Gilles talked in the first part of this interview about the characteristics of modern innovation management: intensive, open, and designing objects with new identities. He comes back here on this notion of “unknown objects”, and foused on innovative approach to design them.
1 – What is the challenge for companies in modern innovation that you call “intensive innovation”?
Intensive innovation is constantly causing identity crisis at the level of goods and services. We know what a car, watch, chair or telephone is – or at least we think we know because groups of designers are working to redefine their identities. How, under these conditions, can we manage innovative design activities? How can we revise the identity of these objects? There is nothing miraculous or random about this revision. The development of innovations depends on the ability of enterprises to imagine properties other than those that are already known for the objects, services and processes that surround us now or will do so in the future. Only a few companies possess this ability. Western scientific and technical culture is founded on the stability of the identity of objects, the people who use them and the people who design them. Today, these identities are profoundly destabilized.
Under these conditions, C-K design theory represents one way of responding to these questions. The status of innovation in enterprise strategy is changing. How is it possible to innovate when you no longer know what you have to invent? How can you think of functions without knowing, a priori, what technical possibilities are already available? How can you design when product knowledge and product identity is subject to new and disconcerting changes? How can customers or unusual partners be integrated in the innovation process? How is it possible to advance the traditional main functions of innovation: research, development, design, marketing etc?
2 – You have talked about the C-K approach, what are its strengths?
To answer that question, we need to adopt a broad perspective. Innovation in management draws on two main traditions.
The first is psychological and is associated with analogy, intuition, spur-of-the-moment choices, imagination, metaphor, mad ideas which defy clear-cut choices, concepts. Here, innovation is associated with creativity, the mental states of creative individuals, the organizations and tools which have the potential to create the conditions necessary for the emergence of innovative concepts and objects endowed with fresh, new identities.
The second tradition is based on science and knowledge. Acting as a counterpoint to the first, its aim is to guarantee the conformity of objects, stabilize them, and ensure their reproducibility. There would therefore seem to be a distinction between the creative mind, on the one hand, and the scientific mind, on the other. There would seem to be creative organizations and regulated organizations.
However, we need to bring together the two traditions if we are to explain and organize the innovation process. For example, Swatch is the product of both a dream and engineering. How are we to find the right path between unbridled creativity and rational knowledge? How can we break with and go beyond simple brainstorming-type approaches which limit creativity to the realm of concepts alone or avoid the pitfalls of technologies which can conceive of clever objects which have little function and will not sell? For (radical) innovation to be possible, it is necessary to address the question of what can lead to a new departure in terms of both concepts and knowledge.
How do we go about reconciling the conceptual with the knowledge-based? C-K’s response is to reason simultaneously in two different spaces, that of concepts (C) and that of knowledge (K). The design process establishes a relation between strikingly new or surprising concepts and the knowledge which may make it possible to turn them into concrete realities.
However, neither of these can be taken for granted at the start of the process. In other words, to innovate means moving from a situation in which the available knowledge is unable to lead to the concrete realization of the formulated concepts to a situation in which new knowledge emerges and, in turn, makes it possible to give real form to the initial concepts and/or transform them into astonishing ideas that are even more surprising and even more innovative.
It is by associating concepts and knowledge in this way that new properties can radically transform the identity of objects, that is to say bring about something that was hitherto unknown. Every innovative design can be modelled as a co-expansion of C and K.
Originally “C-K” was a theory relating to the reasoning underpinning innovative design developed at the Paris “Ecole des Mines” engineering academy. In 1994, at the initiative of professors Armand Hatchuel and Benoît Weil, the Centre de Gestion Scientifique des mines Paris Tech developed a joint research and teaching programme in the field of the management of design activities. The project was subsequently joined by Pascal Le Masson who helped give it increased dynamism. C-K theory is one of the best known and most innovative results of this programme.
C-K is a very useful tool which makes it possible to (re)construct a design process. However, is it sufficiently powerful to enable users to control and guide the process? While a method, KCP © (IdeasDay-ArmandHatchuel_MinesParisTech), which is intended for practical users and consultants does exist, this question remains relevant. Many researchers are continuing to develop C-K and are therefore contributing to its more widespread dissemination.
3 – How does C-K link in with other approaches to innovation?
Even though this was not planned by the originators of C-K, one of the great strengths of this theory is that it embraces and interfaces with many other approaches to innovation. There is a global facet to C-K which is extremely stimulating because it permits “combined thinking”. For example, at the concept level, we find the creative methods whereas at the knowledge level, we are in the presence of “open innovation” with knowledge having to be sought outside of the enterprise’s own boundaries. Triz or value analyses also dovetail very well with C-K.
4 – Are you currently engaged in any writing activities?
I have just finished updating a work on “project management” for Editions La Découverte’s Repères collection which will be published in October 2011 (*) and am currently highly involved in the drafting of a work on the management of innovative design.
I am fortunate in having as my co-author Elmar Mock, co-inventor of the Swatch watch, innovator, founder and director of Creaholic, “the innovations foundry”, based in Bienne, Switzerland. This book is the fruit of a meeting between a serial innovator who is renowned in the world of innovative business and a research professor who has been closely following the changes to innovation projects in the field for over twenty years. What unites us is our passion for innovation and our desire to understand and communicate our understanding of the creative processes that lead to new departures. Elmar Mock has taken the risk of straying from the well-trodden paths. The work will refer to C-K, unheard of innovations and the unknown history of the design of the Swatch watch.
* Gilles Garel (2003, new edition in October 2011), Le management de projet (Project management), Editions La Découverte, Collection Repères.
Relevant literature on innovative design and C-K
D. Choulier, Comprendre l’activité de conception, (Understanding design activity) Technological University of Belfort Montbeliard, 2009.
A. Hatchuel, B. Weil, “A new approach to innovative design: an introduction to C-K theory”, Proceedings of ICED’03, August 2003, Stockholm, Sweden, 2003.
A. Hatchuel, “Towards Design Theory and expandable rationality: the unfinished program of Herbert Simon” Journal of Management and Governance, 5, (3-4), 2002.
P. Le Masson, B. Weil, A. Hatchuel, Les processus d’innovation – Conception innovante et croissance des entreprises (Innovation processes – Innovative design and enterprise growth), Hermès, 2006.
P. Le Masson, B. Weil, A. Hatchuel, Strategic Management of Design and Innovation, Cambridge University Press, 2010.
Web site of the Chaire Théorie et Méthodes de la Conception Innovante (Chair of Innovative Design Theory and Methods) at the Ecole des mines Paris Tech
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The Cnam was created in 1794, during the French Revolution, on the location of a medieval monastery, the royal abbey of Saint-Martin des Champs in the middle of Paris. Nowadays, thanks to its integrated network (Cnam is implemented in more than 150 cities in France and abroad), the Cnam spreads higher adult education and life-long training. Cnam’s motto is “Omnes docet ubique”, which means ” it teaches everyone everywhere. The Cnam network allows everyone to learn wherever and whenever they like, combining work with training. The mission of regional centers is to meet the training expectations of their environment. They collaborate with local players: businesses, professional organisations, regional authorities, universities, employment agencies, information and guidance centres, etc. With the development of life-long learning in Europe and throughout the world, the Cnam has established itself as a benchmark institution.
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