Introducing Ynnovation

If you were to visit a Catalan village or town festivity, celebrating something like Midsummer, you may be struck by a seemingly odd scene: people dancing around a pile of ladies’ handbags, with some small kids topping the pile...

The circle dance is a sardana, possibly (though perhaps doubtfully) with roots in ancient Greece. Variations have been danced for centuries in Catalonia, been danced and been forbidden, the last time by Franco as sardana is a symbol of Catalan nationhood.

The modern sardana, however, the ‘long’ one, is a more recent invention, music-wise by Josep ‘Pep’ Ventura, and step-wise by Miquel Pardàs. Ventura equipped the orchestra, the cobla, with eleven musicians – previously there had been a trio – and with a newly invented wind instrument, the tenor oboe (tenora), possibly inspired by him and in any case developed by Andreu Touron in northern Catalan (so in France) Perpignan; these developments occurred in the mid-19th century. The sardana became one of multiple symbols of Catalan culture during the renaixença, the renaissance or re-awakening, which emerged at this time and grew increasingly vivid.

In the Estonian archipelago, a farm that previously had been a collective has remade itself into a farm with Swedish roots – Estonia was part of Sweden for some 160 years, and already from at least the 13th century Swedish language farmers settled on some of the islands. For the collective that no longer was, this identity – or brand – had at best shaky foundations but after the Russian and communist epoch, an identity positive rather than threatening was eagerly sought.

About the same time as the Catalan renaissance, there was a movement in Norway to become more ‘Norwegian’, politically independent of Sweden, linguistically substituting the written language, Bokmål, which in fact was (an adaptation of) written Danish, with something indigenous. One leading enthusiast was Ivar Aasen who toured the country to discover or compile the ‘true’ Norwegian, which he synthesized into neo-Norwegian or, in Norwegian, Nynorsk. In reality, no outright substitution took place so Bokmål and Nynorsk now coexist. Several more ‘modern’ languages have a similar story of being ‘invented’ or ‘reawakened’ or synthesized, Hebrew and Turkish among them. Esperanto is of course an example, of several, of a fully synthetic – invented – language (the sketch here skips over intricacies and nuances of a vastly more complex reality).

Americans more than others are alert to how original their political union of 1776 was: to obtain liberation from a ‘mother’ country – forming an association between thirteen separate colonies some of them starkly different with respect to, e g, religious creed and economy – and with strong state powers; to create a republic in a world dominated by kings and emperors (Switzerland the obvious exception), indeed something sufficiently original to qualify as an innovation of sorts. But what sort?

Applying the definition that an innovation be an idea that has achieved success, the disparate examples given do qualify as innovations. But, again, what should the category be termed? Cultural innovation would seem to apply more to new styles like rock, rap, surrealism, or cubism. Social innovation is a category already existing, and for something a bit different. So: symbolic or semantic innovation?

Some thirty years ago, two Swedish researchers, Edquist and Edqvist, highlighted the sometime importance of social carriers for innovation. Esperanto and Nynorsk obviously crave – serve as carriers for the need of – wordbooks and grammars. Sardana is performed outdoors so the cobla’s instruments have to produce sound sufficiently loud. And the ‘long’ sardana became a carrier for Andreu Touron’s invention the tenora oboe, thus transforming it into an innovation. For unknown entities, mathematicians use x, y, and z. Let’s choose to apply y and term this kind of innovation ynnovation.

Cause-and-effect relationships can often be disputed or discussed, possibly generating an understanding of linkages as more of symbiotic relationships. The driving force behind all the examples given seems to be a striving for identity, and that identity was not just the sardana, Nynorsk, Turkish, or the American constitution but something wider and more profound. What other forces might be conducive to ynnovation? What might be the carrier for or impetus to ynnovation, and what might a particular ynnovation serve as a carrier for? What technologies and innovations might be spawned or brought into existence symbiotically, by or with ynnovation? Facebook and social media in general come to mind since they are currently so topical. As always, the challenge would be to perceive the coming topicality before it occupies main stage.

Views, reactions, comments, and opposition are more than welcome!

Beware of… that bit of a piece called unnovation

Innovation should create value. But it may not, and if it does not, call it something else: unnovation, suggests Umair Haque. A prefix game this, indeed, though a serious one!

In the eyes of the unadulterated – a rule more than a law?

An industrial designer is keen on seeing with the eyes of the end user. And for a product or service hoping for a wide appeal, that end user must not be an insider or a geek. Practitioners tend to pick people from the ends of the age spectrum. Scott Anthony, well known to Innovation Management readers, calls it the Charlie test, for his son Charlie, at the time of the fist test two years old. How intuitively appealing is a novelty: a two-year old will tell.

Mexican industrial designer and entrepreneur Eduardo Alvarez (now based in Boston) instead invokes “My Mom’s Test”, resorting to the judgment of his distinctly un-nerdy mother back in Mexico City.

These examples stress the point: ask insiders not. Then test objects may be found more in the middle of the age span as well – it is just the question of finding them. And of seeing them as valuable resources, signal posts.

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