovation and technology in this section, we intended
to a) question the identication of innovation and technology in the concept of
technological innovation; b) raise awareness of the differences between technol-
ogy and innovation; and c) open-up the concept of innovation for philosophical
reections. Furthermore, even if we reject some of the aforementioned distinctions
made between technology and innovation, for instance because Feenberg’s phi-
losophy of technology is in fact able to analyse the political-economic dimensions
of technology, we would argue that the particular nature and context of innova-
84 Techné: Research in Philosophy and Technology
tion strictly necessitates taking these differences into account and can therefore
also provide a new perspective that can stimulate further debates in philosophy of
technology.
3. Towards a Philosophy of Innovaon
In this section, we continue our reections by focussing on the concept of innova-
tion itself, without reference to technology. We discuss a) the innovation process
and outcome dimension, and b) the ontic and ontological dimension of innovation,
from which we develop four characteristics of the phenomenon of innovation.
These dimensions turn out to have several implications for our understanding of
the novelty and temporality of innovation, as well as of the role of human involve-
ment in the innovation process.
3.1. The Process and Outcome Dimension of Innovaon
A rst characteristic of innovation can be found if we oppose the innovation pro-
cess itself to the outcome of the process. The word innovation has two meanings.
On the one hand, it has a substantive meaning, e.g., the iPhone as an outcome or
end-product. On the other, it has a verbal meaning, e.g., the innovation process that
results in the iPhone as outcome. Because innovation is not only an outcome but
also a process, it is something that can and should be managed. Stage gate models
and technology readiness levels for example, enable the management of the in-
novation process in such a way that leads to the best possible outcomes.
If we consider the outcome of the innovation process as a concrete individual
object or artefact, the innovation process itself can be conceived as the pre-indi-
vidual. The innovation process before its individuation in a concrete innovation
Technology Innovation
1) Product level as point of departure (tool,
machine, artefact) (for instance Mumford)
1) Process level as point of departure (creative
destruction)
2) All technology is the product of innovation 2) Innovation doesn’t necessarily produce new
technology (for instance social innovation)
3) Focus on intrinsic orientation (for instance
Simondon, postphenomenology)
3) Focus on extrinsic orientation (for instance
economic embeddedness)
4) Technology as rule-governed system (for
instance Ellul)
4) Innovation as rule-creating and rule-destructing
system
5) The known and familiar as point of departure
(for instance Heidegger)
5) The un-known and un-familiar as point of
departure (focus on the New)
Table 2. Possible Differences between Technology and Innovation
85What Is Innovation?
outcome can be conceptualized as the ontogenesis of this outcome. The ontoge-
netic process of innovation cannot be understood out of its outcome because then
the process of innovation is conceptualized based on its outcome, i.e., the pre-
individual is understood in terms of the individual that comes out of it and not in
terms of the process itself. This is precisely the problem with many typologies of
innovation in the literature: distinctions like incremental versus radical innovation
(Freeman and Soete 1997) or architectural versus modular innovations (Hender-
son and Clark 1990) miss the ontogenetic process of innovation because they take
the outcome of the innovation process—concrete individual products or services,
their components, or the compositions of these components—as the point of de-
parture. This focus on the innovation outcome may be explained by what is called
the ‘culture of things’ or material culture. According to Godin, “[t]he origin of this
culture goes back to the Renaissance: due to commercial exchanges, exploration
and travel, natural and articial objects have been what is valued in arts, science,
and real life” (Godin 2008, 21). But if innovation concerns both the process and
the outcome of the process, a philosophical reection can no longer be isolated to
outcomes, but must come to terms with the process as a distinct and integral part
of innovation. If we locate the point of departure of our reections in the outcome
of the innovation process, we miss the operation that constitutes this innovative
outcome; we miss innovation as an ontogenetic process.
Therefore, we should no longer think the ontogenetic process out of an indi-
vidual innovation outcome that is created while it destroys a previous individual
outcome, but on the contrary, it should be understood at the level of of the process
of creation and destruction itself, i.e., at the pre-individual level. In this view, we
assume a fundamental difference between outcome and process, between individ-
ual and pre-individual, thereby making the case that innovation as process cannot
be reduced to innovation as outcome—which is to say that process and outcome
are divided by a fundamental difference. We should not, however, take this move
as an invitation to disregard the innovation outcome—it is highly questionable
whether we can understand innovation processes without considering their out-
comes, as these outcomes only account for spatio-temporal differences in their
manifestation (see 3.2)—but rather as a call to acknowledge both outcome and
ontogenetic process as two fundamental aspects of innovation.
