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iKnow Community: Sylvie BLANCO's Interview

Sylvie BLANCO's Interview

Sylvie BLANCO, Ecole De Management, France
Mini CV

Sylvie Blanco holds a PhD in business administration. Her thesis deals with business and technological intelligence systems. She is currently associate professor at Grenoble Ecole de Management, specializing in anticipation and entrepreneurial innovation. She is responsible for the Center for Innovation and Techno-Entrepreneurship, a knowledge center developing applied research activities.

Interview result

Can you envisage any major wild cards, positive or negative, that may occur in the next 20 years?
One example is a new generation or young people’s revolutions against the established system. This would be mostly against the economic system, refusing the idea of companies, profits, business leaders. It might be a refusal to work and contribute to the system. Another one is a population which is no longer wanting innovation and always seeking more, and which is willing to come back to the economy of few. One that is more in Europe is a shift towards a service industry.
Can you imagine a wild card relevant to the ERA research?
This wild card is the idea that there will be a dynamic and unexpected phenomenon of convergence and divergence between actors and territories at all levels (e.g. countries, regions and individuals). This is what will create failure in the ability to connect and create new things with actors.
How do you think this will affect the ERA vision?
The vision with this phenomenon of convergence and divergence cannot be one unique vision through road maps and key strategy areas. It has to be totally changed, in the way it is presented, and the way it evolves.
What do you think would be the dramatic impact of these wild cards you mentioned?

 The impact is the lack of researchers, an impact on the organization and the companies who exploit innovation. They may not be able to exploit this research in Europe if we have a shift towards a service industry, and difficulties in finding researchers, and young people not willing to enter into the system any more. So it might be difficult to create value in Europe based on our research. There might be a problem of funding. There might also be an impact from this kind of tension between actors and the problem of value creation, and countries and territories just focusing on themselves, with less collaboration. The impact of the wild card should be addressed in future research by developing more real-life experimentation-based research. New behaviours and policies of risk taking are needed, and less power of established experts, research organizations and R&D organizations. The door needs to be opened to new entrants and new generations.
Would this be in any particular field or do you see it as more multidisciplinary?
It is multidisciplinary.
Do you see any weak signals that could hint at the detection of the wild cards you mentioned?
Fewer young people are choosing scientific subjects at school and training programmes. There is some sort of societal power against technology. There is a tendency to create new forms of organizations, like leading labs. Even attractive companies are engaging in new forms of organizations which are not structured in the same way, and we have new forms of collaborative organizations. New business models are also being developed.
Do you see any causal relationships or other relationships between the wild cards and weak signals that you just identified?
They are very related. If we consider that young people are in a state of revolution against the established system, then it is easy to relate the wild card to the weak signal that they do not choose to engage in scientific careers.
Maybe the lack of scientifically trained people will lead to the shift to the service industry?
Yes. If there is a shift towards the service industry, it will be more difficult to absorb all the research that is being done in Europe. If society is fed up with innovation because it has been absorbing too much, then this idea of a counter power against technology and hi tech is a weak signal of this wild card.

Can you see any reason for this revolution against innovation and technology?

In France we have many problems with nano technologies. Some non- conforming associations have been created, which seem to be very powerful, even at the political level, and have an impact against investment in R&D.
Is this a particularly French example, or do you think it is more widespread?
It is quite widespread. In France we are very focused on nano and mirco technologies, but in the rest of the world there is research on the risks and accidents related to nano technology. So it is quite widespread that society and people are not that ready to integrate all kinds of technologies, even when the functionalities and the performance of the products are high.
It is as if technology and innovation have lost contact with the consumers and the people who are meant to use them.
There is this weak signal, with more and more people, society and consumers, involved in the innovation process. Then they become more educated and knowledgeable about the value of innovation and they contribute to create the value. Probably at some point there will be a problem about how much value to capture. Then probably in Europe there will be a problem about the way the value is shared amongst the stakeholders. They will be more knowledgeable and less satisfied with innovation, and will wonder whether it is worth entering into.
If we look ahead to the future of European research, which of the wild cards or weak signals that you mentioned should be given top priority in EU research?

