Each member of the MAIM Class of 2014 shares their individual experiences of innovation in the lead up to our Degree Show Exploiting Chaos: Innovation in the Making. Here Kerilyn Tacconi leverages observations about cultural contexts in application for innovation.
In his book Reinventing the Sacred, Stuart Kauffman discusses ‘The Two Cultures’ of science and art and their unfortunate split. Though a scientist himself, Kauffman admits that science cannot answer the whole problem or provide all the answers to human meaning. In order ‘to live in our full world’, we need to engage with the spaces of science, arts, politics, ethics and the spiritual. My research investigated business science and the art industry to observe innovation opportunities. I did this by managing an arts hub in Hackney and researching the philosophy of aesthetics.
I was initially sceptical of the business space, especially its efficiency, predictability, control and calculability. Sometimes, organisations prioritise these elements in neglect of the humanity of people working in and served by them. Don Slater and other consumer theorists would say this alienation of people from producers is a necessary component of economic exchange. But I wondered if there is a wider spectrum of effective practices.
In seeking innovative practice, I turned to the philosophy of aesthetics. First I looked at the characteristics of aesthetic objects, to consider how economic offerings might mimic them. Aesthetic objects are both sensory and symbolic, with the sensory elements working to achieve the symbolic effect. At their best they are objects of contemplation, which according to Paul Klee ‘make visible’ new ideas. I wondered how economic offerings could do more than satisfy carnal desires, how they could support symbolic aspirations.
In order to produce meaningful results, the production of aesthetic objects requires sensitivity to the consumer’s perspective, more than the producer’s. This got me thinking about empathy as the process through which aesthetic objects are developed, and as the outcome of engagement with aesthetics. Many organisations utilise tools like user-centred design and consumer insights, but I wonder if empathetic capacity is a next stage in development.
After considering aesthetic objects and their production, I also noted the impact of aesthetics on their contexts. Art does not exist in a vacuum: works such as John Cage’s 4’33” and Warhol’s Brillo Pad Boxes would be boring outside the context they challenge. This made me consider how organisations and offerings can position themselves against ills or disquiet in society.
I wonder if organisations could gain competitive advantage from considering meaning in offerings, empathy in process and rebellion in strategy. Rationality and the system of economic exchange are not worth demonising, but rather redeeming and elevating through integration with new elements such as these from aesthetics.
To learn more about cultural contexts and Kerilyn’s research, please join us at the MA Innovation Management upcoming Degree Show, Exploiting Chaos: Innovation in the Making, from the 18-22 June.