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Strategies for Innovation

by Andrea Pitasi [1], 14 February 2012

Report #1: Strategies for the Diffusion of Innovations: Focusing on the Actors
Report #2: Would You Ever Use a Coffee Pot with No Handle? (Designing Knowledge for Innovation)


REPORT #1 - December 1999

Draft remarks concerning

Strategies for the diffusion of innovations: focusing on the actors

My brief comments regarding the development of the research plans of the Bassetti Foundation about the responsible innovation are aimed to discuss some key concepts of the strategic management of innovations. These key concepts were substantially introduced by Everett M. Rogers in "The Diffusion of Innovations" (The Free Press of Glencoe, Glencoe 1956) and are pivotal to describe which social actors are involved in the non-linear process of the diffusion of innovations. According to Rogers' work the following actors are crucial in the process:

- Innovators
- Early adopters
- Early majority
- 2nd majority
- 3rd majority
- Nth majority
- (Self) Marginalized

I would like to define briefly these typological figures:

INNOVATORS are those people / institutions / enterprises (broadly speaking, social actors) Who / which create (or rediscover, at least) something which is absolutely new in the social context they belong to. The innovation may be symbolic or material, political or technological etc. Nevertheless, this typology can be easily applied on different levels and from different intellectual perspectives.

The EARLY ADOPTERS are those social actors who enthusiastically and immediately approve an innovation and facilitate its diffusion in the social context.

The different MAJORITIES (First, Second, Nth etc) are composed from those social actors that practically accept the innovation.
The first majority is rather easy to be convinced and or persuaded to adopt it while the more a majority is culturally far from the Early adopters, the more it will be difficult to diffuse an innovation among its members.

The (SELF) MARGINALIZED are those social actors who rejected the innovation at all and who will never change their mind and those people whom would never afford to adopt the innovation.

In the very first version of Rogers' theory, these typological figures were structurally linked to social roles and status that is, for example, the innovators were always grown and rich people while self Marginalized were always supposed to be rather ignorant and not havens. This interpretation was profoundly rooted in the spirit of the American 50ies while nowadays it is rather taken for granted that these typological figures depend on the kind of innovation. I mean: the person who is an innovator in the field of math research, might be an early adopter of a computer program, a first majority member of a chess handbook, a second majority member of a diet and a self Marginalized concerning a trekking path to the Rocky Mountains. This paradigm shift was brilliantly developed by Erich Von Hippel in his book " Le fonti dell'innovazione", McGraw & Hill, Milan 1989) and deeply investigated by Armand Mattelart in his book "La comunicazione mondo" (Il saggiatore, Milan, 1994).
In each innovation process these typological figures act dynamically and play different roles and status time by time though a system/outer paradigm as Niklas Luhmann would say.
The innovation is the content and product (broadly speaking) of this process which involves all the social actors listed above. The innovation is the message of the communication process, which generates the diffusion of the innovative product. As a message an innovation can be analysed trhough the key categories of Friedmann Schulz von Thun (Parlare insieme, TEA, Milan 1996).
As a message, the innovation is characterised by:

- the presentation of self
- the sender-receiver relationship
- the content
- the aims

The PRESENTATION OF SELF is at the crossroads between conscious and unconscious, intentional and unintentional, aware and unaware and is a key step in the making of consent about something /someone or not. If I want o be a political leader promoting responsibility I should walk my talk, that is I should be consistent with my speech and behaviour applying what I am stating. Consistency is a positive of the presentation of self. Rigidity is not.

The RELATIONSHIP between innovator (sender) and adopter (receiver) is made of manifest and latent functions (as R.K .Merton would say) and is also crucial because it strongly influences the legitimisation of the innovator through the complex process of the diffusion of the innovations.

The CONTENT (and style, including packaging) is what the WebPages of the Bassetti Foundation already focused on deeply. The content is the know how which technically transforms a polluting refrigerator into an ecological one, for example. But the content in se is not very relevant to diffuse the innovation.