3.2. The Onc and Ontological Dimension of Innovaon
At the level of the innovation outcome, a second difference emerges if we consider
that Schumpeter is not interested in the creative destruction of an individual arte-
86 Techné: Research in Philosophy and Technology
fact, but is looking for patterns that undergird the emergence of economic waves
associated with water, steam, electricity etc. (see g. 1). What is destroyed by the
innovation of streaming services is not so much the CD in the literal sense—there
are still CDs in the world—but the way value is created and captured via markets
in the economic order associated with digital networks like the internet.11 What
is destroyed is not so much an artefact, but the political-economic order that is
associated with it, for instance, water and the way in which the water mill and the
accompanying textile industry was embedded, which in turn gave rise to a new
political-economic order associated with steam (railway industry for instance)(see
g. 1).
We see here that innovation operates at two levels of outcomes. The innova-
tion of streaming services concerns both the ontogenesis of these services at an
ontic level and the ontogenesis of the political-economic order of the world associ-
ated with digital networks at the ontological level. Traditionally, a philosophical
distinction is made between the ontic level of beings in the world and the ontologi-
cal level of the essence or nature of these beings. This ontological level of the na-
ture of beings, which is associated with the idea, eidos or form of beings, does not
concern the ontic level of beings themselves but the measure or structure in light
of which these beings appear and are understood. To the extent that innovation not
only concerns new artefacts but also the structures within which these artefacts
appear and are understood as ordered, we think that the distinction between the
ontic- and the ontological may be helpful to understanding the phenomenon of
innovation. In the current age, the ontological level of innovation concerns the
ontogenesis of a world order associated with digital networks. In this world order,
the streaming services can emerge, can be applied in various software applica-
tions and social media, and can be adopted and used by humans.12 This distinction
between the ontic and ontological level of the innovation outcome provides a new
perspective on Schumpeter’s conceptualization of innovation as creative destruc-
tion. Innovations like the internal combustion engine are innovations at the ontic
level, but their destructive character consists in the fact that they destroy the eco-
nomic equilibrium or world order associated with a particular set of innovations,
in this case innovations associated with the world of steam. Simultaneously, the
innovation of the internal combustion engine at an ontic level gives rise primarily
to a new world order associated with electricity. Innovation as creative destruction,
therefore, not only concerns things in the world, but also affects the world order in
which these things appear and can be understood (Blok forthcoming). It is at this
ontological level that innovation can be said to change the ‘rules of the game.’13
87What Is Innovation?
The idea that innovation intervenes at the ontological level of the world order is
already pregured in the work of Francis Bacon (1561–1626), in which he argues
that innovations “have altered the whole face and state of things right across the
globe” (cited in Godin 2015, 182).14 We propose, therefore, a dual conceptualisa-
tion of the innovation outcome: innovation primarily operates at the ontological
level of categories that constitute and establish a world order, and simultaneously
operates at the ontic level within this world where it engenders novel things or
innovative outcomes.
Although the advantage of a dual notion of innovation is that it explains
how innovation can be said to be both a being that is ‘new to the world’ and
a process that changes ‘the rules of the game’, it is not necessary to accept the
content of Schumpeter’s categories (water, steam, electricity). A philosopher like
Walter Benjamin would rather emphasize other disruptions like the innovation of
printing, photography, and lm, while philosophers like Bernard Stiegler would
point to innovations associated with digitalization. Be that as it may, what we
learn from our reection on Schumpeter’s notion of creative destruction, is that
innovation primarily involves the creation of ontological categories that constitute
a world order (the digital world for instance), in addition to producing innovation
outcomes at an ontic level. At the same time, the ontic and ontological levels of
innovation turn out to be interconnected and interdependent. On the one hand, the
innovation of the internal combustion engine at the ontic level is dependent on a
world order associated with electricity. On the other hand, this world of electricity
at an ontological level emerges only as a world order in case of the innovation of
the internal combustion engine that destroys the world of steam. The innovation
of the world of electricity is ontologically rst, but not necessarily in the temporal
sense of the word.
