Striving for meaning - a study of innovation processes

University dissertation from Eskilstuna : Mälardalen University

Abstract: 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.

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