The AIMS are even more crucial although each strategy should be flexible, open minded and aware of the so-called serendipity phenomenon.

According to Professor Ignazio Masulli, the responsible diffusion of innovation should be facilitated through teleological procedures because the telos of innovation is more important than its consequences. I partially agree with him although I would also sketch out two remarks about it:

1) The same research which lead to the atomic bomb also lead to the laser. Good and bad are extremely interwoven especially in the age of increasing complexity. Moreover, the serendipity of discovery and innovation is always a pivotal aspect of socio-cultural change 2) The conception of telos immediately rises a question: whose telos?

I sincerely believe there are no universal points of view so a teleological procedure is a mirror of someone's telos.
This second question shows us the flexible borders among technoscience, economics, ethics and politics. This question always offers an answer but this answer belongs to the specific context and case, time by time. For example do the telos of the entrepreneurs, managers, politicians and consumers fit each other?
Each group, class, institution and individual owns self referential and specific values. Values, as the great anthropologist Franz Boas brilliantly explained some decades ago, cannot be universal. The expression "universal value" is a contradiction in terms as values are a sort of synthesis of cognition, affection cultural beliefs/expectations/fears so that they depend on a self referential observation and reconstruction of what some child like shapes of common sense define "reality". That is why I agree with Prof. Masulli and Dr.Reggiani, stating that neutrality does not characterise the process of innovation.
Each innovation belongs to the flow and shift of power dynamics and to consider it neutral would mean to deny that also the most technologically perfect innovation is a creation of a human being with brain, heart and senses.
In my opinion researching new strategies for a responsible diffusion of innovation requires to doubt about the efficacy of universal and neutral procedures and to consider procedures as important communication codes of interaction among all those social actors (characterised by different self referential perspectives) strategically involved in the innovation process.


REPORT #2 - Jan. 2000

Would you ever use a coffee pot with no handle? Designing knowledge for innovation

I would like to focus on DESIGN as a pivotal source for the innovative process.

From this perspective, "Designing " is not a mere synonim of "Projecting ". Design = Project + Communication. The designer as an innovator has to consider his/her creative and professional activity as a comunication process with the intermediate and final users of his/her intellectual products. His/her intermdiate users are, first of all, the early adopters and the closer majorities till the last one which is the final user. This process is, broadly speaking, non linear and chaotic as the system theory by Ervin Laszlo (1992, 1998) teaches us about dynamic social phenomena.

DESIGN is a multiple step communication process aimed towards the diffusion of innovations. Each social actor is featured by his/her expectations, fears, goals, doubts, dreams and contribute to create a complex process and network of different aims with no universal teleology.

This multiple step process is summarised as follows:

1. the cognitive and affective features of the designer's personality allow him/her to express his/her creativity as a source for business ideas

2. the designer is working to create a product to be bought by the potential users or by people who would be flattered simply to own it.

3. The designer cannot " forget " or ignore this people. When it happens the innovation process leads to nowhere.For example, Donald Norman tells us the story of a designer who projected a very creative and aesthetically beautiful coffee pot without handle as his/her creativity adviced him/her that kind of design (Norman, 1989)

4. Moreover, the designed product should be rather flexible in terms of updating. New versions offering both aesthetical and functional improvement are pivotal in the age ruled by movement and uncertainty (Touraine, 1993)

5. How is flexibility possible? focusing on high tech and high knowledge designs which should be extremely rich of intellectual capital (Stewart, 1999) but at the same time idiot proof from the user's point of view. Knowledge is the unique resource to do that. Other tools of power just like violence and wealth are not flexible enough (see Toeffler, 1992) to be applied to the specific needs of the users.

My idea and suggestion is to invite all the forum affilites to collect and excahnge on line cases concerning mistaken design in which the designer did not communicate with the users but smply expressed his/her creativity independently from the users' needs and expectations.





(Photo: Moka Express Bialetti Italian Espresso [11] by canbuydesign from Flickr)

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