Destructive Creation, Creative Destruction and the Paradox of Innovation Science

Destructive Creation, Creative Destruction and the Paradox of Innovation Science


Cao, Chen, Evans


Destructive Creation, Creative Destruction, and the Paradox of Innovation Science

Likun Cao, Ziwen Chen, James Evans. 2022. (View Paper → )

Innovation, or the creation and diffusion of new material, social, and cultural things in society, has been widely studied in sociology and across the social sciences. The investigations are so diverse and dispersed that they become unnavigable. This complexity results from innovation's importance for society, but also the fundamental paradox underlying innovation science: When innovation becomes predictable, it ceases to be an engine of novelty and change. Here, we review innovation studies and show that innovations emerge from contexts of discord and disorder, breaches in the structure of prior success, through a process we term "destructive creation." This often leads to a complementary process of "creative destruction," whereby local structures protect and channel the diffusion of successful innovations, rendering alternatives obsolete. We find that social scientists naturally focus far more on how social and cultural contexts influence material innovations than the converse.

  • The paradox of innovation: When stable patterns of innovation are understood, codified, and institutionalized, it stops being true innovation. This goes beyond semantics. Once innovation becomes predictable and integrated into established economic and societal systems, it loses its ability to bring about new and unexpected changes.
  • Both Karl Marx and Joseph Schumpeter recognised modern capitalism as an engine of innovation, but they doubted its predictability and sustainability.
  • Innovations tend to emerge when established structures and their defences are dismantled, leading to conflict and chaos. The author’s coin the term destructive creation to describe this process which precedes the companion process of creative destruction. In creative destruction, emerging innovations make previous ones irrelevant as they are spread and supported by social, cultural, and technical structures.
  • What’s important to innovation?
    • Cognitive Conflict: Encourages the challenging of existing ideas and assumptions, leading to new perspectives and creative solutions.
    • Diversity: Brings varied experiences, viewpoints, and skills, which contribute to a richer pool of ideas and approaches.
    • Team Dynamics: Effective collaboration and interaction within diverse teams enhance the ability to address complex problems innovative ways.
    • Network Centrality improves innovation innovation performance. This is attributed to more control over information and resources and greater access to dissonant information across otherwise disconnected individuals and organisations.
  • Innovative success enriches and empowers once-innovative individuals and institutions, which then may defend against new waves of innovation. This resistance to change forces novel sources of innovation to emerge from new areas of science, technology, and society.
  • Technological advances in capitalist societies can increase relative surplus-value, narrowing the accumulation of capital to the winners of industrial competition. This enlarges the wealth gap and potentially incentivises the destruction of capitalism from within.