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Innovation driven by meaning
Mälardalen University, School of Innovation, Design and Engineering.ORCID iD: 0000-0001-6814-6696
2012 (English)Licentiate thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Hi-tech companies that want to innovate their products use, quite often, and quite naturally, technology as a driver. But, technology is only one of several drivers of change within product development. It is becoming more and more accessible and alone, cannot serve as the only mean to stay competitive.  This research sheds light on a different driver of innovation – namely, through the perspective of “meaning”. An innovation, driven by the search for a new meaning of a product, is connected to the purpose of “why” a product is used. It is not about “how” it is used. In this sense, innovations driven by meaning, are connected to a human’s new experience of use – rather than to the improvement of an existing performance. This type of innovation builds on people and their interpretation of why a product or service make sense in their life and therefore, it is subjective rather than objective. It represents a move, from the classic business perspectives of optimization and control to approach the unpredictable and ambiguous views of humans in a wider, cultural context.   

A company that reconsidered the meaning of their product, is Germany-based KUKA with their “RoboCoaster”. This product uses existing technology to transform an industrial robot from a powerful, efficient and accurate tool into an exciting amusement ride system, delivering excitement, enjoyment and pleasurable fear. Another example is the Da Vinci surgical system in which, instead of replacing humans in an industrial application, a robot interacts with humans by acting as a surgeon in performing invasive surgery.  Through finding new applications of existing technologies – (the Robocoaster )– or through new technologies (the Da Vinci surgical system) – these products are not “better” than existing industrial robots: they have changed the reason why people use them. 

But, theories on how to innovate with a “meaning” perspective, (i.e. on how to develop new interpretations for products and services) are rare. Indeed, dominant streams of innovation research have been connected to problem solving (Simon, 1996, Clark, 1985, Pahl and Beitz, 1988, Clark and Fujimoto, 1991, Teece et al., 1997 , Krishnan and Ulrich 2001) or idea generation (Brown, 2008, Martin, 2007). This research instead, set the focus on the context. It is a move from a cognitive focus to a social one. A move from user driven innovation strategies to also embrace a wider network of actors in the process of interpretation. The nature of this innovation is different and therefore, it requires a different approach. In this licentiate thesis the nature of innovation of meaning is examined and its relevance and practice discussed with the help of hermeneutics. The research suggests that innovation of meaning calls for new theoretical frames in innovation studies: from innovation as a process of problem solving and creative thinking to innovation as a process of interpreting and envisioning

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Västerås: Mälardalen University , 2012. , 236 p.
Series
Mälardalen University Press Licentiate Theses, ISSN 1651-9256 ; 159
Keyword [en]
Innovation of meaning, hermeneutics, interpretation, networks
National Category
Economics and Business
Research subject
Innovation and Design
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:mdh:diva-15951ISBN: 978-91-7485-084-0 (print)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:mdh-15951DiVA: diva2:562894
Presentation
2012-11-13, L348, Smedjegatan 37, Eskilstuna, 09:15 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Available from: 2012-10-26 Created: 2012-10-25 Last updated: 2013-12-03Bibliographically approved
List of papers
1. Taking a Meaning Perspective: – A Third Dimension of Innovation
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Taking a Meaning Perspective: – A Third Dimension of Innovation
2013 (English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Theories of innovation, and especially of radical innovation, have often overlooked the innovation of meanings, especially in its more radical form. In this chapter we will illustrate how this innovation is related to other types of innovation, will discuss its nature and will show that radical innovation of meanings always occur, in every industry, and has the power to shape competition thereafter.

Keyword
Radical innovation, meaning, interpreting
National Category
Economics and Business
Research subject
Innovation and Design; Innovation and Design
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:mdh:diva-15947 (URN)
Note

Book chapter. To be published in: The Highways and Byways of Radical Change

Redaktörer: Anne Flemmert Jensen and Poul Rind Christensen

Available from: 2012-10-25 Created: 2012-10-25 Last updated: 2015-11-09Bibliographically approved
2. When meaning drives innovation: - A study of innovation dynamics in the robotic industry
Open this publication in new window or tab >>When meaning drives innovation: - A study of innovation dynamics in the robotic industry
2012 (English)In: When meaning drives innovation, 2012Conference paper, Published paper (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

No one nowadays dare to question the value of innovation. Indeed, several studies, from macroeconomics, to innovation economics, from strategy to innovation management, have investigated and discussed how innovation drives competitive advantage and the wealth of nations. However, in most studies, “innovation” is usually a shortcut for “technological innovation”, i.e. improvement driven by technological change. There are instead multiple drivers of change, within which technology is only one (and not necessarily what builds most value) both in business and society. In this article we focus on another driver of innovation, namely the search for “meaning”. Innovation of meaning is defined as a change in the “purpose” for people to buy and use products. It’s not necessarily associated to an improvement in performance, but, rather, by a change of performance and the creation of a new reason for people to use things. Meanings are concerned with the “why” of use, not the “how”. It is about making sense of an experience of use.

