Innovation as Intended Change

(Coordination: U. Cantner)

The implications of innovations for individual well-being, societal development, and economic growth and welfare represent a major research focus in the social sciences. The process by which innovations are intentionally introduced into the social and the economic system provides for traditional (economic) activities to lose importance or forces them even to disappear. This inevitably leads to changes in the composition of the economic and the social systems and thus to structural change: the “new” gradually gains importance and by this devalues and banishes the “old”. This process was termed “creative destruction” by Joseph A. Schumpeter.

Fundamental Research Question
In this context, important triggers of social and economic change as well as change in values are new modes of behaviour intentionally created or searched for by agents. This is not to deny that something new may also be the result of unintentional action, but this aspect is not our main focus. Intentional innovative activities in a rather general sense lead to new behavioural modes in the spheres of consumption, production, organisation, policy, and social relations. They manifest themselves in new products and processes, new business models and financial instruments, new organisational forms, new social and ethical norms and values, new institutions and ways of political management, new opinions and habits. However, it is not the creative act – the invention – itself that imposes changes in economic and social structures; it is rather the intended application – the innovation – of these new modes. By the level at which the speed and the breadth new modes of behaviour are adopted by a population of agents – the phase of diffusion – even tremendous changes in the composition of economic and/or social aggregates may be effectuated.

Although the sequence invention-innovation-diffusion and its impact on economic and social structures seems to suggest a rather linear understanding of the way new ideas get introduced into the economic and social system, modern approaches deviate from this in an important way. The whole process of intended innovation is seen as a multilevel feedback driven process with inventive, innovative and adoptive activities (during the phase of diffusion) affecting (positively as well as negatively) each other, and where the feedback from economic and social structures and changes as well as changes in values are of utmost importance for future decisions to engage in invention, innovation and adoption. Hence, investigating innovation as intended change requires an approach which necessarily is dynamic and often evolutionary, one which allows taking into account various kinds of feedback effects, and which deals with the different intensities and magnitudes of change at the level of individuals and firms or at the level of industries, sectors, political parties, and social groups.

In order to analyse those broadly defined phenomena, an understanding is required of individual agents, their social and morally relevant relationships and, combined with these, the economic rational governing their innovative efforts and gains. Along the complex process from invention and innovation to diffusion, explaining the conditions, the antecedents and the specific dynamics under which actors individually and collectively act together in creating and adopting new behaviour requires an interdisciplinary understanding. Psychology, sociology, applied ethics and economics contribute hereto, each in a specific but together in a complementary way.