The interdependency of the innovation outcome at the ontic and ontologi-
cal levels already provides good reasons to reject any unilateral focus on either
the ontological level or the ontic level of innovation. For a unilateral focus on
the ontological level of innovation, we can think of a Heideggerian approach that
highlights the importance of the ontological level of the innovation of a world
order while neglecting the ontic level of innovations like the internet, social media
etc. For a unilateral focus on the ontic level of innovation, we can think of of
a postphenomenological approach that highlights how the innovation of Google
Glass for instance mediates the world we experience. Roughly speaking, while
Heidegger argues in “The Question Concerning Technology” that this ontological
level of technology cannot be found at the level of screws and bolts of an artefact,
88 Techné: Research in Philosophy and Technology
Verbeek would argue that there is no ontological level beyond the screws and bolts
of the artefact (Verbeek 2005). In fact, our reections on the innovation outcome
compel us to rehabilitate the ontic-ontological difference that was rejected by post-
modernist philosophy—e.g., Ihde’s idea that there is no Heideggerian ‘essence’
of technology beyond the many technologies (Ihde 2010)—at least in case we
want to reect on the phenomenon of innovation. Because our primary goal in this
article is to lay the groundwork for a philosophy of innovation without claiming to
be able to provide such a full-edged philosophy at this stage, we leave the ques-
tion how the ontic and ontological level of the outcome of innovation are related
to each other, as well as the question of which contemporary innovation outcomes
provide indications of the destruction of the contemporary dominant world order
and pregure the creation of an upcoming world order, up for future research.
In table three, we summarize the ndings of our reection on possible dimen-
sions of the concept of innovation. We rst distinguished between the process
and outcome dimension of innovation and then between the ontic and ontological
dimension of innovation. These dimensions provide two axes that enable us to
distinguish four characteristics of innovation, namely: innovation as innovation
outcome at the ontic level, e.g., the innovation of streaming services; innovation
as innovation outcome at the ontological level, e.g., the political-economic order
of the world associated with digital networks in our current age; innovation as
innovation process at the ontic level, e.g., the process by which streaming services
evolve out of predecessors (LPs, CDs) and the existing retail market for CDs is de-
stroyed; and nally innovation as innovation process at the ontological level, e.g.,
the process by which the digital world evolves out of the world of petrochemicals
and electricity (see g. 1). A full understanding of the phenomenon of innovation
includes these four characteristics of innovation.
Table 3: four characteristics of the phenomenon of innovation
Innovation Outcome
(Ontic Level) Innovation Outcome (Ontological Level)
Innovation Process
(Ontic Level) Innovation Process (Ontological Level)
4. Conclusions
In this article, we laid the ground for a philosophy of innovation. We did this in
four steps. First, we critically analysed the self-evidence of the techno-economic
paradigm of innovation to raise the question: what is innovation? Second, because
89What Is Innovation?
innovation is self-evidently associated with technology and economy, we contrast-
ed the contemporary conceptualization of innovation as technological and com-
mercial innovation with Schumpeter’s work. Although we saw that Schumpeter
indeed can be seen as a founding father of the contemporary techno-economic
paradigm of innovation, we also provided two reasons to reject the self-evidence
of the techno-economic paradigm. Schumpeter’s notion of economic waves and
creative destruction makes it questionable whether innovation can be seen as eco-
nomic progress per se, and as a panacea for societal challenges (see table 1).
Third, to open up the concept of innovation for philosophical reection, we
contrasted innovation and technology to nd an answer to the question what in-
novation is. We identied ve differences between technology and innovation that
makes it at least questionable to employ ‘technology’ to nd an answer to our
question (see table 2). Fourth, we performed a critical hermeneutic reection on
innovation based on the analysis and examples of Schumpeter in order to develop
and articulate a philosophical understanding of the phenomenon of innovation. By
reecting on the process-outcome dimension and the ontic-ontological dimension
of innovation, we developed four characteristics of the phenomenon of innovation
(table 3). These four characteristics move beyond the techno-economic paradigm
and highlight the importance of understanding the process dimension of innova-
tion as ontogenesis (next to the innovation outcome that is usually emphasized),
of locating the ontological dimension of innovation next to the ontic level of the
innovation outcome.
