You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Innovation Philosophy’ category.

Robot Dream Exhibition Hong Kong. Photo Credit: Public Domain

I cannot hide a little smile, when I can read at the press that “robots are coming to remove our job”. What a great discovery! Some “brilliant mind” has found that “evil” engineers are developing machines to avoid the hard work of people. Someone must think that the searching for a more comfortable life is not the sign of any civilization. Someone must think that the first civilizations do not invent livestock breeding in order to avoid the more dangerous, more laborious, less predictable, less effective and less efficient job of hunter. There is not any written record of some kind of group of hunters on strike. This is not a probable fact because unions were an invention in the recent centuries. However, there are archeological evidences that many tribes continued acting as hunter gatherers for a longer time until their disappearance. Not accepting the social technological changes is not only a matter of worse understanding of social evolution. It is a matter of driving the society to a subsequent disappearance in front of those ones that incorporate the technological advances.

I am not probably the most intelligent man in the world and I cannot see where the “evilness” of engineers can be found. Is the transformation of jobs into less dangerous activities for people evilness?  Is the transformation of jobs into less repetitive and more creativity activities evilness? Is a more effective and more efficient exploitation of natural resources evilness?

Christian-Jewish civilization is based on the premise that hard work is the result of the original sin of Adam and Eve (Genesis). For that civilization, hard work is a divine punishment. Then, it cannot be a social value. Perhaps, the “brilliant mind” behind the “evilness” of engineering is looking with religious eyes, because he sees it as a way to avoid a divine punishment. Suffering for a great cause can be considered an extremely great act of mercy; however, making people to suffer for something that can be easily avoided is only an act of masochism.

I do not want to be misunderstood. Effort and hard work related to achieve our own or even social aims must not be avoided. It should be promoted. What must be removed is the work that limits our capability to improve if there is a technological way to do it. Ancient Romans dedicated their lives to the defense and expansion of their empire while the repetitive work of cultivating their fields was done by slaves. War is a job harder than agriculture; however, the result of the war could not be put in the hands of slaves. There will be always many activities that will have to be done by ourselves, although those activities can be even the hardest ones.

I am conscious that people are not worried about the loss of jobs but about the loss of personal incomes, but this problem is not linked to engineering but linked to politics. It is a common social error in our days to translate the incompetence of political world to accept and to drive changes to the engineering world that is prepared to them from its beginnings. Engineering always provides solutions to problems, while politics creates them when politicians are not able to agree.

I can ask to myself if ancient Romans would have substituted their slaves for robots. That would be a great social problem. Before slavery all enemies were assassinated, in fact slavery was a social advance because it let to avoid the extermination of many people. The problem of robotics deployment can be not related to people jobs but to the change of the political order and the sharing of political power among rival political factions. Technology never is evil but people controlling it can be.

Robots are not the problem, are the solution. Robots are enemies of neither capital nor people. I would like that politicians against robots defending the “jobs of people” or a “stable economy” counted the number and quality of jobs before the use of computers and after it. Computers have provided more jobs, better labor conditions and higher benefits for companies. The arguments about the evilness of technological advances from any political side are neither reasonable nor defendable.

Brain Training. Photo Credit: Public Domain

Brain Training. Photo Credit: Public Domain

Sun Tzu thought that a war must be won before the fight: “In war, the victorious strategist only seeks battle after the victory has been won, whereas, he who is destined to defeat, first fights and afterwards looks for victory”.

The planning of activities, as many other common activities in the business world, proceeds from the military activity. Although this kind of thoughts is useful for the business world, it is very important to establish a difference between business competition and war. There are several things to be considered:

  • The aim of a strategy for war usually is the total defeat of the enemy; however, the aim of a business strategy is to improve the positioning of the company.
  • In a classic warfare scenario there are two factions, while in a competitive market the number of competitors can be huge. Business strategy usually is more complex than warfare strategy in a conventional scenario because of the number of involved organizations and the links among them. On the other hand, it is true that modern geopolitics is making more complex day by day too.

Competition is a thing that is not very easily simplified. We cannot eliminate easily a competitor when he is better than us although that fact would make our life easier.

Classic business strategy is many times inspired by military one. This must be done being very cautious, although many principles of military strategy could be useful for business activity.

Sun Tzu said for instance that a way in which a ruler can bring misfortune to his army is “by attempting to govern an army in the same way as he administers a kingdom, being ignorant of the conditions which obtain in an army”.

