We are facing unprecedented challenges today. For many of us, innovation would be our last hope. But how can it be done? Is it enough to bet on the scientific culture? How can technical culture contribute to innovation? How is technical culture situated with regards to what we name collectively the culture of innovation? It is these questions that this book intends to address.
I.1. Why this topic?
If innovation has been seen as a dangerous and disruptive element of the "good" functioning of societies for centuries, it is now clear that it is widely valued and encouraged within Western societies.
Since Joseph Schumpeter's pioneering work, many theorists have indeed confirmed the central role of innovation in economic dynamics. The current state of Europe's economy was attributed to the decline in innovation following Edmund Phelps' Nobel Prize win in economics in 2006 [PHE 13]. As Philippe Aghion [AGH 15] pointed out, linking innovation and growth makes it possible to free oneself from the conception of growth based on the accumulation of capital (neoclassical model), offering a more optimistic view of the future in which innovation will become the driver of what he calls "sustainable growth".
Innovation also appears to be the best solution to major contemporary problems facing today's societies, which include global warming, an ageing population and a scarcity of resources. These challenges are formidable and require innovative solutions, laying the foundation for the growing need for innovation. Seemingly, one of the preferred ways to achieve this in recent years is through developing an innovation culture. Apple is often cited as an example of a successful company because it has an innovation culture. In 2013, at the Goldman Sachs Conference, Apple CEO Tim Cook stated that "it's never been stronger. Innovation is so deeply embedded in Apple's culture.[...] It's the strongest ever. It's in the DNA of the company". Moreover, as we may recall, Steve Jobs said that innovation is not just about writing a check: "If that were the case", Jobs quipped, "then Microsoft would have great products" [DIL 13]. Is this innovation culture sufficient to provide solutions to these great contemporary challenges? Don't we need a technical culture as well?
Yet curiously, while there is a large body of literature dedicated to an innovation culture, technical culture remains largely absent from the conversation when it comes to innovation. If "scientific and technical culture" is called upon when it comes to thinking about our relationship to science and technology, progress or research, this is not the case when it comes to innovation, as if innovation and technology were culturally impervious. So how are they distinct? Why this observation, and finally, why should culture be integrated with technology and innovation?
In this book, we will draw on these observations and therefore ask ourselves what is at stake in bringing the issue of technical culture and the innovation culture into the debate. Thanks to the diversity of entry points and disciplines involved, the contributors will be able to clarify the challenges surrounding the concepts of technical culture and the innovation culture, as well as the possible interconnection between these two cultures.
I.2. Structure of the book
To examine these questions, the book is structured into three parts. In the first part, we review the conceptual origin of technical culture and innovation culture along with their dissemination into society. In the second part, we illustrate these concepts through the history of three particular innovations: digital, dynamite and the theorem which has allowed Cédric Villani to earn the Fields Medal. In the final part, we focus on action and explain, on the one hand, what innovation culture entails in organizations, and on the other hand, how technical culture is a training challenge, culminating in the description of an anthropological approach that questions meaning in order to innovate in an industrial situation.
The historian of technology Anne-Françoise Garçon opens this book with a chapter devoted to the slow emergence of the Western innovation culture. Behind this observation lies, in fact, the difficult objectification of technology and innovation. Although technological awareness has been growing since the 16th Century, it has not been accompanied by an innovation culture. Several reasons explain such a situation. Innovation was feared at first because it was synonymous with questioning the established order, which has conveyed fears that prevent the innovation culture from developing, but not innovation itself. Another reason is the development of operating cultures instead of an innovation culture. The author will then illustrate that Western innovation culture is similar to a "dashboard knowledge" culture, which finally developed at the end of the 19th Century and the beginning of the 20th Century to the point of becoming a technical culture among contemporary designers.
Marianne Chouteau, Joëlle Forest and Céline Nguyen demonstrate the importance of a technical culture in understanding the meaning that is given to technology and the world it builds. They develop the idea according to which innovation culture, as it is thought of today, hides the development of an active and reflexive technical culture that would make it possible to integrate technology into a symbolic and cultural whole. To do this, they establish a definition of technical culture based on authors such as Bruno Jacomy, Yves Deforge, Philippe Roqueplo, Jocelyn De Noblet and Gilbert Simondon. These authors highlight the reflexive and active nature of culture because it needs to connect technology to the surrounding world. However, they also point out that while this technical culture is still struggling to develop today, it enables everyone to move beyond the simple consumer viewpoint, to protect themselves from technological alienation and finally to think about the major technical challenges of tomorrow. In this sense, they underline the fact that despite contemporary upheavals - artificialization of the world, scarcity of energy and so on - the question of technology seems to be very rarely raised in favor of a constantly renewed demand for innovation. By the same token, they claim that it is precisely this innovation culture which shields technical culture that is nevertheless necessary.
Bruno Jacomy addresses the question of technical culture in the digital age. The author pleads for a promotion of technical culture, which seems to him today primordial, whereas the digital revolution upsets our habits. Bruno Jacomy insists on the need for a technical culture for all, which must not remain confined to technical professionals alone. To establish his definition, he starts from those developed by Joël Lebaume and Philippe Roqueplo. In the 19th Century, the latter distinguished three facets of technical culture: that of the hand - the employee (engineer, craftsman, laborer), that of the mind - the man who controls his environment through the technical objects he designs, and that of the heart - the citizen who makes choices through a critical and cultural dimension assigned to objects. Bruno Jacomy insists on the fact that these three dimensions must be re-examined with regard to the importance of digital objects in our daily lives. Indeed, digital objects mark an important change in our daily environment; technology being more than ever at the heart of our lives because communication remains a central element of our world today. Through this chapter, Bruno Jacomy also questions innovation as a social and cultural process. He invites us to adopt a genealogical approach to objects as advocated by Gilbert Simondon and Yves Deforge. This way of thinking helps us to understand families of objects, such as those exhibited in museums, and to draw creativity from them. These objects carry within them the memory of society and the technical knowledge utilized.
What is serendipity? Does it have a role in the innovation process? Throughout her chapter, Sophie Boutillier attempts to question and deconstruct the concept of serendipity in the processes of scientific discovery and innovation. To accomplish this, she precisely traces the stages that led to the discovery of dynamite by Alfred Nobel at the end of the 19th Century. The discovery of dynamite is one of those inventions mentioned as having been made by chance. But Sophie Boutillier shows that, on the contrary, Alfred Nobel discovered dynamite because he had a prepared mind and he benefited from a favorable context. Thus, she demonstrates that chance played only a very minor role in this case. She shows that the economic context of the time, that is, industrial capitalism, provided Alfred Nobel with the situational elements necessary for the development of his research, particularly in chemistry. Moreover, by retracing the life of Alfred Nobel, she demonstrates how the family environment, his scientific training, his technical knowledge and his cleverness gave him so many advantages to achieve his goals. She reveals the experimental process that he set up, which, through perseverance, allowed him to discover dynamite. In short, Sophie Boutillier shows that Alfred Nobel utilized his technical culture and because of this, dynamite was discovered.
Joëlle Forest, Marie-Line Gardes and Danièle Vial discuss the links that unite diversity and innovation. They stress that innovation implies taking "the other" into account. Through encounters with others, the innovator is confronted with other visions of the world, other paradigms and other cultures that can only challenge his or her intellectual foundations and stimulate creativity. Their thesis is based on the history of the genesis of the theorem that led Cédric Villani to...