A Fishy Tale from Norway

June 26, 2012

The contrary forces of innovation, Thomas Hoholm, Palgrave, ISBN 978 0 230 28366 4, 2011

Reviewed by Tudor Rickards

From time to time, a book for reviewing produces the response “Yes. That’s how it was for me too!” For me, this is one such book. It describes in rich detail and analysis a case study of the processes of innovative new product development. The environment of research and development (R&D) is beautifully captured.

Norway’s Blue/Green Strategy

The story has been described as a spin-off from the “Green Blue” strategy in Norway, which backed research into fisheries (blue) and agriculture (green). The specific innovations are traced to the research of a Professor Erik Slinde who was interested in industrializing Norway’s fish harvesting.

With entrepreneurial flair he hit on the idea of producing a fish-based salami. If you think that’s crazy get the book. If you think it’s a great idea, get the book. The little triumphs and disasters on the journey are convincingly reported.

Beyond a linear model of innovation

In his introduction, the author illustrates his departure from the traditional linear models of innovation as rather deterministic processes. Rather, he supports the notion of “path creation…that is known by a number of useful terms [including]: contingency, situatedness, relationality, heterogeneity, and co-creation” [page 1].

Hoholm argues that the management of innovation requires recognition of “a pluralistic power structure of leadership” [page 13].

Networks, paradoxes and dilemmas

This leads to an approach which examines innovation at the level of networks of interaction:

Corporate relationships shape and yet restrict or bound change

It is equally valid to say that a company defines relationships or that the company is defined by those relationships

Control of a network is desired but can become destructive

Actor Network theory

The author also draws on actor network theory, ANT, pioneered among others by Bruno Latour. Hoholm considers ANT “not so much a theory as an empirical and analytical methodology” [page 21].

He sees Latour’s work as a treatment which by-passes the agency/structure debate in social science in favour of a ‘circulating entity’ [page 22]. In more everyday terms, innovation like other social phenomena cannot be split into two entities such as agents and structures in search of causal explanations. This contrasts with much of popular explanations of innovation ‘caused’ by an individual, or an initiating idea triggering a linear sequence of consequences.

Why read this book?

I hope I have indicated why the book has appeal for researchers into innovation processes as well as a wider audience interested in how to conduct research in the social sciences