“Innovation.” This is a mantra repeated again and again everywhere you look, and with good reason: innovation is a necessity for businesses of all sizes that want to be competitive in the marketplace. But the fact is that innovation is not something so natural: “innovate” means “change” in the first place, and change is something that people try very hard to avoid. Resistance to change is well-known in psychology, but it is a concept that is mostly applied to individuals or organizations and is often overlooked at a broader level. Yet, “collective” resistance to change exists: just think of how many resources are devoted to preserving existing jobs and how many, on the other hand, to creating new ones.
Innovation and resistance to change
The unknown frightens: it is probably no coincidence that a more or less secret dream of many cultures is a “return to a past ‘Golden Age'” instead of striving towards a bright future. Change makes people uncomfortable, forces them to revise their behaviors and mental habits, and many of the social tensions we see in recent years can be traced to a reaction to change, albeit social rather than technological. But change also forces one to take risks: “He who leaves the old road for the new, knows what he leaves but does not know what he finds,” the saying goes. And change also entails an ethical dilemma: in the face of benefits (often future and not always entirely certain) there can be negative consequences, perhaps more limited but certain. A scenario similar to the ethical trolley problem.
Is it easier to innovate if you have nothing to lose?
The main issue inherent in innovation is the risk factor: change becomes more difficult the more “you have something to lose.” Radical innovation is more likely in “emerging” countries that have the resources to create innovation but lack the (perceived) wealth to have too much to lose. For the avoidance of doubt, we are talking about probabilities: there are many other factors that come into play. But looking at history rather than geography, this may be one of the factors in explaining why Italy has lost competitiveness since the postwar period.
Change for everything to stay the same?
In countries with “established” economies, innovation often runs the risk of having the purpose of defending one’s position, rather than the purpose of moving forward. However, this approach is not always sufficient, as the rest of the world may not be idle.