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When meaning drives innovation: - A study of innovation dynamics in the robotic industry
Mälardalen University, School of Innovation, Design and Engineering. (IPR)ORCID iD: 0000-0001-6814-6696
Mälardalen University, School of Innovation, Design and Engineering. (IPR)
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?

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2012.
Keywords [en]
Innovation of meaning, value, performance, robotics
National Category
Economics and Business
Research subject
Innovation and Design
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:mdh:diva-15948OAI: oai:DiVA.org:mdh-15948DiVA, id: diva2:562639
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
In thesis
1. Innovation driven by meaning
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Innovation driven by meaning
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. p. 236
Series
Mälardalen University Press Licentiate Theses, ISSN 1651-9256 ; 159
Keywords
Innovation of meaning, hermeneutics, interpretation, networks
National Category
Economics and Business
Research subject
Innovation and Design
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:mdh:diva-15951 (URN)978-91-7485-084-0 (ISBN)
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
2. Striving for meaning - a study of innovation processes
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Striving for meaning - a study of innovation processes
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
Keywords
meaning, interpreting, innovation process, hermeneutics, exposing, criticising, mening, tolkande, innovations processer, hermeneutik, blottlägga, kritiskt förhållningssätt
National Category
Design
Research subject
Innovation and Design
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:mdh:diva-28876 (URN)978-91-7485-230-1 (ISBN)
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

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