Invention As A Hub

In a linear model of innovation, innovation is imagined to proceed through an orderly sequence of steps, from pure scientific research, to applied science, formulation as a technology, then developing and scaling up distribution of that technology as a product. One alternative model might be that of a “techno-social hub”. In a techno-social hub model, science, applied science, capital provision, product development and the exchange of products and services in the market are connected to each other through a media of technology and social processes. This can be represented graphically as a techno-social hub node connected by a single edge to nodes representing research, applied research, and so on. These nodes are similar but not identical to the stages in the linear model of innovation.

The techno-social model is an improvement on the linear model, as it distinguishes different factors in innovation without unrealistically segregating those factors. It represents that once a technological or process innovation is made, influence doesn’t flow in a straight line, but feeds back to different parts of society via the artifact or social change. For example, the development and use of the Newcomen steam engine in factories in 18th century Britain opened up the possibility of applied research and prototypes of steam trains by the early 19th and the capital provision required to build railway networks. The steam engine also spurred pure research in thermodynamics and was an influence on the psychological theories of Freud.

Operationally this model recognises the importance of institutions and organisations that support each aspect of innovation, such as universities for basic research and markets for exchange and use. By emphasizing the links between different stages it might direct policy makers and people in the field to the importance of good communications amongst organisations, via physical co-location, libraries, journal publication, less formal collaboration over the Internet, and so on. It recognises that, in William Gibson’s phrase, “the street finds its own use for things”, and that research and capital should be able to dynamically react to new uses of a technology.

A disadvantage of the model may be underemphasizing the links between closely related areas, such as basic and applied research. By placing technology at the centre of the model, it tends to technological determinism. The social aspect of the techno-social may also be too broad a category to effectively operationalise for setting innovation policy. Overall, however, the techno-social hub model avoids the constraints of the linear model at the cost of being slightly harder to say, and draw.

The Consensus Reality Based Community


1. There’s a concept from science fiction criticism which has become a favourite of mine. Indeed it seems fundamental to this 21st century glocal postmodernity of ours, the concept of consensus reality.
1.1 It is worth remembering that this consensus often refers to the beliefs of the society in the work under criticism, in which marmalade may be money, spaceships may fly faster than light, and handheld communicators with vid screens may be ubiquitous.

2. The idea of consensus reality neatly captures several insights.
2.1 Reality proper, what Kant called the unsynthesized manifold, is unavoidably mediated by our senses and brain.
2.2 Our model of the world is socially constructed by a group we live in.
2.3 Powerful institutions of mainstream thought – like large newspapers – work within certain parameters of perception.
2.3.1 The first page of search engine results are representative. They are consensus reality engines. Common sense engines, in Bruce Sterling’s words.
2.4 Something in the consensus is inevitably and always wrong.
2.4.1 The consensus contains arguments with known for and against positions. The argument itself can be wrong, irrelevant, meaningless side effect, not resolvable as either pro or con, etc.
2.5 Broad consensus realities often have enduring correlations with events.
2.6 Consensus is reinforced by breadth.

3. Kuhn’s concept of a scientific paradigm resembles a consensus reality, but is far more systematic.
3.1 Consensus reality includes cultural convention and everyday discussion including obvious internal logical contradictions.
3.2 Consensus reality is intuitive.
3.3 Consensus reality may be surprising – chance events – but not unanticipated ones.
3.3.1 “Black swans” are demonstrations of consensus reality.
3.3.2 Commuting to work is also demonstrative.

4. A reality based community responds to empirical sense-data.
4.1 Measures.
4.2 Adjusts in response to changes in data.
4.3 Follows technique.
4.3.1 Technique may be systematic. It may have a model. The model may be tested empirically and systematically. One might use a randomised controlled trial, or survey, or historical data source, or blind peer review.
4.4 Reality based communities survive by adaptation.
4.5 Strongly reality based communities would necessarily be scientific communities.
4.5.1 No serious political community today is also a scientific community. Establishing professional pools of expertise for these processes is necessary but not sufficient. Any such group analysing a public problem is inherently political. This is technocracy.

5. The consensus reality based community is always broad, often well-established and always vulnerable to disruption of its reality.
5.1 This is the nature of Karl Rove’s insult.
5.1.1 By always anchoring themselves in well established consensus reality, Rove’s opponents fail to react to events initiated by his faction which change the broad understanding of reality.
5.1.2 Rove’s faction has since, with amusing consistency, repeatedly showed themselves to not be reality based. This faction acts as an alternative consensus reality based community.
5.1.3 In rejecting the dominant consensus reality, and its rhetoric of objective evaluation, they went straight on and also rejected a reality base for their community. This is not a survival technique. On the day of the 2012 US Presidential election, both major parties expected to win.
5.2 The consensus reality based community may even tacitly acknowledge it is not reality based.
5.2.1 This is a society in which the consensus ritual detaches from its social meaning.
5.2.2 Incongruence between political consensus reality and reality manifests in scandal. Fin de siècle Vienna. Late Ming China.
5.2.3 Incongruence between social consensus reality and geophysics and biology manifests in natural disaster. The Aral Sea.
5.2.4 Incongruence between financial consensus reality and economic and psychological reality manifests in financial crisis. CDOs and CDSs. South Sea Bubble. Louisiana. Tulips.

6. The siblings of consensus reality are the consensus future and the consensus past.
6.1 Revision is the change of the consensus past.
6.2 Changes to the consensus future feel like betrayal or relief.