Steinbeis Swipe!

And That’s Progress? Really? Thoughts on the Value of the New

In The Development of Humanity, one of the best known poems by Erich Kästner, we are told: “Once, the guys sat in the trees; Ugly, and with angry faces. They were coaxed out of the woods; And their world was “story-ed” up; Right to the thirtieth floor. […] Thus they achieved with head and mouth; The progression of mankind. But that aside, and seen by light, they still remain; The same ol‘ hairy apes.” In a nutshell, what Kästner is saying is that lots of things that are called progress have not actually changed us or the world. Basically, despite all the progress, we are treading water. This is one view of “progress made by humanity.”

The famous saying by Georg Christoph Lichtenberg reflects the other point of view: “I cannot say whether things will get better if we change; what I can say is that they must change if they are to get better.” Somewhere deep down inside our humanness, there is something that drives us to want progress, something that makes us believe in progress, an unavoidable and unconditional sense that the here and now, where humanity currently stands, is never good (enough); humanity always feels that there must always – at the very least – be something better than the existing. Somehow, we as humans are always like the donkey in the fairytale about the Bremen Town Musicians who basically works out that you will always find something better than what you have here and now.

This belief in the ever superior there and then seems to be firmly anchored deep within our being. But in all our modernity and enlightenment, a mere belief is still not enough, so it is little wonder that we also try to rationalize our belief in progress. One possible line of argumentation is that our modern world is always on the move, so economies and businesses have to work constantly to make a leap forward themselves, as an evolution or even as a revolution. The ability and the willingness to make continual progress or even wander off the trodden path dictate the destiny not only of economies but also of companies.

One vehicle of progress is innovation, an act whereby “the New” becomes a reality. Our belief that progress is always something good means we tend to feel that everything which bears a label as an “innovation” is also good. Innovation – one of those terms that is overused by so many people, especially in management literature: It’s now a thinly veiled secret that innovating is the best and most sustainable way to improve competitiveness, raise profits and turnover, and get more of practically everything.

But beyond this naïve enthusiasm for progress and the indiscriminating obsession with the term “innovation,” we do have to ask certain questions: What is the actual use of progress? What is “the New” actually worth? Does an innovation make everything better or just different?

We concluded that the time had come to define a term and provide substantiation for this – a term that would show what the value of “the New” and the value of an innovation actually is. The name we coined for this variable: InnovationQuality, or just InQ. This is the central topic of our recent book, InnovationQuality. The Value of the New, which is available from Steinbeis Edition.

Steinbeis Swipe! is a new section in Transfer Magazine. The aim is to examine specific topics at regular intervals. Occasionally, the author might take a swipe, left or right, up or down, along the lines of a critical commentary.

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