The indulgent reader of my columns has already met the concepts of mesovation and exovation, and now I’m going to introduce yet another neologism: metovation. Meto- in metovation stems from the prefix meta- where I for easier pronunciation exchanged o for a. Meta is of Greek language origin and stands for the next higher level of abstraction.

Thus meta-art is art dealing with art – metaphysics would be that kind of physics that organizes the more concrete physics, only that the term ‘metaphysics’ has acquired a somewhat special meaning.

Therefore metovation equates with novelties, with innovations in the very ways of producing the ‘ordinary’ innovations, thus new conditions for innovation. One obvious example is open innovation, something heralded prominently here on Innovation Management. A Google search for meta-innovation results in the suggestion of ‘systemic innovation accelerating innovation’ – so a condition again.

Conditions for innovation: that would involve the very fundamental settings for business, industry, and entrepreneurship too. As an example, idealism and volunteering have always existed but the developments in open source and freeware must be regarded as contributing something fundamentally novel – when something is transformed from marginal to mainstream, it heralds a new dimension; quantity mutates into quality.

What, then, may be the reasons for working for free, to generate resources for others to utilize and exploit? One human motivator may be conscience and generosity, another a realization of that there is power in reciprocity and thus a plus-sum game – as I do, others will follow, which is to my gain. Yet another component may be reputation and track record, which may be translated into commissions and offers of employment. And there are other business twists, such as those who ‘sell’ freeware, that is, offer it for free but charge heavily for what might be called a user’s guide.

It is hard not to see the Internet as a metovation. It may be claimed to be an innovation, an infrastructure, a marketplace – as well. These alternate denominations capture different aspects of the Internet, and the very fact that several are needed makes it a metovation. The Internet has, for example, spawned Second Life where virtual creations (like avatars) may be exchanged for Linden dollars™, a currency that may also be exchanged for real money, real dollars. Linden Labs, the company behind Second Life, has created its innovation on the basis of the metovation the Internet.

How would an entrepreneur, an inventor, or the managers of companies regard and treat metovations? As these examples highlight, metovation is most often something too generic to benefit just a particular individual or corporation – metovation offers new opportunities, and here it is up to entrepreneurs and inventors to latch on. ‘Open innovation’ may open up new channels for otherwise homeless ideas, while its close relative innovation from pioneer users may cause upheavals in competition space. Likewise for freeware.

But new vistas by way of new business models open up, as the example of revenue-generating user’s guides for free software or Linden Labs currency demonstrate; the Internet and cyberspace positively brim with innovation. The Internet, Google, and many more also exemplify how sometimes the revenue model evolves or is invented only after the launch of an idea – and sometimes the expectation or hope that such a model will evolve turns out to be wishful thinking. Topsy-turvy business models is of course nothing entirely novel; a shaver for free to sell razorblades is a classic case, Xerox’ nice, reasonable way of charging per copy another example of a profitable prescription. The future has only just begun, tomorrow never comes…

By Bengt-Arne Vedin

About the author

Bengt-Arne Vedin, PhD, is Professor emeritus in innovation management, now affiliated with the Department of Industrial economics and management at the Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm. After practicing innovation and entrepreneurship, resulting in a handful patents, he has been into innovation studies since the mid-1970′ with professorships at the Royal Institute of Technology and Mälardalen University, also serving as a guest professor at Kasetsart University in Thailand and Universitat de Girona in Spain.Bengt-Arne has consulted for large and small firms as well as organizations such as the US National Academy of Engineering and the OECD, and has served on some fifteen corporate boards of directors. His research is geared at innovation, IT, and futurology in various combinations, most recently at design-inspired innovation. He is now working on his book no 71 on that theme.