I am an inter- and transdisciplinary scholar focusing on the three following, strongly interwoven research areas:
Over the last few years, however, my colleagues have come up with quite different descriptions of me: Since the beginning of my academic career in 2012, I have been a “Walking Library” (Dr. Sophie Urmetzer), “the Networker” (several colleagues at the department of innovation economics), “our Philosopher”, (Prof. Dr. Andreas Pyka), “Mentor” (Ezgi Ari), and “one of the best discoveries in the past year” (Klaus J. Schuler).
My way into academia was neither foreseeable nor straightforward. When I was little, wanted to be an astronaut; when I got my general qualification for university entrance (Abitur), I thus decided to … pursue a career at a savings bank. I’ve always been driven by my thirst for knowledge and the desire to apply and pass on what I’ve learned. Yet, during the time of the last financial crisis (of 2008/2009), this mainly meant consulting regional firms and hedging their foreign exchange risks. Today, with my research, I’m striving to contribute to making our economies fit for the future again, instead of further destroying our necessities of life on this planet. Therefore, I’m dedicated towards this overarching topic in my teaching at higher education institutions, research, talks, and consulting activities (of decision makers and teams).
My Research Focus:
My research is guided by the following cross-cutting questions at a higher level:
- How can we explain the cultural evolution and transmission of worldviews, values, norms, and memes in complex systems?
- How do these cultural evolutionary processes affect the sustainability-orientation (especially cooperation and a sense for the common good) of individuals and organizations in complex innovation (eco)systems?
- What (kind of) agency and power to influence these (co)evolutionary processes do different groups of actors have, including leaders, entrepreneurs, consumers, or administrations?
Importantly, evolution is not to be misunderstood as merely synonymous to change or even “progress”. By evolution, I explicitly refer to a perspective on change that takes analogies and similarities between evolutionary processes in biology, culture, and economy seriously. One prominent strand of research I draw on here is called memetics or meme theory. Memetics is a perspective that, in the style of genetics, assumes that both cultural units of information – memes – and biological units of information – genes and viruses – are subject to similar processes of variation, selection, and retention or transmission. One of the advantages of this perspective – as I’ve expounded in my book “Memetics and Evolutionary Economics” – is a reciprocal, interdisciplinary gain and transfer of knowledge between economics, social sciences, and life sciences. Even if this may sound like a topic mostly for philosophers of science, the still highly dynamic COVID-19 pandemic and the connected complexity and uncertainty of economic and political decisions shows: It is of paramount importance to adequately approach complexity, uncertainty, and cultural evolution – not just for “those scientists” but especially for leaders and decision makers and the design of sustainable business models. As a last consequence, this also leads me to the question: How should sustainable education and training look like to empower individuals, teams, and organizations to deal appropriately with dynamics, complexity, and uncertainty?
Innovation processes affect different levels of our economic systems. Just think about new possibilities to satisfy one’s individual needs through new consumer goods or, on a collective level, the joint creation, diffusion, and use of new knowledge and capabilities. Such innovation processes are shaped by multiple different actors, organizations, and circumstances – including research institutes and higher education institutions, startups, firms, and the respective political and cultural institutions, norms, and regulations.
Such innovation systems (or alternatively, depending on the branch of research, innovation ecosystems) may encompass branches of industries, sectors, regional clusters, or even whole nations and supra-national institutions. When we are talking about innovation, we usually tend to think about new technologies, products, or manufacturing processes in industries. However, innovation is much more than that and comprises also social innovation, institutional reformation, or even system innovations that may or may not help us humans to advance. We may also use the term (structural) transformations when we are talking about economic reorganization or the reorientation of our modes of production and consumption towards new economic systems like a bio-based or circular economy. Crises such as pandemics or wars can also influence transformations. On these grounds, I address the question how and by whom these complex processes of innovation and transformation, which involve many different stakeholders, can be influenced or governed. Hence, depending on the level of observation and the research question, in this research area I am concerned with issues like design, entrepreneurship, management, leadership, or governance. I am also drawing on complexity science and evolutionary theory, here, as innovations and transformations usually do not happen at the push of a button by ingenious and inventive individuals. In fact, these novelties rather emerge in innovation (eco)systems via collective and often path dependent processes of learning and coevolutionary relationships.
I approach these issues through conceptual and empirical studies of agency and moral or prosocial decisions in complex systems. Particularly as a cross-cutting issue with both of my other research areas, I am striving to raise awareness for the fact that not all kinds of innovation are per se desirable – at least from an evolutionary perspective most mutations are anything but desirable. From my point of view, Responsible Research and Innovation and, thus, research on the normative dimension of innovation (eco)systems becomes increasingly relevant.