Innovation: Confusion of Genre?




 “Innovation is the Confusion of Genre”  Leon Krier 


Thus stated one of the more visible and articulate post-post-Modern urban planners of recent times (read “New Urbanist” or “Anti-Suburbanist”).  I have been culturally conditioned to ask, “What does this mean?”   

Genre originated in genus or “kind” – a basic building block – and has mutated as far as being thought to mean a mere characteristic of style, form or content found in a work of art, music or literature (a critical parphrase of the genre definition in “The Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary”, 2010).

Innovation among other definitions, is currently stated to be the the action of introducting something new, or the “something new” itself – a new idea, method or device – a Novelty (“The Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary”, 2010).

On the surface, based upon the paradigm of contemporary cultural acceptance that the media tells us we must accept and must not lag behind, we’re also told that in order to be an innovator, what you “do” or produce MUST truly be a “New Thing”, something really “out of the box” or “off the wall”.  To lead the pack, your work must be not be referential to precedents other than to prove them no longer applicable in this day and not well considered when reviewed with our new and improved, innovative wisdom.

Has anyone “crowd-sourced” that?  I’m just kidding!  I did not state “lowest common denominator”, although that may be the same thing.  I am not kidding!  Accessing the crowd is so easy and without basic controls versus assembling a verifiably knowledgeable group, hence anyone will do and opinion trumps facts almost every time, basically because of the confusion of genre that has permeated our physical and intellectual environments.  Perhaps a very innovative confusion of genre! 

Science, economics, art, morality and ethics are now a reality show!

Our Culture of Confusion

Jim Kunstler reviewed of Krier’s 1998 book, “Architecture: Choice or Fate”  (Andreas Papadakis Publisher, Windsor, UK, 1998), written for “The American Enterprise” (review may be read via link: ) and provided a well-written summary iteration of such confusion in the man-made world of public architecture and communities.  Bricks and mortar stuff – the things you trip over and bump your head on, even culturally speaking.  

School? Jail? Winery? Data Center? None of Above? (c)2004 Randy D. Bosch
School? Jail? Winery? Data Center? None of Above? (c)2004 Randy D. Bosch

Krier perceives that, in cities, confusion of genre is caused by application of a uniform set of Modern Architecture standards of form to a wide variety of functions to be a major failure of that movement. 

When “church” or “school” building is visually interchangeable with “industrial building” or “prison” as a physical archetype, confusion is inevitable.

From a general arts and literature viewpoint, the article “More About Confusion Over Genre” on the Exploring the Arts Foundation’s “Electricka” site (linked at )  gives an excellent explanation of the problem, its genesis, and the “workarounds” that “culture” tries to perform to accommodate identification of innovation and its classification as a genre.  The “work-arounds” employed to bridge the constantly changing chasm are sometimes more innovative and further destructive of cultural comprehension than the works (or the people!) that prompted them. 

You WILL Love Your New Home (The Omnibus Bill Says So)  (c)2008 Randy D. Bosch
You WILL Love Your New Home (The Omnibus Bill Says So) (c)2008 Randy D. Bosch

Shock of shocks!  Many things, processes, people and cultures are not improved by most innovative changes! 

At the start, acceptance of the most radical changes in products, services, activities and society require you to change yourself  to fit them, in order to implement (or is that “implant”) the innovation,

even to reclassify yourself into a different “genre”

(Just try to do that in the true sense of the word), and the side-effects can be life or death. 

Caution: Conflicting, even mutually exclusive, agendas abound!

Constructive Innovation

Most areas of human endeavor could use a healthy and productive approach to innovation that avoids the stagnation, pollution or corruption of value caused by confusion of genre and misunderstanding of innovation itself. 

Researching and applying unique, combinative characteristics of several genre can lead to quantum leaps in arts, performance and products, if well-understood and approached in a rational manner.  Those pursuing this track are innovators. 

There may be “nothing new under the sun” except our comprehension and subsequent application of what is existing in (hopefully) constructively combinative ways.  

In his landmark book, “A Whack on the Side of the Head: How to Unlock Your Mind for Innovation” ( Publisher: Business Plus, 2008 – 25th Anniversary Edition, see Bibliography page on this site – and READ IT!), creative thinker Roger von Oech explicates the remarkable setting of new time records in competitive swimming several decades ago.  The change was not due to dietary changes, “performance enhancing” drugs, or tweaking the rules, but to the application of advancing silicon technology to the manufacture of swimming goggles!  The new goggles sealed very well around the eyes in comparison to the old models, eliminating chlorine or salt intrusion and allowing swimmers to practice for many additional hours to improve their technique and times. 
They are still swim goggles, a new generation, not a new genre, of equipment.

More recently (2010!), certain swimsuit fabrics have been banned from “sanctioned” competition because they allow swimmers to be “more slippery” and therefore swim faster than those in older models, or simply underfunded.  They are still swimsuits. 

Instead of ambiguity or confusion, true and constructive innovation is based upon an understanding of the basic parameters and performance specifications of apparantly very different and unrelated “things” – very often from different genre altogether even when within the same field of endeavor – and the studied incorporation into previously unconsidered constructs.  

A key test for the success of that effort is that the results retain the essence, the known values and the cultural determinators of each component and the whole, and do result in a broadening of the successful application of all.  Some people do not like the result, for it may place them at a competitive disadvantage, impact their “market share”, or remove them from the position of innovator.

Regardless, the result of this kind of process is not ambiguous or confusing pluralism or relativism, or any genre confusing innovative combination thereof…

It is pure innovation!


About randysrules

From a professional background in architecture, community and regional planning, urban design, leadership, and fine arts, this blog provides insights on ethics, leadership, architecture/planning/urban design, Venice, and whatever intrigues me at the time. Enjoy!
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