So what? Philosophical reection on basic concepts like innovation is impor-
tant, because these concepts structure the way in which we understand the world
around us. If, for example, we understand innovation as technological innovation
which is primarily executed by engineers in private R&D departments and labora-
tories, then we miss a whole set of contemporary phenomena that can be associated
with system innovation (e.g., agro-ecological innovations), social innovations (e.g.,
political innovations like online petition websites), or attitudinal innovations (e.g.,
prevention or lifestyle interventions), as well as the parts of innovation processes
that can be associated with the diffusion of innovations. Philosophical reection
on innovation can also help us to assess whether new phenomena still fall under
the same concept or not. An example is the new paradigm of (bio)technological
developments and engineering practices associated with biomimicry, i.e., with the
imitation of natural processes in technological design (Blok and Gremmen 2016).
Finally, philosophical reection can help us to develop a critical attitude towards
the self-evident use of the concept of innovation, to highlight contradictions and
90 Techné: Research in Philosophy and Technology
tensions in its use, and to raise questions regarding the limitations of its use and the
conditions of responsible innovation. Is innovation good per se (Rogers 1976) or
should we reect on its consequences in relation to the problems it seeks to solve,
the risks involved, as well as the potential negative side-effects?
We do not claim to have answered these questions in a denitive way with
our reections on innovation in this article. One could argue, for instance, that the
selection of sources has biased our analysis, and that a philosophical reection on
other sources could have resulted in slightly different characteristics of innova-
tion. Although we think that Schumpeter is in fact one of the founding fathers
of the contemporary understanding of innovation and is also seen this way by
many innovation and STS scholars, and therefore, that his selection as a source
for this study is legitimate, we cannot claim to have developed a full philoso-
phy of innovation yet. With our reections on the concept of innovation, we have
laid the groundwork for such a philosophy by providing four building blocks that
can guide future research in this emerging subdomain at the intersection of phi-
losophy of technology and philosophy of (techno)science. To fully develop such
a philosophy of innovation, future research must consider the implications of the
phenomenon for our understanding of the novelty, the temporality and the role of
human involvement in innovation practices. Furthermore, the following research
questions have still to be answered:
What is the content of the innovation outcomes at an ontological level that
constitute our contemporary world order?
Which emerging innovation outcomes at an ontic level provide indica-
tions of the destruction of the contemporary dominant world order and
pregure the creation of an upcoming new world order?
— How are the innovation outcomes at ontic and ontological level related to
each other, if a unilateral focus on either the primacy of the ontological
level or the ontic level is no longer appropriate?
— Which conceptualization of time underlies the temporal dimension of in-
novation as ontogenetic process?
— How can we conceptualize the novelty involved in innovation?
— How can we conceive the co-creativity of human being at the pre-individ-
ual level of the ontogenetic process?
91What Is Innovation?
— How are the two roles of human being as co-creator and as adopter of
innovation related to each other?
— Why did the philosophical tradition not reect on innovation, contrary to
other elds of study like psychology, sociology and economics?
Acknowledgments
I would like to thank Jochem Zwier, Benoit Godin and the anonymous reviewer of this
paper for their valuable comments on an earlier draft of this article.
Notes
1. In this respect, we don’t start with the delineation of the set of phenomena la-
belled as innovations but take the set of examples provided by Schumpeter and others.
The explorative confrontational approach enables us to develop general characteristics
of the phenomenon of innovation based on our critical interpretation of these examples
provided by Schumpeter.
2. In this, we follow the strategy of eminent scholars in related elds of research
who draw upon one single but important author to oppose the dominant understand-
ing of theoretical concepts and to develop new theory (Tsoukas and Cummings 1997;
Komporozos-Athanasiou and Fotaki 2015).
