We argue that the idea of something to be realized, the imagination of a certain product, technology, service or even concept of living and social organization has often been formulated, picked-up, reiterated and discussed over time before the actual problem-solution cycle kicks in and starts the known innovation process.
Imaginations as mental multimodal images of fictional artefacts, institutions, technologies, concepts of living and forms of social organization have been conceptualized and described by scholars scattered across various disciplines such as philosophy (Castoriadis 1998, Blackford 2017, Heuser 2015), the social sciences (Appadurai 2010, Anderson 2016, Beckert 2013, Samli 2011, Weller/Bucher 2016), history (Graf/Herzog 2016) and the biosciences (Hoffmann/Furcht 2014).
In the innovation discourse, research scholars like Bassett, Steinmueller and Voss (2013), Archibugi (2017a, 2017b), and Michaud (2017) have pointed towards the inherent relation between innovation and imagination and the potential use and benefit working with such imaginations found in Science Fiction (Archibugi 2017a, Steinmueller 2016, Lundvall 2017, Michaud 2017, Bucher 2019). The process of imaginations being transmitted over time, evolving and finally coming into existence as innovations has been investigated rarely dispersed across the different scientific disciplines, often focusing on specific aspects and not the whole process.
Literature regarding the front-end of innovation often emphasizes managing creativity regarding the creation of ideas and finding solutions (e.g., Floren/Frishammar 2012, Hüsig/Kohn 2003, Kim/Wilemon 2002; Dziallas 2018), but they usually do not consider the imaginations that feed and drive creativity.
Can the process of an imagination manifesting as an innovation be reconstructed? How is imagination manifesting as innovation? What influences this process of manifestation?
Using an historic case and contemporary examples, we broadly follow a case study research strategy (Yin 2013, Eisenhardt 1989) mixed with qualitative case examples (Baxter/Jack 2010) and intend to explore the process and understand how imaginations evolve and get realized as innovations, identifying core aspects influencing the evolution and transition to an innovation.
As empirical basis we collected secondary data of the historic case study of Wernherr v. Braun and his agenda to realize man in space, supported by several complementary historic as well as contemporary case examples such as Elon Musk’s use of Science Fiction Imaginations as inspiration as well as for marketing purposes (Bucher 2019), the ESA’s work with Science Fiction to identify potential exploitable imaginations (Raitt/Warmbein 2004), predating Johnsons (2011) concept of Science Fiction Prototyping, and the German Federal Institute for Research on Building, Urban Affairs and Spatial Development’s study on the influence of the Science Fiction Culture on the technological development of the city (BBSR 2015).
Individuals, the social imagination and artefacts encompassing literature, audio books and plays, pod- and vodcasts, movies, serial video formats, art and architecture in general. Groups and individuals develop these imaginations further and promote them utilizing media and art. Influencing the social imagination as well as the individual imagination of creatives, innovators, researchers, developers and engineers, that reproduce, develop and potentially realize these imaginations as manifested innovations. They may be innovators and they may be visionaries, but these concepts do not fit the core trait of what we call imaginators – individuals and groups that try to actively realize imaginations. They set agendas and attempt to influence the social imagination using various kinds of media and art(-ists).
Contribution to Scholarship
We aim to add to this field of research conceptualizing imagination as an inherent element of the innovation process, by identifying several key aspects of the transition from imagination to innovation. Teleologically there are two general kinds of imaginations: There are the ones that (are used to) preserve and stabilize the status quo, existing interpretations, institutions and orders, systems, functionalities and artefacts. One of the most prominent examples for such a preserving imagination has been framed by Anderson (2016) – the imaginary institution of the nation, a fictive but yet powerful entity defining and unifying a heterogeneous social group. However, there are also ones that convey ideas of alternative future possibilities (and vice versa, possible futures) and are called radical imaginations. The radical imaginations encompass yet again everything from the human individual to social systems, the environment we live in and interact with, technologies, and artefacts in general.
Contribution to Practice
Typically, organisational innovation processes start with a problem to solve or an idea to be realized. However, these practises might have limitations in understanding and shaping long-term developments of research driven technological innovations such as LED (Funk 2018), sometimes also referenced as “long nose of innovation” (Buxton 2008) or moon shot projects without an initial economic impetus such as space travelling (Heuser 2015, Bucher 2019).
Exploring the influence of imaginations on innovation it is shown how imaginations drive innovation and how they can be used to create value. Firms and entrepreneurs could adopt ideas and use imaginations actively in order to get inspired or promote their visions to gain legitimacy among customers, investors and society.
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