Why don’t we benefit from Societal Innovations as Readily as Technological Innovations?

Posted on January 22, 2018
By Denis Pageau

Website_Image_technology_engagement-820133-edited.jpgSince 1785 there have been 5 waves with respect to our technological knowledge. Each wave doubled the knowledge we had previously accumulated. We are now in the 6th wave. This technological knowledge produced technological innovations such as steam engines, light bulbs, cars, planes, computers, smartphones, etc. We can safely conclude that we have been very successful in using our technological knowledge to create technological innovations. 

There are many reasons why technological knowledge quickly becomes technological innovations.

First, each technological hypothesis can be proven at the moment it is tried. A steam engine works or does not work. A plane flies or does not fly. When a technological innovation does not work, the inventors go back to the drawing board and they try again until they succeed or until they come to the conclusion that they cannot reach the goal that they want to reach.

Second, technological innovations are facilitated by the fact that often many tests can be performed on the same day or over a shorter or shorter period of time: a few days, a few weeks, a few months.

Third, the materials that are used to create the technological innovations are inert and stable. Thus, when Edison worked with bamboo to make filaments, regardless of the size and thickness of the bamboo filament used, the properties of bamboo remained the same.

Fourth, when the innovation is realized, we can reproduce it as long as we have access to the same materials and we have the knowledge and skills to reproduce it, which facilitates production.

Fifth, technological innovation produces financial benefits by either filling existing needs more efficiently or at greater scale.

Technological innovation is therefore enabled by immediate feedback, the multiplication of the cycle of trial and error, the perseverance of researchers, the stability of materials, the possibility of manufacturing innovation easily and the financial incentive.

Can we say the same thing about the transformation of our social knowledge into societal innovations? How does this difficulty affect governance?

Why are societal innovations so difficult to achieve?

Over the past few hundred years, we have also increased our psychological and social knowledge. However it has not always been transformed into visible societal innovations. At least, not enough to prevent the many forms of social tensions, frictions and conflicts that we still see all over the world today including terrorism and wars or bullying, racism, sexism, etc.

Societal innovations are more difficult to achieve because we cannot reap the benefits of the mechanisms that facilitate the transformation of technological knowledge into technological innovations. We cannot see if the innovation works or not as soon as we try. Months or even years may pass before we know whether innovation works. Moreover, a human being is not inert and stable, and we cannot manufacture innovation, it must be internalized by every citizen. And societal innovation is not always correlated to material wealth.

The process of internalization can be very long and the success of the process depends on several elements. The time the citizen has at his disposal, his interest in the field of innovation, his ability to interpret what he reads, what he sees or hears, his ability to use information, the compatibility between the objective of the innovation and his personal, group or collective objectives as well as his capacity and his desire to implement it. This can lead a citizen to partially implement a social innovation, not implement it at all, encourage others not to implement it and even organise a group to fight the implementation. It is this ability to decide, which is what liberty is all about, that impedes the implementation of societal innovations. Not only does it undermine the implementation of social innovations, but our ability to decide is at the heart of social and societal tensions, frictions and conflicts.

How to facilitate the implementation of societal innovations?

The key to facilitating the implementation of societal innovations and thus:

• reduce the level of social, tensions and frictions
• solve them when we can’t prevent them, and
• manage them better when we can’t solve them

lies in the way we manage our societies. More specifically, the key lies in the way we manage the societal dynamic present in each of our societies.


How to manage the societal dynamic?

To manage societal dynamics, one must first know that in a society there are four types of resources, natural, human, abstract and transformed, and three types of actions, individual, group and collective that is all. Secondly, it must be understood that actions can positively or negatively affect the quality, quantity and availability of societal resources. Finally, it must also be understood that the change in the quality, quantity and availability of resources can in turn affect actions positively or negatively. It is this interdependence between actions and resources that creates societal dynamics.

The Importance of Abstract Resources

Abstract resources are the key to managing the societal dynamics of a society because they include knowledge, beliefs, laws, regulations, goals and objective which guides actions of a citizen. Abstract resources may be positive or negative depending if they affect positively and negatively the quality, the quantity and the availability of the other societal resources in a society.

When only one citizen has an abstract resource, the impact that the citizen has usually is very minimal, but when the same abstract resource is shared by all citizens, then citizens can have a very important impact. It is the precedence of an abstract resource that explains the functioning of a society on a given subject.

For example, if in a society there is only one citizen who is against homosexuality while the majority of citizens accept that homosexuality is a natural sexual orientation, its impact will generally be very minimal and society will then respect the homosexual person. However, if the majority of citizens are against it, it will be the opposite. This explains why in one society homosexuality will be accepted while in others the person will be sentenced to death. This also explains racism, sexism and other forms of intolerance in any society.

Promote Societalogical abstract resources

Societalogical Abstract resources are guidelines that allow citizens, including civic leaders, government officials and politicians, to guide their actions so that they have a positive impact on all resources, but especially on citizens. The guidelines aim to assess whether actions facilitate:

1. the development as well as the social and societal integration of citizens,
2. the functioning and development of collectivities,
3. the functioning and development of governments as they work on achieving the first two points.

While creating or maintaining an environment where citizens are free to develop as they wish (Freedom) and where, when appropriate, they self-restrain to allow for the liberty of their fellow citizens. (Liberty)

An Important Societal Innovation

The identification of abstract societal resources is an important societal innovation, as the sharing of this knowledge and the implementation of its guidelines will help us achieve a balance in the way we respond to the individual and collective needs of citizens. This will:

• reduce the level of social, tensions and frictions
• optimize the use of our societal resources as well as
• increase the quality of life for all citizens.

Moving away from the right-left and the moral-immoral social constructs and focusing instead on the guidelines produced by this social innovation will help reduce the level of social tensions, frictions and conflicts that naturally arise because we are social beings and because we live in societies.

For more information please visit my website Denis Pageau or contact me directly at 1-844-568-6793. You can also find Denis on Twitter and Facebook!

Community Engagement, Community Innovation, Social Innovation, social learning, technology

Denis Pageau

By Denis Pageau

Mr. Denis Pageau is an independent researcher, a strategic planner and a system thinker who uses the lenses of management to study societies as organizations and the role that citizens play in them. This approach led to the development of a new management science specifically built to study societies and citizens.

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