“Technological innovation” is redundant …

When talking about innovation you’ve surely seen fierce discussion over how much the engineers contributed, how much the sales people, how much the administrators, and so on. That usually moves into debate over technological innovation (the engineers’ part) and other kinds of innovation, like business innovation or organisational innovation. Well, I’d argue that every innovation is technological: there are NO other kinds of innovation. Let me explain.

Of course there’s no point in denying the obvious: every profession is innovative, everybody can contribute to innovation, you don’t need to be an engineer to innovate. I acknowledge this reality. But my point is not about who is actually developing and implementing an innovation. My point is about the very nature of innovation, no matter who develops and implements it.

In my previous post, I’ve exposed my appreciation for the works of Brian Arthur. In The Nature of Technology, he offered the definition that a technology is a programming of phenomena to our purposes. He goes on to say that:

We can admit musical structures, money, legal codes, institutions, and organisations – indeed all means or purposed systems – to the argument even if they do not depend on physical effects.

What does that say? In the broadest of senses Arthur defines a technology as a means to a purpose. Every means that fulfils a purpose is a technology. Now, how does that relate to innovation? Well, earlier on I claimed that innovation must have a purpose in order to create value for society … you are getting my point: if innovation must have purpose, and everything that has purpose is a technology, then every innovation actually is a technology. This might be pretty abstract, and may not be very relevant for our day-to-day business, but it simply says that the term “technological innovation” is a pleonasm that doesn’t add to our discussions. So let’s stop using it.


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