Embedding Radical Innovations in Society

Peter Hofman

    Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


    The starting point of this paper is that radical innovations are characterised by a mismatch with the existing system, for example because existing skills and competences do not satisfy the needs of the innovation, because the new innovation demands a new set-up of market linkages (e.g. between producers, users and intermediaries), because users are not accustomed to the new innovation, and because industrial and regulatory standards that have developed within the existing system may act as a barrier for the innovation. In other words, there are several path dependent features of the existing system acting as a barrier for the new technologies, and new paths have to be created which fit the emerging new technologies.
    The paper analyses how path dependent processes at different levels tend to reinforce each other, making it difficult to deviate from paths that are rooted within existing systems with their specific architectures of technologies, actor linkages, skills and knowledge flows. Actors within the system tend to build upon what is already there and focus on improvement of the existing systems. Path creation involves the disembedding from existing ways of doing things and beliefs, through the mobilisation of actors on a new idea, which starts to take shape in rounds of negotiation, experimentation, trial and error. Creating new paths is likely to require major modification or renewal of the networks of an innovating company, and demands multi-stakeholder ventures into the conditions and infrastructures under which the radical innovation can perform. Moreover, while in some of the necessary changes an innovator may be able to play a leading role, other changes, such as building a knowledge base and establishing a design for the way the technology is configured in society, need to be initiated or accompanied by processes of institutional change. These wider processes of institutional change can also act as a lever to facilitate introduction and diffusion of the product/technology (e.g. programs for support), to create some momentum (e.g. greening of tax system that makes the new technology more competitive), and to secure that in its further diffusion the product exploits its sustainability potential.

    In other words, a process of learning and socialisation of radical products and technologies needs to be initiated in which markets are shaped, alignment with policies takes place, and the engineering concepts, principles and problems underlying the new products and technologies become part of the agenda of the knowledge infrastructure. The paper ends with a translation of these insights to the practice of actors involved in the development and diffusion of radical innovations.
    Original languageEnglish
    Number of pages17
    Publication statusPublished - 12 Oct 2003
    Event11th Greening of Industry Network Conference, GIN 2003: Innovating for Sustainability - San Francisco, United States
    Duration: 12 Oct 200315 Oct 2003
    Conference number: 11


    Conference11th Greening of Industry Network Conference, GIN 2003
    Abbreviated titleGIN
    CountryUnited States
    CitySan Francisco

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