Book Reviews

Challenging the Innovation Paradigm

By Karl-Erik Sveiby, Pernilla Gripenberg and Beata Segercrants (eds.)

ISBN: 978-0-415-52275-5; 2012; 272 pages; Routledge: New York and Oxon;

Reviewed by Adriana Mica
Institute of Applied Social Sciences, University of Warsaw, Warsaw, Poland

This book takes issue with the pro-innovation bias in contemporary innovation research. This is done by exploring the unintended and undesirable consequences of innovations - a topic generally overlooked due to the development of economic terminologies and theories in this field.

The edited volume has three parts, each with three or four studies. The sections move from a critical discussion of the innovation paradigm to particular case-studies of unintended consequences of innovations. The main parts are contained by two introductory and closing chapters that integrate the analytical framework and empirical findings into a common intellectual and interpretative effort (see Gripenberg, Sveiby and Segercrantz's discussion on the prevailing pro-innovation bias in innovation research; and Sveiby, Gripenberg and Segercrantz's concluding remarks on the practical implications and future analysis of unintended consequences in the innovation paradigm). The book offers a clear critical perspective and theoretical framework, and a well prepared literature review.

Part I shows how the evolution of the innovation category towards a nonproblematic and de-contested ideology went hand in hand with neglect of unintended consequences of innovations. Martin Fougère and Nancy Harding's analysis of the academic and policy discourses of innovation show, for example, that the sociological approach to the diffusion phase of innovations became progressively marginalized in innovation research, while a more managerial and scientific perspective took over. The former investigates the dimensions of unintended consequences by virtue of a more cultural and anthropological approach, whereas the latter takes into account and measures only successful innovations. Benoît Godin's account follows the long-run process of de-contestation of innovation from a political and contentious concept. It is an essential one for gaining perspective on the innovation paradigm as discursive practice. In the last contribution in this section, Sveiby, Gripenberg and Segercrantz replicate Rogers's research of consequential treatments within innovation research. They find these are as little represented in this field as when Rogers undertook his first literature review in the 1960s.

Part II examines the systemic nature of innovation, discussing the structural and undesirable consequences of an accelerating innovation race. Mervi Hasu, Karl-Heinz Leitner, Nikodemus Solitander and Urmas Varblane trace the diffusion of the innovation speed imperative from the private to the public sector, as well as the attempts to push for critical reflexivity in relation to this tendency. In the second chapter, Sveiby demonstrates how rapid diffusion of innovation might foster its competence-destroying capabilities and lead to unintended and undesirable consequences with global effects - the financial sector under investigation being a case in point. Karl-Heinz Leitner then reviews companies' strategies to decelerate the innovation process. This chapter is relevant because it shows that it is the diffusion of innovations, and not the innovation as such, which leads to consequences. By implication, the strategies to modify the diffusion pace are also consequential.

The last part of the book is dedicated to case studies in unintended consequences of innovations. It begins with a literature review of major innovation models that have been developed in business literature (Martin Lindell). Three case studies then follow: the unintended consequences of the formalization of innovation process through organizational restructuring of software innovation (Beata Segercrantz); the indirect and undesirable consequences for the well-being of employees of the voluntary and involuntary types of work intensification due to organizational innovations in information and communication technology (Almudena Cañibano, Oihana Basilio and M. Paloma Sánchez); and the indirect effects of ICT on CO2 emissions (Mitsutaka Matsumoto and Kotaro Kawajiri).

This is the most consequential part of the book because the empirical material indicates that the consequences should be studied in relation to the diffusion dynamics of the innovations. The strong evidence pointing in this direction notwithstanding, its theoretical implications for the unintended consequences discussion are less developed by the authors. They trace the unintended and undesirable consequences back to the innovations under investigation, rather than clearly discussing the effects in relation to the diffusion process.

As a matter of opinion, my objection might be raised in relation to the overall consequential perspective of the book, and not just this last part. This book does not focus on the consequences of diffusion, but on the consequences of innovation. The diffusion appears as context, and not as independent variable.

This theoretical focus on consequences of innovations, and not of innovations diffusion might also explain why the editors of the book encountered so little studies under the direct labels of 'consequences' and 'innovations' in their literature review. Their findings may well be due to searching according to keywords, which is prone to depict consequential treatments in linear models of innovation (as Rogers's (2003) classical diffusion model is usually depicted to be). The usage of explicit consequences-like notions is likely to miss consequential treatments in non-linear models where the terminology employed comprises of formulas such as unexpected, unpredictable outcomes, adaptation, translation, imitation etc. The linear stream studies consequences of innovations as purposive social action, while the non-linear one researches them as purposive social interaction.

In my reading, the employment of the vocabulary which frames innovation as purposive social action (and not social interaction) enrolled the background of the book in a kind of conceptual path dependency which led eventually to the omitting of consequential treatments in particular non-linear models of innovation. This fact might also account for the paradoxical lack of reference throughout the book to the translation paradigm in innovation research - that associated with actor-network theory (Akrich, Callon and Latour, 2002) and Scandinavian institutionalism (Boxenbaum and Strandgaard Pedersen, 2008) respectively.

In spite of the omission of the non-linear consequential treatments of diffusion of innovations, the analytical framework advanced by the edited volume is still quite solid. It rests on clear arguments, sharp critical analysis, methodological tools and empirical findings. Still, for such a challenging of the innovation paradigm to be persuasive, there is need of a consequential perspective that incorporates recent developments in the innovation research as well. Besides the focused and coherent narrative on the issue of consequences - which is a surprising accomplishment for an edited volume incorporating authors of such distinct backgrounds - the compendious nature of the book should be also pointed out. It is, in the end, this comprehensive and in depth character of the authors' contributions which renders their work vulnerable to critiques regarding the ignorance of particular innovation models. On the other hand, this is also most likely to foster the consequential debate they initiated in innovation studies.

Toggle references


Akrich M, Callon M and Latour B (2002a) The Key to Success in Innovation (Part I): The Art of Interresement; The Key to Success in Innovation (Part II): The Art of Choosing Good Spokespersons, International Journal of Innovation Management 6(2): 187-206; 207-225.

Boxenbaum E and Strandgaard Pedersen J (2008). Scandinavian Institutionalism - A Case of Institutional Work, Ch 7, in Lawrence TB, Suddaby R and Leca B (eds) Institutional Work: Actors and Agency in Institutional Studies of Organizations, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Rogers, EM (2003) Diffusion of Innovations, Free Press, New York, London, Toronto and Sydney.


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