Second only to creativity, agency is the key ingredient that fuels our innovation engine. Hence innovators should develop a solid grasp of their own agency, and that of others. Today, I start a series of posts that will explore the concept of agency, what it is, what it is not. To achieve that goal, the series will look at the vast diversity of agents, what they have in common, and what makes an agent an agent.
On agency …
Agency is an evasive concept, difficult to grasp, hard to pin down. Many attempts rely on recursion, ending up in a circular logic that “agency is what agents do”. At first glance, that does seem like a dead end; yet it offers an escape, provided we take a little detour: we could compose a list of generally agreed agents and extract their shared characteristics; based on those common traits we should be able to develop a non-recursive definition of agency that is inclusive of all our listed agents while referring to none.
… and agents
Aggregating an exhaustive list of agents might seem a daunting exercise, but we can simplify the task by first considering different ’classes’ of agents we can identify. In essence, this comes down to natural entities and some artificial entities, the fundamental distinction being that natural agents are born, whereas artificial agents are made. Working through those two classes will also offer some initial ideas for the essential characteristics that we need to keep in mind later when shaping an inclusive definition of agency.
With that ambitious plan in mind, here is an overview of the posts that will follow:
- Natural agents
- Artificial agents
- Comparing natural and artificial agents
- Defining agency
- Describing agents
- How agency matters to innovators
This is the first in a series of posts on the agency and how it matters to innovation.