The Overlooked Roots of Innovations: Exploring the Relevance of Imagination on Innovation Using Science Fiction

The Overlooked Roots of Innovations: Exploring the Relevance of Imagination on Innovation Using Science Fiction

Julien Bucher (Chemnitz University of Technology, Germany)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7638-9.ch003

Abstract

Imagination is an often-overlooked integral element of human progress, in general, and innovations, in particular. In this chapter, it is argued that the examination of the diffusion and evolution of imaginations and their manifestation as innovations can help to understand the imaginative roots of innovations and to create a responsibly chosen path into a sustainable future. Science fiction as a specific area of manifested imagination is used to show how manifested imaginations influence the social imagination in general and certain individuals like scientists and innovators in particular. It is even used to sell ideas (or make them stick) and give them heritage, again influencing the social imagination. And the accelerated fusion, development, and progress of technologies in the wake of the digitalization is enabling fast and vast diffusion and distribution of imaginations, creating a need to explore, understand, and responsibly utilize imaginations.
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Introduction

On the way back to earth in 1969, the crew of the Apollo 11 mission was voicing their personal impressions and experiences of the trip to the moon and the landing on it in U.S. prime time television. Neil Armstrong kicked off the transmission from their capsule with the following words:

“Good evening. This is the commander of Apollo 11. A hundred years ago, Jules Verne wrote a book about a voyage to the Moon. His spaceship, Columbia, took off from Florida and landed in the Pacific Ocean after completing a trip to the Moon. It seems appropriate to us to share with you some of the reflections of the crew as the modern-day Columbia completes its rendezvous with the planet Earth and the same Pacific Ocean tomorrow.” (Armstrong 1969)

Neil Armstrong decided to connect this special moment in human history with an imaginative idea of space travel and landing on the moon emerged in the Science Fiction novel by Jules Verne. Verne introduced with his moon travel story the possibilities in the future without having the technology or any context actually to realize this vision of man in space. But he spread the imagination of it in his writings 100 years before the actual moon landing was realized.

On February 6th, 2018 the private spaceflight company SpaceX launched its innovative Falcon Heavy rocket from Launch Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, the same site, that the team of the Apollo 11 mission took off from. On this test flight, the main technical spectacle was the successful launch of the “most powerful operational rocket in the world”, ending with the simultaneous landing of the two side boosters of the rocket – and the crash of its center core. Musk, known for its various business ventures like Tesla, SpaceX, Neuralink and the Boring Company (not to forget his early ventures, Zip2 and X.com, which later merged with Confinity to become PayPal), also used the rocket to launch a Tesla Model 3 into the orbit. Besides that, being an impressive cross-promotional marketing decision, he also shed light on its imaginative influences: On the main screen of the car “DON’T PANIC!” was displayed, written in capital letters like an imperative or a shout and obviously contradicting itself – just like the book it is referencing, Douglas Adams “The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy“ (Adams 1989). In this humorous Science Fiction series, the protagonist finds this eponymic guide and the first thing he reads, since it is written on its envelope, is the short imperative Musk borrowed: “DON’T PANIC”.

These two words seem to remind anyone involved in the project and watching the spectacle, that they are experiencing a milestone, a potential breakthrough or failure in the history of space travel – but whether the case, DON’T PANIC! – in the end, this is just a small step, the ideas behind and desires that spawned and drive this project are quite old and have been discussed and explored for centuries, captured and preserved for later discourses in media artifacts that influence and are influenced by the social and individual imagination.

In this chapter it is argued, that imagination is an often overlooked integral element of the human progression in general and innovations in particular and that the examination of the diffusion and evolution of imaginations and their manifestation as innovations can help to understand the imaginative roots of innovations and help to create a responsibly chosen path into a sustainable future. Focusing on Science Fiction as a specific area of manifested imagination, it will be argued that Science Fiction is influencing the social imagination in general and certain individuals like scientists and innovators in particular, and that it is even used to sell certain ideas (or make them stick) and give them heritage, again influencing the social imagination – besides the discussion and conceptualization of technological and social fictions already mentioned before.

The article is structured in the following way: At first, the basics are covered with paragraphs on imagination, innovation, and the Information Age, Imagination Age, and the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Then the focus shifts to Science Fiction with a short explanation on the selection of this specific field and an exploration of research on Science Fiction. Historic and present case examples of Science Fiction in the context of innovation, research & development and value creation in general, are used in the course of the chapter to show how Science Fiction is and could be used to foster innovations and to explore and possibly prepare for their implications and consequences.

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