Against Method in Innovation

InnovationCartoon.jpgI’ve signed up for NESTA’s Innovation Edge conference in a few weeks. Though I’m looking forward to what promises to be a stimulating day, I’m kind of surprised that the abstract concept of innovation remains so popular with policy makers and agencies.
Using innovation as a catch-all term to cover a wide range of changes in products, services and organising creates the expectation that these changes share important characteristics and, critically, may share similar solutions. But do they, should they, or could they? To take the relatively narrow domain of integrated IT, on the one hand you have the Apple approach; on the other open source. How much do they have in common? Not an awful lot.
Perhaps my wariness and scepticism comes from being exposed, at an impressionable age, to Paul Feyerabend’s “anything goes” approach to scientific method. Feyerabend didn’t deny the value of method; he was arguing against hidebound adherence to any particular set of rules and methods. He argued for a more laissez-faire approach to combining multiple approaches, and being prepared to bend the rules when circumstances encouraged it.
If you want to wind people up, you refer to this way of thinking as epistemological anarchism. If you want to calm and reassure, you’re better off talking of methodological pluralism. I’m hoping to hear both at Innovation Edge, which takes place in London on 20 May this year, and is free to attend (but places are limited and require registration).

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