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Striving for meaning - a study of innovation processes
Mälardalen University, School of Innovation, Design and Engineering, Innovation and Product Realisation. Politecnico di Milano. (Design and Visualisation)ORCID iD: 0000-0001-6814-6696
2015 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Traditionally, innovation processes have often focused on creatively solving problems with the help of new technology or business models. However, when describing products in terms of function or visual appearance, the reflection on a less visible dimension, the product meaning, is left out. The perspective of meaning is an alternative path to innovation that pays attention to the reason for using a product, its “why” rather than its “how”. Nevertheless, within the field of innovation management, research on meaning is still in its infancy and lacks well developed frameworks.

The objective of this study is to increase the understanding of the dimension of meaning within the innovation processes in companies and - in particular - the practices that support such a process, looking particularly at nine cases where managers sought to develop directions of new product meaning - spanning businesses within manufacturing, consumer goods and fashion.

The study shows that companies used practices often opposite to what is described in innovation literature. Rather than taking out and leaving their opinions behind to reach a “beginner's mind”, the managers showed a silent evolving of interest and a conscious exposing of their own personal beliefs. They moved beyond standard procedures of information sharing to a practice of a multifaceted criticizing. Rather than outsourcing the product solutions, a practice of embodying the proposed product meaning was observed. In-depth studies showed that when the participants do not expose their thoughts with conviction, the process of searching to innovate product meaning seems to struggle. The act of exposing does not happen in a moment but when individuals open up and let old interpretations fade away, leaving room for new perspectives. Moreover, these studies showed that external sources, so called interpreters, fuel discussions on product meaning by leveraging a critical ability that includes practices described as asking, giving, daring and playing.

The study contributes with an increased understanding of the meaning dimension within innovation management by leveraging theories of hermeneutics, design and leadership. It shows that this type of innovation process is relevant but differs from processes of creatively solving problems. Rather than being driven to find solutions, a meaning perspective includes a process of striving towards new potential product meaning.

Abstract [sv]

Innovationsprocesser handlar ofta om kreativ problemlösning. En ny produkt beskrivs ofta genom användandet av ny teknik eller en ny affärsmodell. Men med fokus på det visuella såsom utseende och funktion utelämnas en parameter - nämligen den som rör produktens mening. Meningspespektivet utgör ett alternativ för innovation. Det lyfter frågor kring anledningen till att använda en produkt med fokus på ”varför” vi ska använda den snarare är ”hur”. Inom innovationsområdet befinner sig forskningen kring mening i ett tidigt skede utan väl utvecklade ramverk.

Målet med denna studie är att öka förståelsen för ett meningsperspektiv inom företags innovations processer - speciellt de tillämpningar, eller praxis som stödjer denna process. Studien har haft en retrospektiv och tolkande ansats i kombination med ett aktivt deltagande perspektiv. Nio fall inom tillverkande industri, konsumentvaror och mode har studerats med fokus på ledare som sökt finna en ny riktning för sin produkt genom att tillämpa ett meningsperspektiv.

Studien visar att företagens tillvägagångssätt ofta stod i motsats till de som finns beskriva i befintlig litteratur inom innovationsområdet. Istället för att dela sina åsikter med varandra och sedan lägga dem åt sidan för att tillämpa ett ”nybörjar-sinne” så visade ledarna ett stilla intresse som utvecklades över tid. De blottlade medvetet sina egna personliga övertygelser och gick längre än att endast dela information i projekten. Istället utvecklade de ett mångfacetterat och kritiskt synsätt. Till skillnad mot ett användande av ”outsourcing”, att leja produkt lösningar på extern part, observerades en typ av förkroppsligande, eller införlivande, av den nya föreslagna meningen av en produkt. Mer djupgående studier visade att när deltagarna inte delar sina åsikter med genuint engagemang så vacklar en innovationsprocess inriktad på att finna ny mening för en produkt. Tillämpandet av detta blottläggande sker inte direkt utan när individer öppnar upp och låter gamla tolkningar blekna till förmån för nya perspektiv. Vidare, att externa källor, så kallade ”tolkare”, gynnar diskussioner kring en produkts mening genom en kritisk förmåga bestående av fyra delmoment kallade fråga, ge, våga och leka.

