Innovation and Postmodernism
For the past two academic years, I have placed the concept of innovation like a jewel on a cloth and inspected it from many angles, applied differing light, and wore several lenses from differing world-views, traditions, and opinions. All this in hopes of helping see others taste of what Isaiah gives witness to: “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:19). It seems fitting to put on one last set of lenses as we close out the year – the lenses of Post-modernism.
In Stephen Hick’s summary of postmodernism, this worldview includes “metaphysical antirealism, epistemological subjectivity, the placing of feeling at the root of all issues, the consequent relativism of both knowledge and values, and the consequent devaluing or disvaluing of the scientific enterprise” (Explaining Postmodernism, 81). Given Hick’s four-fold summary definition of postmodernism, how does postmodernism both encourage and impede innovation?
How Postmodernism Fosters Innovation
Postmodernism places the locus of truth in narrative form. If modernism was a list of bullet points, postmodern is a tale, “Once upon a time…” Innovation thrives in the context of narrative. Narrative includes protagonists, antagonists, and history. Co-creating and collaboration are more conducive in the context of narrative. This serves the Christian innovator well because the seed of innovation, then, is placed in the Story that is bookended by a Creator making humans in His own creative image, and ends with a declaration, “Behold! I am making all things new.” The Christian story is about renewal from the first page to the last.
Postmodernism also allows for a more organic and creative approach, when compared to modernism. Hicks put’s it like this, “Science’s most successful models then were mechanistic and reductionistic. When applied to human beings, such models posed an obvious threat to the human spirit. What place is there for free will and passion, spontaneity and creativity if the world is governed by mechanism and logic, causality and necessity?” (26). Postmodernism encourages more of an agile approach. One innovation theorist even reduces modernism to the term “static” and postmodernism to “dynamic” (Holander). While that is overly simplistic, it gets to the heart of the type of movement offered in postmodernism.
In addition, postmodernism encourages freedom. Challenging the status quo, a willingness to shatter the sacred cows, and reconsidering long-held assumptions lay at the heart of both postmodernism and effective innovation.
How Postmodernism Impedes Innovation
Postmodernism struggles with the concept of logos. Locating the root of truth in feelings creates a subjective and relative experience. Dia-logos, or dialogue, becomes very trying in a postmodern context. Collaboration and co-creation are hampered because there isn’t an agreed-upon reasoning or sense of true and just. If we are innovating, like IDEO.org, towards a more just and inclusive world – then justice for whom? What form or justice? Why inclusivity? What makes that the most sought-after virtue? Postmodernism hinders the notion of robust dialogue working towards a better future. We’ve discussed elsewhere college campuses not allowing speakers to engage on their campus with whom they disagree. Innovation needs a rigorous dialogue of differing opinions.
Postmodernism also has little to say about the telos of innovation. The Bible would contend that the telos of innovation is the flourishing of humankind for the glory of God. Ever since our placement in Eden, the goal has been to rearrange the raw, God-given materials of the “garden” so that all could flourish by means of the cultural mandate. Another way to consider it is that postmodern supplies no “Why?” for innovation.
Resentment, arrogance, and deceit pervades the emotional ethos of postmodernism (Peterson). A pessimism and deconstructive tendency have little optimism for co-creating a future worth fighting for. Victimhood/oppressor dichotomies that stem from group identities also inhibit innovation because they provide unhelpful mental maps of power. The postmodern worldview discourages responsibility for moving towards change. An overemphasis on rights impedes self-efficacy on the world, a building block of true innovation.
To Postmodern or Not To Postmodern?
Jordan Peterson would describe Postmodernism as a “pit of snakes” to be avoided and attacked with all one has. Harlander, on the other hand, makes a call for a wholesale of adoption of postmodernism with all haste. Which is it? I’d like to suggest that we look for something beyond both modernism and postmodernism. A burgeoning field of philosophy is “transmodernism” that is attempting to critique both modernism and postmodernism as well as lift up the virtues of each. While I’m not versed well enough in transmodernism to espouse or endorse it, I applaud they willingness to look for something beyond, something forward, something even innovative in itself. Could it be possible to keep the narrative-based, organic, creative, and free expressions of postmodernism while avoiding the weak view of logos, telos and emotional ethos of postmodernism? I’m not sure. I’m most troubled by the lack of dialogue in Academia, but I must believe that those who have the courage to innovate in every field will help move towards this alternate future reality.
Harlander, Jayme, “Innovation, Culture and the Path to Postmodernism: Finland vs. Denmark” (2018). All College Thesis Program, 2016-2019. 53.
Hicks, Stephen. Explaining Postmodernism Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau To Foucault. Phoenix: Scholargy Custom, 2004.
Peterson, Jordan. “Postmodernism: How and Why it Must be Fought.” Youtube. Accessed 22 April, 2021.
5 responses to “Innovation and Postmodernism”
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Great, thoughtful analysis and critique in conversation with innovation. Your piece really helped clarify for me the opportunity and challenges of co-creation within a postmodern milieu. A concept that has stuck out to me throughout these two years is that of softening my certainty. This practice could serve to hold the tension between modern & postmodern approaches to innovation.
Great analysis! I would agree that post modernism can be a pit of snakes. Whether looking at modernism or postmodernism each one has its challenges with Christianity. To deal with modernism some theologians broke things up into dispensations in order to make room for a speculative eschatology. Since eschatology is part of a future dispensation intellectualism is less critical since it is postulated like a scientific theory to be explored. Modernism gave little room for experience. In a postmodern world we have a lot of room for experience and little room for absolutes or divine truth. The question is can we as Christians adapt since there is little use in trying to refute it.
I haven’t heard of transmodernism, but based on the little snippet you’ve given it seems like an interesting route to take. Instead of an either/or dichotomy, we can see a both/and. Taking everything we’ve learned the past year of group dynamics and identity politics, the truth is not in the extremes, but somewhere in the middle. If you have any good starting places for where to start looking at transmodernism, would be keen to look into it.
I really appreciate the way you teased out each of these perspectives in regard to innovation. It helps to see how each has a role to play, but also how each falls short. I hadn’t heard the term transmodernism, but find it intriguing. I echo Dylan’s request for helpful resources as you come across them. The invitation innovation gives in bridging these two thought streams is that of embracing paradox- the both/and- and teaching people how to become comfortable in the uncomfortable that accompanies the certain uncertainty of paradox. How do you envision welcoming people into that space and accompanying them through the discomfort?
Good stuff, Shawn. You pulled more application from postmodernism than I think Hicks gave credit. From the vantage point of being a leader within a very established organization, I’m seeing lots of places where postmodernism simply rubs up against the structure and makes adaptation and innovation nearly impossible. Almost easier to just start something completely new than bring something old into this world. God may very well be doing something new, but it won’t be without obstacles and resistance!