Networks of innovation
In the autumn I read three really interesting books on the importance of networks in our understanding of innovation: Too big to know by David Weinberger, Networks of Innovation by Ilkka Tuomi and Future Perfect by Steve Johnson.
I first became interested in networks when I was an undergraduate Geographer and Manuel Castells, one of my favourite social theorists, first published The Rise of the Network Society in 1996 charting the dawn of the information society. This felt revolutionary reading it at the time, given I just hand-written all of my University essays and got my first email address. Reading these three more recent books on networks a few months ago took me back to some of these ideas and brought me up-to-date with some of the latest thinking in how networks have become central to both life in general and to innovation in particular.
Too big to know focuses on how the Internet has changed knowledge and the way we understand the world around us - it is now all about being part of a network of knowing and it is the network itself that becomes the expert, rather than expertise residing in the few in their ivory towers. What particularly interested me about this is that it changes how we, as so-called knowledge workers, function in the labour market. Our value is moving from what we know, to our skills in using networks to acquire knowledge.
Johnson also believes that the answer to tackling complex social problems and creating exciting futures is in networked thinking. I certainly agree that how we collaborate with like-minded people is key to the way that social innovation works.
In Networks of Innovation, Tuomi develops this thinking to argue that we need to move away from understanding innovation as product-based to understanding innovation as being increasingly based on networks. He looks at the social aspects of technological development and uses the history of the Internet as a lens to view how innovation is about people joined together in networks creating social and economic value. As you move through the innovation process from idea generation, to adoption and scale, it is indeed all about networks. This is certainly something we're exploring in our research at Nesta on how innovations are adopted in the public sector (we’re publishing the results of this research ‘Adopting Innovations in Primary Care: Lessons from Open Data’ soon).
If you're interested in networks, I would definitely give these three books a go.