3. If we argue that most scientic literature on innovation assumes the techno-
economic paradigm without explicit reexion on the concept of innovation itself, this
is not necessarily meant in a critical manner. A classical division of labour between
philosophy and science is that philosophy reects on the nature of basic concepts in
the sciences—what is nature, what is human being, what is innovation—while the
sciences propose hypotheses that add further information about these subjects, and
that are principally testable. Seen from this perspective, it is not the task of scholars in
management and economics of innovation to reect on the phenomenon of innovation
itself.
4. Parts of this sub-section were published earlier in Blok (forthcoming).
5. Schumpeter was not the only author who provided an understanding of in-
novation, and there are many other authors before and after him who contributed to our
contemporary understanding of the concept. Godin (2015) for instance convincingly
showed that Schumpeter is not the only founding father and that the dominant view
of Schumpeter’s role in the conceptualization of innovation emerged in the 1970s due
to the work of Chris Freeman and others. Although the historical role of Schumpeter
in the development of the concept is still open for discussion, we limit ourselves to
philosophical reection on the concept of innovation in this article. To this end, it is
92 Techné: Research in Philosophy and Technology
sufcient to acknowledge that Schumpeter is one of the founding fathers of our con-
temporary conceptuality.
6. The connection between innovation and technology is ambiguous in Schum-
peter’s work, because the examples of opening new markets and of new types of
industrial organization as forces of creative destruction show that innovation is not
necessarily associated with technological inventions. In his book on business cycles,
Schumpeter writes: “Innovation is possible without anything we should identify as
invention and invention does not necessarily induce innovation” (Schumpeter 1939,
84). Nonetheless, he argues that technological innovation is the driver of creative
destruction, the creation of new market needs, and destruction of existing markets
(Schumpeter 1943, 81–86). This conceptualization also shows why Godin is mistaken
in his assessment of Schumpeter, when he writes that the ve forces concern only the
application of a new product or process in a rm, and do not imply the commercialisa-
tion of this product or service in the market (Godin 2015, 267). It may be interesting to
disconnect innovation as application and as commercialisation this way (Godin 2019),
but this is denitely not what Schumpeter had in mind.
7. In this section, we philosophically reect on possible differences between
technology and innovation, based on the concept of technology as it is understood
in the tradition of philosophy of technology. We mainly leave aside the history of the
denition of technology in this reection. For this, see the eminent studies by Schatz-
berg (2018) and Godin (2019).
8. The formal distinction between technology and innovation based on an oppo-
sition between the known (technology) and the unknown (innovation), requires further
reection in general, and on the relation between innovation and newness in particular.
This is, however, beyond the scope of this article.
9. Godin argues that innovation is often referred to by using a verb in ancient
Greece, for instance, and that the substantive use of the word is rather rare (Godin
2015, 31).
10. Simondon is at least ambiguous in this focus on intrinsic conditions of tech-
nological development, because he elsewhere seems to take extrinsic—economic—
conditions into account as well (Simondon 2017, 159–62). The further discussion
about the relation between intrinsic and extrinsic determinants of technological devel-
opment in Simondon is beyond the scope of this article.
11. Although it is clear that economists like Schumpeter focus on the impact
of innovation on the economic order and assume that the articulation of a new world
order is often established via markets, we can learn from the history of innovation that
the economic orientation of the contemporary notion of innovation is not self-evident
and should be extended to include the political-economic domain (Blok forthcoming).
12. Likewise, the emergence of the steam engine changed the human-technology
relation as a whole: “The factory uses true technical individuals, whereas, in the work-
93What Is Innovation?
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Zwier, Jochem, and Vincent Blok. 2017. “Saving Earth: Encountering Heidegger’s
Philosophy of Technology in the Anthropocene.Techne: Research in Philoso-
phy and Technology 21(2–3): 222–42. https://doi.org/10.5840/techne201772167
... This means that technical evolution at an ontic level has an ontological imprint on the world in which we live and act, whether this imprint is understood as technosphere (Haf, 2013), as technical culture (Simondon, 2017), technical system (Stiegler, 1998) or Anthropocene World (Blok, 2021a). Innovations 2 at an ontic level of beings in the world like the steam engine, the telescope or AI applications are created, but these innovations at the same time create the technosphere or the Anthropocene World at an ontological level (Blok, 2021b). 3 This idea confronts us however with a problem. ...
