At the intersection

When I started this blog, I wanted to investigate how innovation works at the intersection of society, business, and technology. More than four years later, after 132 post and over 130,000 words, it’s time to think about depicting this intersection, or at least giving a visual impression of what it’s like.

To that end, I’ll literally use the words and the connections between them. More specifically, I’ll play with the meta data attributed to each individual post. These metadata come in two layers: a few broad categories combined with a larger number of more specific tags.

  • From the onset, I used three categories to broadly characterize each post: Society & Politics (for the community dimension, the purpose and impact, as well as the means to steer innovation), Business & Economics (for the micro- and macro-economic dimension, including the entrepreneurial aspects), and Science & Technology (for the technical dimension as well as the research and ingenuity required). Of course there is considerable overlap between those categories, hence many posts address more than one category.
  • Over time, I’ve used more than fifty tags to profile each post more precisely: Some of them I used frequently (for example the tags from the early days of this blog), others very rarely (especially the more recent tags). Sometimes tags have no apparent delineation, so that one seems to be a sub-element of another (for example energy vs. energy capture). Of course I did not define each of the tags precisely, nor did I construct their total set to be mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive. And I cannot guarantee that I applied them coherently over time.

Yet, regardless of all the underlying inconsistencies and the implicit subjectivity, the tags do tell a story of how I have come to understand innovation. And that’s the story I’m trying to sketch out for you today. The following chart offers a circular illustration [1] of the relations between the three categories (in the upper left quadrant) and forty-seven of the tags.

At the intersection – Tags

So what do you see here?  Each of the ribbons represents the connection strength between one of the categories and one of the tags. The larger a ribbon, the more posts combine that specific category with that specific tag. Larger ribbons thus show stronger connections.

Still, that chart is a little too busy to discern any patterns. Hence I reduced the number of connections depicted by clustering tags in several groups. The result is the following chart.

The underlying idea was straightforward, take for example the tag group “why we want it” (in red). In this group, I clustered all the those tags that relate to our motivation to pursue innovation: change, impact, purpose, and sloth, greed and fear. And those for tags are represented in that very same red in the above chart. So you can easily find the individual tags in each group be matching colours between both charts.

At the intersection – TagGroups

The other groups (clockwise, from the top) summarise:

  • “what goes in” – the input that powers our innovation efforts,
  • “how it works” – the inner mechanics of innovation,
  • “what comes out” – the desired results as well as the unintended consequences,
  • “concepts” – my key ideas to organise my thinking, including for example the innovation landscape or the innovation supply chain,
  • “what steers innovation” – the influencing factors to make us start, redirect, or stop an innovation effort,
  • “giving structure” – how we organise our innovation efforts,
  • “big trends” – the long-range trends that drive social development today, and
  • “complex systems” – one of the major reference frames to describe and compare natural and human-made systems, including ant colonies or biotopes as well as economies, societies, or technologies.

In addition to those nine groups, I maintained six independent tags: business, economics, science, technology, society, and politics. These are obviously useful to represent the connections between the three categories.

With this reduction of connection, it’s easier to see where the focus of my writing has been so far: on the input to innovation, concepts to describe innovation, the steering influences and the structures.

As a last step, I took the data from the above chart and turned them inside out. For the above chart, the colour for each ribbon is defined by the category. I turned the colour order around to obtain the chart below: each ribbon now carries the colour of the tag group it connects to. With this data representation, it’s easier to see the how each of the three categories has its own “profile” of tag groups.

At the intersection – TagGroups – inverse

I have only started to play with these data to get a better sense of my previous writing, its focus, and potential gaps. Hence I’d appreciate your feedback: what do you read out of these charts, what do they tell you?


[1] To create these illustrations, I used Circos – a powerful online tool that allows you to turn any conventional table into such circular charts.

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