  Innovation of meaning seems to be a significant driver of differentiation, as shown in Verganti, 2009, Hekkert et al., 2011, Verganti and Öberg, 2012 and in some extent also in studies on technologies (Christensen, 1997) and market innovation (Kim and Mauborgne, 2005, Moon, 2010). However, we lack a deep understanding of if and how innovation of meaning creates value, and how it shapes competition in industries. The purpose of this article, therefore, is to contribute to create a better understanding of the value of innovation of meaning. Is innovation of meaning relevant for business and competition? If so, “how” (i.e. through which assets and economics is a new product meaning contributing to create value for businesses), and “when” (i.e. in which context is innovation of meaning a more or less fruitful strategy?). These questions are not marginal and cannot rely on traditional theories on the value of innovation. If indeed technological innovation creates an improvement in performance and therefore has a direct impact on value, innovation of meaning cannot be put on a scale (i.e. it is impossible to quantitatively claim that a meaning is “better” than another meaning). Therefore assessing the value of a change in meaning implies to redefine our assumptions about the value of innovation and challenges the related theoretical frameworks.    

  In order to grasp the profound dynamics of innovation and its impacts on competition, our analysis focuses on a specific industry: industrial robotics. By analyzing major changes in meanings in this industry, and in particular innovations associated with safe robotics (a breakthrough in meaning for industrial robots, whose traditional meaning was of being dangerous and to be kept far from people), we show that innovation of meaning can indeed create significant value, even in an business-to-business environment that is typically considered to be driven by performance rather than by purpose. We also show that innovation of meaning may create value through several factors. Not only sales volumes, but also, and above all, through profit margins, brand, and positioning. Even if a change in meaning does not necessarily substitute an incumbent dominant solution. This implies that, differently than technological change, that is predestined to saturation cycles, there is always a potential for creating value (or destroying value) by a change in meaning. In fact, it leaves major questions open about how to assess and capture this potential. We therefore conclude by discussing the major theoretical questions about when and how investments in innovation of meaning are more likely to create value and possible research directions, namely: what are the circumstances that make people willing to re-interpret the meaning of a product? And, conversely, what are the circumstances that make people prefer to stay within the existing meaning of a product? And most of all, how can businesses recognize these two different situations?

Keyword
Innovation of meaning, value, performance, robotics
National Category
Economics and Business
Research subject
Innovation and Design
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:mdh:diva-15948 (URN)
Conference
The 19th EIASM International Product Development Management Conference 18-19 June, Manchester, UK.
Available from: 2012-10-25 Created: 2012-10-25 Last updated: 2015-09-09Bibliographically approved
3. Interpreting and Envisioning - A Hermeneutic Framework to look at Radical Innovation of Meanings
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Interpreting and Envisioning - A Hermeneutic Framework to look at Radical Innovation of Meanings
2013 (English)In: Industrial Marketing Management, ISSN 0019-8501, E-ISSN 1873-2062, Vol. 42, no 1, 86-95 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

The recent success of companies that compete through design has raised an interest on how to innovate the customer experience of a product or service. Even in industrial markets firms are increasingly moving beyond the improvement of functional performance, to address a deeper redefinition of the reason why their clients buy and use a product, what we call a ”radical innovation of product meanings”. Whereas there is a wide body of literature about technological innovation, we still lack robust theoretical frameworks that explain how companies can successfully propose new experiences and new interpretations of what a product is meant for. The purpose of this article is to stimulate and support the development of studies on radical innovation of meaning by providing a new theoretical lens. We propose hermeneutics as a valubale perspective to investigate the radical innovation of product meanings. Differently than classic innovation theories, where innovation tend to be considered either as a process of problem solving or as a process of ideation, hermeneutics provides a framework to look at innovation as a process of interpreting (of developing meaningful scenarios rather than finding an optimal solution) and envisioning (of imagining experiences that are still not asked for, rather than answering to existing needs). We illustrate that, in this process, external networks have a central role as they feed a continuous debate about what is or is not meaningful. Hermeneutics, therefore, is useful to shed light on how external players may significantly affect the way a firm reframe its interpretation of the competitive context and give meaning to things. The article is conceptual in nature, since it aims at providing a theoretical platform which other scholars may build on: the purpose is to provide an indication of a possible direction to spur a cumulative process of knowledge development, rather than a conclusion. Yet, we support our arguments for the use of hermeneutics in exploring the radical innovation of meaning with examples and cases from our preliminary analyses, mostly in the fields of robotics and healthcare.

Keyword
radical innovation, product meanings, hermeneutics, networks, interpretation, envisioning
National Category
Economics and Business
Research subject
Innovation and Design
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:mdh:diva-15950 (URN)10.1016/j.indmarman.2012.11.012 (DOI)000315840800010 ()2-s2.0-84873566326 (Scopus ID)
Available from: 2012-10-25 Created: 2012-10-25 Last updated: 2017-12-07Bibliographically approved

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