 The next generations of people, because that is the way you are going to get the next generation of innovation models and values, the next generations of forms of organization, the next generations of contracts, employment, everything. So the point is to integrate the next generation into innovation activities, not only as potential users or future customers.
What are the most pressing issues?

The most pressing issue is to work on the new values. What are the values beyond economic values, especially in the field of innovation technology management and R&D management? Today I think that top managers are the main obstacle to innovation and to the expectation of R&D. The problem with top managers and management for research is that they are mainly targeted on profit, economic value, on the organization of things or resources. So it is urgent to have this population change their mental models and paradigms. It is not far from the way policy makers may decide about some huge investment in R&D, just investing in things, organizations and people they know and things they have already experienced.
Could you share with us other insights that you may have regarding long-run future research, taking into account the ERA vision and grand challenges?
We need devices to foster collective intelligence. Intelligence meaning that we are building new visions, new representations of the future to foster the future orientation of people and actors, and a place for learning by doing or action learning, a place for experimenting and acting just to learn.
Do you prefer any other definitions of wild cards and weak signals, or is this something that you use in your work?
I work more on weak signals than wild cards. If I look at your definition of a wild card, the way I used to work on weak signals is that it is very difficult for people to assess the likelihood and potential impact of the surprising event. They feel it is only based on their intuition, so either they are too afraid to share it with people, or it does not make sense for them to share it. For me, this level of likelihood or impact requires it to be established or assessed through sharing a point of view, so that you can feel more confident about the way you assess the likelihood or impact of a surprising or potential future.
Then if we look at weak signals, it is a very ambiguous concept. Your definition is enough, because it is only a concept, it is not for me a reality. It is very difficult in practice to say: ‘This is a weak signal and this is not’. It depends on the position of each individual. It is a useful concept for raising people’s awareness about potential future changes and potential deviations with established trends. It is important to stress a bit more that a weak signal is something that could be a precursor or an indicator. It is something that might be a deviation or discontinuity with the current trends or state of affairs. This idea that we won’t follow the established trajectory is important. What might be also interesting about these weak signals is how to use this kind of ambiguous information. How can you put them into the system, share them? What is the usefulness of working on weak signals? In France you are supposed to work on facts and figures, not on weak signals.
Moving onto interesting lessons from previous foresight – it is important to raise people’s awareness of their future orientations and different ways of combating the future; to raise people’s awareness about the way they see the future in an extrapolative way, through stories and scenarios and surprising evidence. This idea of wild card and weak signals needs to be linked to other ways of looking at the future. This is important because they are complementary. The future may remain as a trend for a long time, so it is necessary to link the different futures approaches and associated methods.
We also need to relate these foresight studies, weak signals and wild cards to knowledge from community science processes and human behaviour. Their value will emerge from the way people share their understanding and create new knowledge and new presentations. Community processes are very important. Weak signals in themselves don’t bring anything, it is the interpretation you put on it, what you add to weak signals that is important. It is also a way for people to talk about the future and fears and threats.
I talked at the start about very negative potential events. I think weak signals and wild cards could sometimes be used more to target more policy change thinking about the future. It could be interesting to integrate this, so we can use weak signals and wild cards in a positive way, rather than identifying threats.
What do you feel are the best methods to identify wild cards and weak signals?

Simulation processes. Collectivism. You take pieces of information that you feel are surprising and you try to link ideas or pieces of information to form a picture that makes sense. There is a huge amount of literature about processes, and I think this is a very good method. It is not a method of identification of weak signals, which is too objective and not constructive. For me what is important is the building of a weak signal. It is more like making sense of it, playing it out.

Interviewer (Institution)

Manchester Institute of Innovation Research

Manchester Institute of Innovation Research

Innovations - new products, services and ways of making or doing things - are fundamental to business success and to economic growth and development. Manchester is one of the founding centres for the study of science, technology and innovation. The Manchester Institute of Innovation Research builds on a forty year old tradition of study in the area. More...

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