Studien bidrar med en ökad förståelse för meningsperspektivet inom innovationsområdet genom att hämta teorier från fälten hermeneutik, design och ledarskap. Den visar att den här typen av innovationsprocess är relevant men att den skiljer sig från processer som fokuserar på kreativ problemlösning. Istället för att drivas att finna lösningar innebär detta meningsperspektiv att sträva framåt mot en produkts nya potentiella mening.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Eskilstuna: Mälardalen University , 2015.
Series
Mälardalen University Press Dissertations, ISSN 1651-4238 ; 187
Keyword [en]
meaning, interpreting, innovation process, hermeneutics, exposing, criticising
Keyword [sv]
mening, tolkande, innovations processer, hermeneutik, blottlägga, kritiskt förhållningssätt
National Category
Design
Research subject
Innovation and Design
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:mdh:diva-28876ISBN: 978-91-7485-230-1 (print)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:mdh-28876DiVA: diva2:852152
Public defence
2015-10-16, Raspen, Mälardalens högskola, Eskilstuna, 10:00 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Funder
Knowledge Foundation
Available from: 2015-09-09 Created: 2015-09-08 Last updated: 2016-07-11Bibliographically approved
List of papers
1. Meaning: An Unexplored Path of Innovation
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Meaning: An Unexplored Path of Innovation
2014 (English)In: International Journal of Innovation in Management, ISSN 2308-1295, Vol. 2, no 2, 77-92 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Over the last ten years, the practice and research around innovation has been dominated by one perspective: innovation is an activity of “creative problem solving”. According to this perspective, users have problems or needs, and innovation implies an understanding of those problems and the creation of better ideas to solve them (Kelley, 2001, Chesbrough, 2003, Brown, 2009, Martin, 2009). There is, however, a level of innovation that has been overlooked: the level of meaning. People are continuously searching for meaning. Whenever they do something in life, there is a meaning behind that action, a purpose, and a “why”. They also use products and services that support this search for meaning. For example, they use fast robots with the purpose of improving the productivity of a process. Firms often assume that meanings exist “out there” in the market. They just have to be understood, not innovated. Therefore, they search for new solutions, a new “how”, to serve this existing purpose better: a faster robot, for example. However, people are not only searching for new solutions to existing problems. They are also searching for new meanings because their life keeps changing and because they are delighted by the discovery of new directions. For example, hospitals buy slow robots, such as the DaVinci system, the leading prostatectomy device, not to replace doctors and increase productivity, but to help them in complex operations. This article contends that there is a third type of innovation that is overlooked by the existing frameworks of innovation, which focus on the innovation of technologies and markets: innovation as driven by meaning. By leveraging case studies of firms in consumer and industrial markets, this article: (1) identifies and defines this third type of innovation, the innovation of meaning (2) positions it in relation to the two other main drivers of innovation (technologies and markets); (3) identifies the peculiar nature of the innovation of meaning; and (4) indicates a possible research strategy to explore the process of the innovation of meaning

Keyword
meaning, interpretation, robotics, innovation
National Category
Design
Research subject
Innovation and Design
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:mdh:diva-27247 (URN)
Conference
The International Conference on Innovation and Management, Honululu, 2014.
Available from: 2014-12-31 Created: 2014-12-31 Last updated: 2016-12-27Bibliographically approved
2. Pre-emptying and the myth of the naïve mind
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Pre-emptying and the myth of the naïve mind
2014 (English)In: Proceedings of the 19th DMI International Design Management Research Conference: Design Management in an Era of Disruption, 2014, -225 p.Conference paper, Published paper (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

One of the mantras of innovation and design in the last years is that innovation requires a "beginner's mind". Innovation is hoped to come from people who are non-experts, unaware of existing solution heuristics and therefore free from pre-conceptions.

But, innovation does not always concern the search for new solutions. It can involve a search for new meaning. By meaning we refer to the purpose of a product, the “why” it is used, rather than the “how”. Meanings come from individuals and influence how they interpret their personal and business reality; they create myths. Are pre-conceptions detrimental also when searching for new meanings? Should companies therefore look for beginner’s minds, or clean the minds of their organization, also when innovating meaning?

This article contends that, in the context of innovation of meaning, “the naïve mind” looks like a naïve theoretical construct itself. Our research shows that rather then searching for innovators with a beginner’s mind (who hardly exist) and rather than trying to challenge an organization’s pre-conceptions, companies may positively leverage the existence of pre-understanding. By a deliberate act of “pre-emptying”, employees can clearly express the meaning they believe in, not to challenge and clean it, but in order to use it as a precious ingredient to be melted and framed into a new interpretation of product meaning. In this paper “pre-emptying” will be discussed in the light of hermeneutics, theory U by Scharmer and four empirical cases of global corporations. 

