Innovation driven by meaning

University dissertation from Västerås : Mälardalen University

Abstract: 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.