The Need for a Free Innovation Paradigm

Thomas Kuhn defined scientific paradigms as "universally recognized scientific achievements that, for a time, provide model problems and solutions for a community of researchers” (1962, viii). Having a paradigm in place that is widely accepted, as in the case of the producer innovation paradigm, can be very helpful to scientific advancement. Once a paradigm is in place, as Kuhn writes, researchers can engage in very productive "normal science,” testing and more precisely filling in pieces of a paradigm now assumed to be correct in broad outline. However, as Kuhn also explains, a paradigm never adequately explains "everything” within a field. In fact, observations that do not fit the reigning paradigm commonly emerge during the work of normal science, but are often ignored in favor of pursuing productive advance within the paradigm.

In the case of innovation research, empirical evidence related to free innovation in the household sector has been increasing during recent years. However, innovations developed and diffused without compensated transactions are entirely outside the Schumpeterian producer innovation paradigm—and, indeed, entirely outside the transaction- based framework of economics in general. Ignoring this evidence has allowed researchers to do productive work within the Schumpeterian paradigm, while deferring the work of incorporating free innovation into our paradigmatic understanding of innovation processes.

Eventually, Kuhn writes, conflicts between the predictions of a reigning paradigm and real-world observations may become so pervasive or so important that they can no longer be ignored, and at that point, the reigning paradigm may be challenged by a new one (Kuhn 1962). I propose that this situation has been reached in the case of transaction-free innovation processes developed and utilized by free innovators in the household sector. I therefore frame the free innovation paradigm both as a challenge to the Schumpeterian innovation paradigm, and also as a useful complement. Both paradigms describe important innovation processes, with the free paradigm codifying important phenomena in the household sector that the producer innovation paradigm does not incorporate.

With respect to my proposal of complementary innovation paradigms functioning in parallel, it is important to note that Kuhn developed his concept of paradigms to explain how revolutions in understanding occur in the natural sciences. Central to his argument was that a new paradigm replaces an existing one in a "scientific revolution.” However, today the idea of paradigms has expanded beyond the study of natural sciences to the study of social sciences as well. In the social sciences, Kuhn's observation that new paradigms replace earlier ones is not always followed. Multiple paradigms may coexist as complementary or competing perspectives. (See, e.g., Guba and Lincoln 1994.) It is with that view in mind that I propose the free innovation paradigm as a complement to the producer innovation paradigm rather than as a replacement. I am proposing that each usefully frames a portion of extant innovation activity.

Note that by proposing and describing the free innovation paradigm, I by no means claim that research needed to support it is complete. Indeed, I wish to claim precisely the opposite. A new paradigm is most useful when understandings of newly observed phenomena are emergent and when ideas regarding a possible underlying unifying structure are needed to help guide the new research (Kuhn 1962). This is the role I hope the free innovation paradigm described in this book will play. If it is successful, it will usefully frame and support important research questions and findings not encompassed by the existing Schumpeterian producer-centered paradigm, and so provide an improved platform for further advances in innovation research, policymaking, and practice.

In the remainder of this chapter, I give very brief overviews of the contents of the succeeding chapters. In chapters 2-7, I present and discuss the core of the free innovation paradigm theory and related empirical findings. In chapters 8-10, I explore important contextual matters, including the broad scope of free innovation, the personal characteristics associated with free innovators' success, and the legal rights available to free innovators. Finally, in chapter 11, I suggest and discuss some next steps for theory building, policymaking, and practice related to the free innovation paradigm.

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