... But this conceptualization of the process of creation is problematic in case of disruptive innovations like the first deep learning technique, as they do not pre-exist as ideas represented by the creator, but emerge for the first time as an outcome of the creative process. Disruptive innovations like machine learning and deep learning techniques, but one can also think of the first steam engine or the first telescope, are in the first instance un-known, i.e., artifacts we are unfamiliar with because they disrupt what is known and introduce something new-to-the-world (Blok, 2021b). ...
... It also doesn't help to conceptualize the nature of this creation in analogy with natural evolution, i.e. as historically constituted by its evolvement out of various complementary predecessors (Gille, 1986), as we run the risk that our conceptuality remains solely oriented on a history of innerworldly or physical artifacts in the world. And if we conceptualize the nature of the creation in analogy with thermodynamics, i.e. as constituted in the strife between entropy and negentropy (Stiegler, 2021), the risk is that our conceptuality remains solely oriented on physical phenomena in the Anthropocene World (Blok, 2021b). For this reason, we are in need of a meta-physical perspective on the process of creation involved in the creation of World. ...
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The starting point of this article is the observation that the emergence of the Anthropocene rehabilitates the need for philosophical reflections on the ontology of technology. In particular, if technological innovations on an ontic level of beings in the world are created, but these innovations at the same time create the Anthropocene World at an ontological level, this raises the question how World creation has to be understood. We first identify four problems with the traditional concept of creation: the anthropocentric, ontic and outcome orientation of traditional concepts of creation, as well as its orientation of material fabrication. We subsequently develop a progressive concept of World creation with four characteristics that move beyond the traditional conceptuality: (1) a materialistic concept of creation that accounts for (2) the ontogenetic process and (3) the ontic and ontological nature of creation, and (4) is conceptualized as semantic creation of the World in which we live and act.
... Postphenomenology for instance significantly advanced our knowledge of how technologies mediate human experience of the technological world we are intentionally involved in (Verbeek, 2005). Although it assumes a reciprocal relation between human experience and the world that is experienced, its starting point is found in the availability of "technologies in their particularities" and the practical use of these technologies in various technological practices (Ihde, 2009: 21-22), while the process of their invention and evolution, just like the role of human creativity in this invention, is less developed (Blok, 2021). Postphenomenology focusses for instance on the question how a new-to-the-world artifact like Google Glass mediates our experience of the world we live in (Kudina & Verbeek, 2019), while it is this mediated experience of the world that gives rise to new inventions like the integration of augmented and virtual reality. ...
... Innovation is not the same as technology (Blok, 2021). A relational account of technology takes the familiarity with the artifact as point of departure; human existence is always already intentionally involved in a meaningful world in which he or she knows how to use these artifacts. ...
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One of the pressing issues in philosophy of technology is the role of human creativity in human-technology relations. We first observe that a techno-centric orientation of philosophy of technology leaves open the role and contribution of human creativity in technological evolution, while an anthropocentric orientation leaves open the role of the technical milieu in technological evolution. Subsequently, we develop a concept of creation as deviation and responsiveness in response to affordances in the environment, inspired by the affordance theory by James Gibson. With this concept of creation as deviative responsiveness, we articulate the human contribution to human-technology creation, namely, our intentional deviation of the inhibiting forces of the currently dominant niche or meaningful world of human-technology relations, in order to become responsive to new affordances in human-technology creation that constitute a new niche or world of human-technology relations.
... A hermeneutic perspective invites us to consider the potential for different meanings to be invested in an object, to more fully understand how it might impact in practice. Blok (2020) highlights the idea that, unlike pre-existing understandings of innovation which from either an economic or philosophical perspective are based on identifiable commercial applications or methods of production, disruptive innovations are instead associated with the unknown, and draws our attention to the creation and evolutionary stages of technologies prior to market adoption. ...