This sentence is very interesting to start a discussion: Is business activity similar to govern an army, or similar to govern a kingdom? Many businessmen would say that it is different to both activities, and they, probably, are right. Sun Tzu’s previous sentence can be applied to business. A business cannot be administered like a nation because while they are in a competition while public administration is a pure monopoly, however this fact does not imply that a business must be governed like an army because workers with labor contracts have not the same compromise with the organization than a soldier who has made a pledge of allegiance.

One of the main problems in many businesses is to get people be involved in the strategic decisions of the company. A citizen is like a shareholder of a country that has the right to vote about how the nation must be governed; however, a worker has not that legal capability. The directorate must create a working environment that let the worker to feel he is contributing to make something great providing value for him and for other ones.

Atlantis Spacecraft. Photo credit: NASA

Atlantis Spacecraft. Photo credit: NASA

In every modern organization the deployment of any strategy is driven by policies. Policies establish a general guidance of action to develop any important activity in an organization. They start from the organizational values and the desired objectives that the action must reach. They establish a framework to define the proper working procedures. While procedures provide a defined path of action, policies put limits to the final path only.

Policies in a business organization are not based in ideologies as social policies. They are usually based in paradigms. Paradigm is a theory or a set of theories that have a basement or model that is accepted and not questioned and it provides a framework to develop activities following reason. A change of the paradigm is produced when science demolishes the model and then it is substituted by a different one. In the same way as ideologies are a matter of faith, paradigms have need of faith in the authority of someone that proposed the model; however, it is easier to change paradigms than ideologies. Ideologies are usually based in a vision of a better future organization and paradigms are based in a perception of how the current organization actually works. Our perception of the present can be changed through additional data while our desires about the future cannot be changed so easily.

As business organizations has mostly economic objectives instead of social ones, business organizations tend to be driven as a technocracy where paradigms are supported by the authority of the senior directorate. On the other hand, social policies totally based on paradigms instead of ideologies would drive to a perfect social technocracy.

Innovation policies are a special kind of business policies because the innovation activity is searching for a better future for the organization. The vision of a different future can drive the innovation activity instead of the perception of the way followed by the organization that can be optimized by the development of new products and processes.

In a healthy organization these two different concepts are present, and it is very important to preserve a line marking the border between envisioning the future and paradigm although sometimes this line can be very thin.

The difference implies that we can try to change the market with technological innovations or we can try to develop technological innovation to satisfy market needs. The former option would be based on our vision of the future market and the latter one would be based on our perception of what market really needs although sometimes it does not know it.

For instance, about thinking that every family should have a PC computer at home: Was it a vision or a change of paradigm?

In any case, related to innovation policies this is not important. Innovation policies are related to how innovation activity is organized inside the business instead of the innovation itself. An example of innovation policy would be to define what kind of ideas about new products can be chosen and this is usually done following a paradigm. Senior directorate usually has a theory about what kind of ideas finally works, what kind of ideas produces a higher benefit and what is ratio of risk that can be accepted for the activity, that let them to decide a certain portfolio of products. Innovation consultants have several models of it, and the most common is usually known as the current paradigm about innovation.

In large organizations, innovation policies usually are paradigm-based while innovation itself can be vision-based.

The vision of Saint Ignacio de Loyola at Seville Cathedral

The vision of Saint Ignacio de Loyola at Seville Cathedral

One of the most ancient philosophies, Chinese one, has got a very interesting concept: yin and yang. It represents how opposite or contrary forces are actually complementary, interconnected, and interdependent in the natural world, and how they give rise to each other as they interrelate to one another.

An example in history was the development of Reformation and Counter-Reformation in Europe. Bertrand Russell thought that Reformation was mainly a political revolt against the power of Pope in Italy. The Counter-Reformation was a revolt against the intellectual and moral freedom of Renaissance in Italy.

Reformation was German, Counter-Reformation was Spanish. They were the germen of wars of religion between Spain (that was the main military power in Europe in that time) and its enemies. The initial protestant success was limited due to the creation of the Jesuit order by Saint Ignacio de Loyola. Loyola had been a soldier and every Jesuit was to consider himself as a soldier against heresy. The Jesuits acquired prestige especially in the Far East. They work on education, and where theology was not involved, the quality of the education they provided was the best obtainable.

Reformation and Counter-Reformation imposed different moral conceptions in Europe. Protestants believed in predestination and salvation was a matter of faith, in front of Catholics that believed in free-will and salvation was a matter of both faith and works.

