3 January 2009

“Transformation” a better concept than “innovation” to guide us forward

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Bruce Nussbaum
At the beginning of last year, we at Experientia worked with a Belgian regional authority on developing the concept for a new design centre, called the Transformation Factory (read more about it in this paper).

Now also Business Week’s Bruce Nussbaum is publicly advocating the concept of transformation, rather than innovation, as the approach we currently need.

A first post on the matter was written on New Year’s Eve, and is recommended reading not just because of Nussbaum’s thinking itself, but also because of the many and sometimes very polemic comments that various readers have been contributing (many of whom are concerned about the introduction of a new buzz word).

“Transformation” captures the key changes already underway and can help guide us into the future. It implies that our lives will increasingly be organized around digital platforms and networks that will replace edifices and big organizations (students already know this, university presidents still have edifice-complexes, which is why so many of them are getting the boot). […]

The concept of “Transformation” […] implies radical transformation of our systems—education, health-care, economic growth, transportation, defense, political representation. It puts the focus on people, designing networks and systems off their wants and needs. It relies on humanizing technology, not imposing technology on humans. It approaches uncertainties with a methodology that creates options for new situations and sorts through them for the best quickly.

Most importantly, “Transformation” accepts the notion that we are in a post-consumer society, defined by two groups of economic players: manufacturers and consumers. “Transformation” deals with a new Creativity Society, in which we are all both producers and consumers of value.

In today’s post “The Transformation Conversation” (no comments as of yet), Nussbaum attempts to integrate and structure the debate by a more systematic outline of why he thinks “the concept of “transformation” is of great[er] utility and power than “innovation” at this point in time”.

Unfortunately all of Nussbaum’s examples come from the USA and he presents the concept as an entirely new neologism, with strict relevance to the corporate world, which of course it isn’t.

Even in design, I need only refer to the paper that Colin Burns, Hilary Cottam et al. published in early 2006 – currently available here.

UPDATE: Reaction by Idris Mootee

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