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This paper argues that responsible innovation discourses must consider the changing nature of digital innovation, if they are to stand a chance of steering the development of technology towards democratically-acceptable ends. It explores the extent to which foundational narratives of Responsible (Research and) Innovation (RRI) consider problematic features of metatechnologies – defined here as “core information technologies upon which others are based, and whose use vastly expands the degrees of freedom with which humans can act in the social and material worlds” – and implications for responsible innovation discourse in the digital age. The study finds that references underpinning paradigmatic RRI accounts include digital and metatechnology examples, albeit briefly in some cases, somewhat reinforcing the validity of seminal RRI accounts in the context of new and emerging digital technologies with metatechnological attributes. The need for additional reflection on the problematic implications of digital technologies for RRI is identified, for example with respect to distributed development, and recombinant and network-level effects. The paper concludes that the continuing value of RRI as a discourse to society will depend on researchers’ and practitioners’ awareness of the potential of these technologies for cascading, downstream innovation.
... The scientific literature on technological innovation is dominated by the economic approach, which considers innovation as a process to produce commercial goods, possibly focusing on making innovation processes more acceptable and responsible (Bourban & Rochel, 2021;von Schomberg & Blok, 2021a, 2021b. There is no comparable amount of research investigating the intrinsic nature of such processes (as clearly acknowledged in von Blok, 2021a and2021b), and philosophical investigations of innovation are still in their infancy (Blok, 2021). ...
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Technological innovation is almost always investigated from an economic perspective; with few exceptions, the specific technological and social nature of innovation is often ignored. We argue that a novel way to characterise and make sense of different types of technological innovation is to start considering uncertainty. This seems plausible since technological development and innovation almost always occur under conditions of uncertainty. We rely on the distinction between, on the one hand, uncertainty that can be quantified (e.g. probabilistic risk) and, on the other, deep forms of uncertainty that may resist the possibility of being quantified (e.g. severe or fundamental uncertainties). On the basis of these different ingredients of uncertainty in technological innovation, we propose a new taxonomy that reveals the technological nature of innovation. Unlike previous taxonomies employed to handle different types of technological innovations, our taxonomy does not consider the economic value of innovation alone; it is much more oriented towards societal preferences and forms of technological uncertainty. Finally, we investigate the coherence of our proposal with the dual nature of technological artefacts, showing that innovation can be grounded on structural and functional factors and not just on economic ones.
... Third, this dissertation contributes to the philosophical study of entrepreneurship (Blok, 2021;Chiles, Bluedorn & Gupta, 2007;Hjorth, 2015) by illustrating and developing a metaphysical approach to creative destruction. Previous philosophical work on entrepreneurship has advanced understanding of entrepreneurship as a temporality-based process of new venture creation (Gartner, 1988;Hjorth et al., 2015;McMullen & Dimov, 2013), often by emphasizing ideology, subjectivity, and creativity as characteristic of entrepreneurial discourse (Alvarez & Barney, 2020;Dey & Lehner, 2017;Drakopolou Dodd & Anderson, 2007;Rehn & Taalas, 2004;Weiskopf & Steyaert, 2009). ...
Thesis
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This is the introductory essay of my doctoral dissertation. It is an attempt to ask for entrepreneurship as a thing, or, perhaps more specifically, prepare the question of what entrepreneurship is. I write in order to call this entity - which includes the asking - "metaentrepreneurship."
... Such universality and complexity of the challenges we experience as a society have driven innovation understanding to be much more open and based on knowledge and value generation (OECD, 2018). Also, innovation is associated as much to the implemented result as to the process and activities that lead to it (Blok, 2021;38 Management of Innovation labs: An enabling methodological approach for strategic intent design Gregoire, 2016). Based on the most recent version of the Oslo Manual (OECD, 2018), innovation can be defined as: ...
Thesis
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Since several years now, there has been a proliferation of prodigious spaces for fostering creativity and innovation. Governments, companies, universities, and communities have turned to the implementation of innovation labs as the places where innovation processes are expected to be enhanced through open and agile forms of collaboration. However, there are concerns on how the lack of a clear and shared strategic intent undermines the innovation labs’ purpose and how these initiatives struggle to share and align their strategic intent with all the stakeholders. Thus, this dissertation, following an action research approach under multiple research settings, aims to explain how the strategic intent of innovation labs is built and can be used to guide their performance. Throughout this thesis, innovation labs are recognized as intermediary organizational forms created to support and facilitate the innovation intent in multi-stakeholder contexts. Moreover, it is also addressed how innovation lab settings require sensemaking and feedback processes that allow them to create and maintain a strategic alignment among their stakeholders. Accordingly, this work focuses on the design of mechanisms that enable (1) the representation of the constituent elements of the organizational strategic intent of an innovation lab, (2) understanding how this intent unfolds over time and the stages it goes through, and (3) the identification of competences and roles within innovation lab teams that help to navigate the innovation lab intent. Altogether, they constitute a methodological approach to support strategy making processes in such collaborative environments.