The effect on European culture was important due to their consequences instead of their philosophies. The diversity of creeds and the fatigue from ideological warfare produced in the next centuries more interest on reason and learning, especially mathematics and science.

Moral convictions always had been a matter of faith and they can change over time as the epoch of Reformation and Counter-Reformation shows.

Moral convictions have got a great importance for the way that innovation is driven in our societies, especially because they are linked to many prejudices. For instance, before Reformation activities related to lend money in exchange of some interest were considered something ignoble and not Christian; however, nowadays, the world is driven, among many other things, by the rate of interest defined by central banks.

With the evolution of societies over time, many moral prejudices have been overcome and it has been possible due to the increasing interest in science and the use of reason to solve discrepancies and social problems.

Reformation and Counter-Reformation produced two sides of the same coin as Yin and Yang. This coin with head and tails is present today in the Occidental culture although we are not aware of it.

Although occidental culture is based on the Christianism, moral convictions linked to predestination and free-will are slightly different and they have an effect on how people look at common activities like the innovative and productive ones.

The classic idea that Southern European people (in Catholic countries) are more imaginative and passionate can be real and they may be related to these moral convictions. Free-will implies a vision of multiple ways to find a solution and an optimal one in front of predestination that paints a world of only one color (one way). On the other hand, protestant people are freer of guilty feeling. They have less fear to be wrong because the error would be produced by destiny.

Both competences (imagination and fearless to be wrong) are required in the innovation process. That is reason why, like yin and yang, Northern and Southern European people rise to each other as they interrelate to one another.

Minerva, Goddess of Wisdom and sponsor of arts, trade, and strategy. By Rembrandt. Public Domain

Minerva, Roman Goddess of Wisdom and sponsor of arts, trade, and strategy. By Rembrandt. Public Domain

To innovate proceed from the ancient Roman word innovare. Its direct translation would be “to renovate” or “to repair”. Nowadays its meaning is very different to that word for the ancient Romans. We usually link the word innovation to novelty instead of improvement. This is one of the main errors of not professional innovators, because both properties are needed in order to produce a true innovation. There is innovation with neither novelty nor improvement.

The concept of innovation is defined by several properties, however, depending on the people using that concept some of them are considered more important. Psychologists like “creativity” as synonym of “novelty”. Engineers like “functionality”. Economists like “value”. Strategists like “effectiveness”. Quality professionals like “efficiency”. Perhaps, the original Roman meaning is nearer quality professionals than any other one.

Our current society is driven by technology development. Technologists usually consider functionality as something more important in front of other properties of a true innovation. However, all of them are linked. At the first glance, there is a clear link between efficiency and economic value, and there is another one between functionality and effectiveness. On the other hand more functionality usually implies more creativity. Complexity joins both sides of innovation, because the higher the functionality the higher the complexity, and an increasing complexity finally reduces the efficiency of any system and then the value that can be extracted from an innovation.

The true meaning of innovation is not very far from the Roman root because the aim of an innovation is to increase value. When an innovation is driven by a need of improvement, it is fast and easily accepted by markets. When an innovation is driven by a newly developed functionality, markets need some time to identify and to learn the created value. An innovation that does not provide value, it is never accepted by markets and finally it is discarded. Only novelties with value are true innovations.

Creativity is important to produce innovation but they are very different concepts. Innovation is a process that requires creativity but the creative process is not producing permanent value if it is not improving functionality or efficiency. Fashion world, for instance, is built around creativity, and in fact, it is taking advantage of being very different from this concept of innovation. Because fashion business requires changes in the preferences of people in order to preserve a high market volume. This is not possible to be preserved through functionality increases of efficiency only.

A model of innovation management based only on the promotion of creativity has the risk of become similar to a fashion business, and not all markets will accept changes of restyling without functionality or efficiency improvements. This is only possible for products that are usually seen in a social environment where markets are driven by social trends, but most markets traditionally have been very far from this fact.

On the other hand, social networks are producing a new effect in our societies. As people share their experience about any kind of products at the social networks innovations based on true value creation can be replaced by restyling and driven in a fashionable way. The value of fashion cannot be analyzed from the classic quality terms of effectiveness and efficiency and new ways of analyzing traditional markets will be implemented, in many other markets, however, it is important to realize that temporary preferences may not as good basement as permanent increases of real value to run many business because different industries have different costs structures.