Value Innovation and Complexity aka design as synapses?


As a point of departure I believe that through design we can create meaningful futures and valuable innovations. I am also of the opinion that “progress per se does not make any sense, does not generate value and [most importantly] does not add any value. It only [maybe] generates new loops of consumption.
Value-innovation is different. Value-innovation is meaningful and valuable in a systemic perspective. This kind of innovation is good progress, innovation is good design.” (Giabardo, 2010, p. 50)

But, is it really like this? How do we define/recognize a systemic good, a systemic-value, in innovation?  How do we achieve it?

We are living in a time that is very different to that of my parents. A radical shift has occurred with the digitalization of our lives. Another one is happening with the transition toward a service-intensive knowledge economy. At the same time any interaction with services, products, the environment, and other beings contribute to generate and to feed the system with increasing complexity. This is as true for individuals as it is true for organizations, companies, and business actors. There are a myriad of sub- and super- domains that converge to influence which are impacted by innovation. Whatever we want to develop, and whatever already exists, does not sit in an isolated eco-system on its own. Everything is immersed in a system – a complex one.

Fritjof Capra (1996), among others, says that we have to address this through ‘systemic thinking’. He underlines how this “new” approach implies a focus shift from objects to processes and relations; from hierarchies to networks of relationships; and from objective knowledge to the contextual one.
Embracing this organic, systemic, approach we understand that the proprieties of the parts are strongly depending on how they are inter-connected and inter-acting and not exclusively on their individual specific characteristics and qualities. This is a crucial concept in the value-innovation definition.

I want to develop my doctoral research on value-innovation through this network/system-oriented lens. In fact I would like to understand the process and method that underlies the making of those new connections, the forces and principles that guide the choices. How do we ‘interact’ with and within complexity? How do we generate new forms of user-interactions through products and services as well as new platforms or new processes in a context characterized by complexity? [And, do we really have control?]
Designers, innovators, scholars, and value-innovation-oriented business could be network-agents within complexity. Can we think, in this context, of design as synapses?

Capra, F. (1996). The web of life: a new scientific understanding of living systems. New York: Anchor Books.
Giabardo, G. (2010). Weaving Knowledge To Develop and To Manage Meaningful Innovation. Making Sense Of the Future Through Design. Unpublished MBA Thesis, ISM International School of Management, Paris.

Trans-Cultural Innovation


Design is an innovation tool as much as it is a mindset. However the design[-as-]thinking understanding of the discipline is a recent one. Much of the work designers did before was focussed on functions, styling, and finalization of innovation pushes that came from other origins. Often innovation was, and still is, a result of a technology-push.
The ‘design-thinking’ understanding of design aims to place it in a central position in organizations and in the innovation scenario. Design wants to become the hub of the knowledge wheel, whereas innovation becomes the lubricant of the economic system. Design is seen as a mediator able to speak different languages, interact with diverse actors, translate needs, frame problems, and offer valuable, innovative, results.
I wrote in my MBA thesis that “design shapes our surroundings, creates and modifies businesses and cultures, influences society and generates new ideas.”
But, are we really able to apply this —as researchers, innovators, and designers— on a global scale? Is this method and this way of thinking able to grasp peculiarity and local characteristics when acting in cultural environments that differs from the European/US based perspective? Will design be able to become the [supposed] missing link between the ‘East’ and the ‘West’?

coffee tea hack

I believe those are very interesting research questions in the perspective of understanding if our —EU/US— design&innovation approach is applicable to emerging countries/cultures as much as it is to our proximity.
Or, are we missing out completely on the underlying dynamics of the innovation trajectory happening in China and India while we keep trying to impose our system through ‘international development’?
Where should we look, and how, to understand trans-cultural, global and local, dimensions of value-innovation?

Knowledge and Innovation


My understanding is that design is, or should be, a un-specialized activity. Even better it should be a multi/inter-specialized one. A specific body of knowledge is extremely important and helpful when we innovate punctually, on a technical level, on a manufacturing process, or on a pricing strategy. However, to systemically-innovate design should be able to interact and communicate in many different languages, to draw from different knowledge bodies, to collaborate with and through different expertise. Design becomes a strategic and managerial tool and discipline that enables the connection of loose threads and diverse knowledge to create value-innovation that answers/satisfies the problems and needs of business and people.

Starting from this assumption, how is design knowledge generated, maintained, and developed? Is design the multi-disciplinary actor of choice when we look at value-innovation, or is it presumptuous? How do we get to know what we need to know, is it a causal or a casual process?

The process of knowing, the building of knowledge, in the Husserlian phenomenological approach, happens through experience. It happens through interactions with objects, through relationships. In this understanding, knowing is a representation of reality that is characterized by being in-finite, never-complete, and un-exhaustive.
We can always weave-into the knowledge-system another point of view, another subjectivity, a new thread of knowledge that will generate new links, new connections, new opportunities. Designers/innovators, have to use many eyes, explore points of view, live the conflicts, the paradoxes and the uncertainties of the knowledge/innovation system to become aware of possibilities, opportunities, and constraints. This requires, I think, a new approach to knowledge, to theories and to learning within and for complexity.
The research questions that arise are: how do we find, choose, and weave those knowledge-threads into the system? How do we embrace complexity in a multi-dimensional and multi-stable knowledge-system? Is a phenomenological, inter-subjective approach to knowing and design helpful at all?

It always seems impossible until its done.

Quite a lot of news from China, but actually from all over the world.
The Rescue-B project, that we have been working on for so long, is now live.
We have incubated the Rescue-B in the inovation studio and now it is being transformed in an independent entity. We are working hard with our partners, engineers, and builder to have ‘number one’ out in the water very soon. The engineering and prototype building, together with the first batch, will be done in Italy, near Bergamo, at Persico.

Since the launch of the website [] we have had a lot of feedbacks and an overwhelming response from rescuers, agencies, and maritime safety experts. We are happy and we are working hard to answer all the questions that came up, while at the same time proceeding to have the boat out as soon as possible.

Visit the Rescue-B website, follow our progress on the Facebook page. But most importantly, let us know what you think!

3 things

I landed in Shanghai this morning. Nice flight with lots of [emergencyexit] legroom for me.

I am going to be in China for a while.

Exploring, experimenting, observing, but -above all- studying mandarin in Kunming.

I have already learned three things in my short stay:

  • I am taller than the metro railings
  • my beard seems to be as popular as the expo
  • cars do not mind driving over people foot at the zebra crossings