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Chapter
The definition of such terms is still something much discussed in the specific literature and debated by scholars, not having a concrete conclusion.
Book
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This book provides new interpretations of Heidegger’s philosophical method in light of 20th-century postmodernism and 21st-century speculative realism. In doing so, it raises important questions about philosophical method in the age of global warming and climate change. Vincent Blok addresses topics that have yet to be extensively discussed in Heidegger scholarship, including Heidegger’s method of questioning, the religious character of Heidegger’s philosophical method, and Heidegger’s conceptualization of philosophical method as explorative confrontation. He is also critical of Heidegger’s conceptuality and develops a post-Heideggerian concept of philosophical method, which provides a new perspective on the role of willing, poetry, and earth-interest in contemporary philosophy. This earth-interest turns out to be particularly important to consider and leads to critical reflections on Heidegger’s concept of Earth, the necessity of Earth-interest in contemporary philosophy, and a post-Heideggerian concept of the Earth. Heidegger’s Concept of Philosophical Method will be of interest primarily to Heidegger scholars and graduate students, but its discussion of philosophical method and environmental philosophy will also appeal to scholars in other disciplines and areas of philosophy.
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Because the techno-economic paradigm of contemporary conceptualizations of innovation is often taken for granted in the literature, this article opens up this self-evident notion. First, the work of Joseph Schumpeter is consulted, who can be seen as the founding father of the current conceptualization of innovation as technological and commercial. Second, we open up the concept by reflecting on two aspects of Schumpeter's conceptualization of innovation, namely its destructive and its constructive aspect, based on findings in the history of innovation (Xenophon, Plato, Machiavelli, Bacon). Finally, we synthesize our findings and propose an ontic-ontological conceptualization of innovation as ontogenetic process and outcome with six dimensions-newness, political dimension, economic dimension, temporal dimension, human dimension and risk-that moves beyond its technological and commercial orientation.
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In this paper, we argue that the Anthropocene is relevant for philosophy of technology because it makes us sensitive to the ontological dimension of contemporary technology. In §1, we show how the Anthropocene has ontological status insofar as the Anthropocenic world appears as managerial resource to us as managers of our planetary oikos. Next, we confront this interpretation of the Anthropocene with Heidegger’s notion of “Enframing” to suggest that the former offers a concrete experience of Heidegger’s abstract, notoriously difficult, and allegedly totalitarian concept (§2). In consequence, technology in the Anthropocene cannot be limited to the ontic domain of artefacts, but must be acknowledged to concern the whole of Being. This also indicates how the Anthropocene has a technical origin in an ontological sense, which is taken to imply that the issue of human responsibility must be primarily understood in terms of responsivity. In the final section (§3), we show how the Anthropocene is ambiguous insofar as it both accords and discords with what Heidegger calls the “danger” of technology. In light of this ambiguity, the Earth gains ontic-ontological status, and we therefore argue that Heidegger’s unidirectional consideration concerning the relation between being and beings must be reoriented. We conclude that the Anthropocene entails that Heidegger’s consideration of the “saving power” of technology as well as the comportment of “releasement” must become Earthbound, thereby introducing us to a saving Earth.
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In this article, we reflect on the conditions under which new technologies emerge in the Anthropocene and raise the question of how to conceptualize sustainable technologies therein. To this end, we explore an eco-centric approach to technology development, called biomimicry. We discuss opposing views on biomimetic technologies, ranging from a still anthropocentric orientation focusing on human management and control of Earth’s lifesupport systems, to a real eco-centric concept of nature, found in the responsive conativity of nature. This concept provides the ontological and the epistemological condition for an ecocentric concept of biomimetic technologies in the Anthropocene. We distinguish five principles for this concept that can guide future technological developments. Keywords Anthropocene, Biomimicry, Ecomimesis, Philosophy of technology, Sustainable technology