Keyword
innovation by meaning, pre-emptying, naïve mind
National Category
Design
Research subject
Innovation and Design
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:mdh:diva-27248 (URN)978-0-615-99152-8 (ISBN)
Conference
19th DMI: Academic Design Management Conference Design Management in an Era of Disruption London, 2–4 September 2014
Available from: 2014-12-31 Created: 2014-12-31 Last updated: 2015-09-09Bibliographically approved
3. CARVING OUT THE PRODUCT MEANING: from Pre-emptying to Embodying
Open this publication in new window or tab >>CARVING OUT THE PRODUCT MEANING: from Pre-emptying to Embodying
2014 (English)In: "Innovation through engineering, business and design", 2014Conference paper, Published paper (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

When companies stay within the existing thinking frame of a product they risk to miss an important aspect, namely the meaning of it. By describing products in terms of function or visual appearance they tend to surface the product rather than deeply understand the reason of using it, its “why”, i.e. its meaning.

To compensate for “locked in” interpretations of products many different approaches have been proposed, like deBonos hats (deBono 1986), “design thinking” (Brown 2009 ) and user innovation (von Hippel 2005). These approaches often result in a vast amount of ideas about solutions aimed at improving functionality, but they hardly dig into the interpretation of product meaning. They appear effective in innovating solutions, the “how” of a product, but: are they adequate as well when it comes to innovating the meaning of a product, its “why”?

 

This paper explores what happens when firms move innovation deeper, and instead of innovating a solution for an existing problem or meaning, they want to change the product meaning. In particular it focuses on the process of innovation of meaning, and its differences with more traditional and well-known processes that aim at innovate solutions. It tells the story of four companies that went through several stages of reflection on product meaning. Our objective is to detect the nature of the process of innovation of meaning and understand if it aligns with the basic principles of problems solving that has been proposed by innovation literature in the last decade.

 

By digging into the stories of meaning driven innovation projects of these firms, we unveil that: (1) the process of innovation of meaning differs substantially from the process of innovation of solutions; indeed, its principles are mostly opposite than to what is stated from innovation literature focused on problem solving. (2) The process of innovation of meaning evolves along four major phases: from a silent evolving of interest, to a conscious pre-emptying of existing beliefs, an iterative and multifaceted conversing and finally the embodying of the new proposed meaning. (3) These four phases are in line with the dynamic of change processes explored by scholars who have received less attention in the innovation literature. And these are researchers who have addressed change in humans and society from the perspective of the interpretation and search for meaning: philosophers of hermeneutics (Gadamer, Ricoeur), leadership (Scharmer), human disciplines (Hekkert). Aligning the process of innovation of meaning with different domains of knowledge is both a confirmation of the need for new approaches within innovation research -  and an invitation to search for new frames of within the same. The aim of this study has been to propose and spur research to understand no only how to find new solutions, but also, how to create products and services that are give new meaning to people and businesses.

Keyword
Innovation by meaning, conversing, pre-emptying, conversations, embodying
National Category
Design
Research subject
Innovation and Design
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:mdh:diva-27250 (URN)
Conference
21th EIASM International Product Development Management Conference, June 15-17 Limerick, Ireland, 2014
Available from: 2014-12-31 Created: 2014-12-31 Last updated: 2016-03-10Bibliographically approved
4. 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
5. INTERPRETERS: a source of innovations driven by meaning
Open this publication in new window or tab >>INTERPRETERS: a source of innovations driven by meaning
2014 (English)In: Innovation through engineering, business and design, University of Limercik, 2014, 173- p.Conference paper, Published paper (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

  There are a number of ways of “thinking new”, the “Google” way –ideas oriented– and the “Interpreting” way –meaning oriented– among others. In this article, we describe one valuable part in the emergence of new meanings, the source of external experts, or, the so-called interpreters. The interpreters’ contribution to the ”Interpreting” way depends on their characteristics, the conversational process where their insights are exchanged with others and - the company and its capability to absorb and transform these insights. This research is focused on the first: the characteristics.

To answer this, we first review one of the most important features of an interpreter, namely the ability to be critical, second, we conduct one in-depth case study of a large multinational company that has convened seven interpreters to develop new emerging meanings for a special product in their portfolio.

The paper connects to different types of critical thinking/stance from both the educational and philosophical field, but also to theory from psychology. It concludes that conversations and discussions are eased if the interpreters possess certain abilities besides knowledge. Thus, for the process of interpreting, knowledge, per se is not enough. Instead it needs to be mediated by individual behaviour. A behaviour that is closer to criticism than to creativity.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
University of Limercik: , 2014
Keyword
innovation by meaning, interpreters, hermeneutics, personalities
National Category
Design
Research subject
Innovation and Design
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:mdh:diva-27249 (URN)
Conference
21th EIASM International Product Development Management Conference, June 15-17 Limerick, Ireland, 2014
Available from: 2014-12-31 Created: 2014-12-31 Last updated: 2015-09-09Bibliographically approved
6. 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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