“Innovation can produce negative value”, says @jerrymichalski in systems thinking about dark innovation.

Jerry Michalski: My most memorable courses at Penn weren’t in the business school at all. Three stand out for me. One was in “Social Systems Science” from Russell Ackoff, one of the originators of systems thinking.   [….]

Of these, Ackoff was the greatest influence. He convinced me quickly that there’s hardly ever such a thing as a problem in isolation: There are systems of problems with complex interactions. [….]

JM: I do not want to be trapped by a narrow definition of innovation—the normal fare of faster disk drives or better-tasting toothpastes. Many innovations punch through cultural or conceptual barriers, often doing things that seemed impossible to do from within the old frame of mind. I think most important innovations break taboos, the customs that prevent people from doing things.

The taboos I was challenging by representing social, poor, and dark innovation were, respectively:

  • Innovations come from one person with one big insight.
  • Innovations come from people with resources and education.
  • Innovations are always beneficial, always good for us.

The new ways of thinking exposed by innovations that broke these taboos are:

  • Innovations are social.
  • Innovations can come from poor, uneducated people.
  • Innovations can produce negative value.

I’m not saying that innovators in the social, poor, or dark sectors ignored taboos. In most cases, the conventional wisdom was entirely outside their ken. I’m talking about “innovation experts” whose thinking is blinded by these taboos.

Ubiquity: Let’s focus on dark innovation. What is that?

JM: Dark innovation is the most controversial of the three I chose to represent. It’s a dark side, where we get a change that many people don’t find valuable at all.

War is an obvious example. Through the ages we have seen new weapons, tactics, and strategies that aim to kill faster and more efficiently to win wars. Stirrups, longbows, crossbows, gunpowder, repeating rifles, machine guns, chemical weapons, TNT, missiles, napalm, the atomic bomb—all are famous examples of game-changing war technologies. Although these technologies are usually seen by the side that has them as ways of bringing wars to a faster close, they usually don’t. Killing is clearly a dark activity, and is all too often entirely avoidable.

The many medical innovations that came from warfare and have saved countless victims of trauma from dying, such as the “Golden Hour,” are hard-won wins for society. This dark art has a silver lining.

“Dark innovation” interview with Jerry Michalski | Peter J. Denning | March 2012 | ACM Ubiquity http://ubiquity.acm.org/article.cfm?id=2160599.

via @jimspohrer @groupaya http://twitter.com/#!/JimSpohrer/statuses/185942212469719040

Dark innovation