Epistemology is the study of what we know and how we know it
The epistemology of innovation is the study of how breakthrough innovators come to know what to do today – in order to succeed commercially in the future
“On the Epistemology of Innovation: How Breakthrough Innovators Connect the Dots” is a series of brief, occasional essays addressed to senior executives, managers and technologists responsible for innovation in industry. Its purpose is to challenge readers to reflect broadly and deeply on the practice of innovation – in particular on how innovators come to know what to do today – in order to succeed commercially in the future.
With this approach I hope, first, to help the reader gain awareness of their own unarticulated embedded epistemology of innovation, as well as that of others. Second, I will challenge readers with new perspectives and views of what it means to innovate. Having engaged in this way, readers will be better able to develop a more explicit, intentional personal framework through which they can understand innovation.
Benefits for innovators, managers and senior executives
These essays are intended to provoke reflection on the part of their readers. While readers are not expected to agree with everything, I do expect the essays to challenge and stimulate their thinking.
By doing so, I hope to enable innovators to both: (1) expand their personal innovation skills and (2) be better able to articulate to others what they know and how they know it. Similarly, I hope to enable managers and senior executives to: (1) more successfully identify potential innovators, (2) better understand the innovators with whom they work, and (3) better advocate and make decisions on their behalf.
What I will address
In these essays, I will explore relevant metaphors more extensively than what normally is applied to the field of innovation as means of gaining insight into innovation, covering a wide range of topics such as: how innovators are like witnesses testifying to the truth in a court trial; the analytical implications of innovators being described as “π-shaped”; the deeper implications of using techniques such as “brainstorming” and speaking of innovation as being “chaotic”; how innovation is like viewing a Magic Eye® image; and how the language we use – in particular, its etymology – can provide a richness of insight into innovation.
I also will reach beyond the insights of contemporary practitioners, experts and academics – those who either engage in or study innovation in industry – to the reflections of philosophers of the past to consider in plain language how their perspectives might suitably be appropriated to gain insight into the field of innovation, covering a wide range of sources such as: Plato’s Meno and how we know how to begin in innovation; how the dissonance between Newton’s and Goethe’s views of optics plays out in the practice of innovation in industry to this day; the importance of Hegel’s views of thesis, antithesis and synthesis on innovation; Hilbert vs. Gödel and the limits of innovation processes; how Kuhn’s structure of scientific revolutions also illuminates innovation; how Polanyi’s tacit knowledge is being considered to new depths; and perhaps even Yogi Berra’s reflections on nescience!
Finally, I will profile some exemplar innovators along the way as a means of illustrating how this all works together.
All the while, as we take a fresh – and at times perhaps provocative – look at innovation by exploring these other perspectives, I promise to remain true to that which is observed throughout our careful research into the practices of a broad sample of exemplar breakthrough innovators across multiple industries.
What I ask of you, the reader
In return for sharing these essays with you, I have a favor to ask – your participation as it makes sense for you to do so. First, if you have additional insights that would complement, correct, or in any other way improve them, I would like to hear from you. Second, after you have read at least a half-dozen or so of these essays, I would like to know whether you see value in receiving them. Finally, I encourage you to share them freely with others as you see a fit with their interests or needs. I always benefit from conversation partners as I cultivate and glean while developing insights – this project is something of an experiment for me as I engage with others in a manner I have not previously explored. Thank you in advance for your participation, assuming you choose to read these, and for contributions to the process that you deem appropriate to make, if any.
Availability of past and future essays
In closing, please know that already-issued essays in this series are available without charge via the University of Illinois’ digital archive by clicking here. This digital archive provides a safe, long-term storage solution, enabling trusted access over time to the complete set of essays.