What is your definition of innovation? How does it differ from the concepts of progress or invention?
X. P. Progress is moving forward, the constant wish to progress, to evolve. It is a selfless process, in which no one, neither an individual nor an organisation, claims ownership of the advances. We thus speak of progress in knowledge because this knowledge is shared by all. Invention is more the development of something new by an organisation or an individual, whether it is an object or a way of doing things.
Innovation starts when this invention is put on the market and starts to bring returns. To innovate is to change, changing in order to survive, to create value. There is a strong link between innovation and competition. All organisations need these gains to reinvest and anticipate the changes to come.
If innovation is linked to competition, how can it be put to the common good?
X. P. Companies will always need to innovate to survive, but today they are operating in a new environment. The acceleration of knowledge, the pervasiveness of the Internet, the awareness of new issues, environmental ones in particular, mean that we can no longer innovate as before. Innovators need to question the meaning of what they are doing and consider their responsibility.
Some are already doing this, by incorporating the issue of preserving mankind and the environment into their business strategy. But this is still too rare. One of the keys to change, for responsible innovation, is certainly therefore to provide our students with the tools to ponder these subjects, to develop a critical approach, to question the issues. For decades, innovation as we learned it and taught it has been synonymous with fame, wealth, control. The philosophers of antiquity would say that we are dominated by these passions.
"Educating the innovators of tomorrow is one of the keys to change."
Doesn’t the current context lead more to pessimism?
X. P. It is true that the common good may seem like a distant horizon! If we take the example of cities, which all struggle with population, transport, health, congestion, we can see that each of them is working on its own. Of course, many meetings are held between major world cities, but there is no real pooling of academic resources or funding on innovation. The example of the Covid-19 vaccine is even more illuminating.
Here, the common good should have been taken for granted. Nevertheless, we have failed to organise a global response that would have gone down in the history books as a fine demonstration of what humanity was capable of doing. But I want to remain optimistic, there is a real thirst for philosophy and thinking among the brilliant students I teach and who are the innovators of tomorrow. For too long we have pitted science against philosophy. It is time to reconnect with Greek wisdom!