Some people might get some pleasure out of hate
Me, I’ve enough already on my plate
People might need some tension to relax
Me? I’m too busy dodging between the flak
What you see is what you get
I’m going underground (going underground)
Well, if the brass bands play and feet start to pound
Going underground (going underground)
So let the boys all sing and let the boys all shout for tomorrow
-Going Underground, The Jam
Underground innovation and the rhizome–something that I believe is important to any large bureaucracy. The concept of the rhizome introduced by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, is a powerful metaphor that is applied to a wide range of fields, from biology to innovation to social and cultural theory. The concept of the rhizome and how it can be applied to understanding innovation networks is something I have been pondering since I was first introduced to it by my friend Michelle at Cambridge.
In biology, a rhizome is a type of stem that grows horizontally underground, from which roots and shoots emerge. This allows the plant to spread and form new colonies, making it extremely hard to kill. The rhizome’s ability to store energy and nutrients allows it to survive in adverse conditions, and its ability to produce new shoots and roots allows it to adapt and evolve over time.
In social and cultural theory, the rhizome is used as an alternative to traditional models of thought and organization that are based on binary oppositions, hierarchical categories, and centralized power structures. The rhizome is seen as a non-hierarchical and decentralized system that is open, flexible, and always in motion, allowing for multiple entry and exit points and the emergence of new connections and possibilities.
The concept of the rhizome is also used to understand innovation networks, which are connections and relationships between individuals, organizations, and institutions that are involved in the process of innovation. These networks can be formal or informal and can include a wide variety of actors, such as academics, researchers, entrepreneurs, policymakers, and investors. They play a critical role in the creation and dissemination of new ideas, technologies, and business models, by facilitating the flow of information and resources, fostering collaboration and co-creation, and promoting diversity.
Innovation networks can be a type of rhizome, as they suggest that innovation can emerge from any point in the network and that it can move in multiple directions, rather than following a linear or hierarchical path. This non-hierarchical and decentralized structure allows for vegetative reproduction, by cutting a piece of the rhizome and planting it, it will grow into a new plant.
The metaphor of the rhizome is also applied in social and cultural theory, to describe a non-hierarchical system of organizations. Deleuze and Guattari argue that the rhizome represents an “anti-genealogy” or “non-arborescent” system that is open, flexible, and always in motion. Unlike a tree, which has a fixed structure with a trunk and branches, a rhizome is constantly branching and connecting in multiple directions, creating a network of relationships that can be entered or exited at any point. This concept is often used in the context of social and cultural theory to describe decentralized, non-linear systems of power and organization.
Innovation networks are like a rhizome, as innovation can emerge from any point in the network and that it can move in multiple directions, rather than following a linear or hierarchical path. This non-hierarchical and decentralized structure allows for more flexibility and adaptability in the innovation process. Examples of innovation networks include incubators and accelerators, research centers and universities, industry clusters, and innovation ecosystems.
The rhizome is a useful in understanding the complexity and multiplicity of the world, both in terms of plants and social systems. It encourages an open-minded, flexible and adaptable approach, rather than relying on a fixed structure or preconceived notions. The rhizome does not necessarily imply that innovation should be “underground” in the sense of being secret or hidden, yet in certain hard, bureaucratic, risk-averse organizations, it can be helpful.
It just seems to me, the rhizome is a powerful metaphor used to understand and critique traditional models of thought, power and organization that are based on binary oppositions, hierarchical categories, and centralized power structures. It can be seen as a decentralized and non-hierarchical approach to innovation, that allows for more flexibility and adaptability in the process and more flexibility and adaptability in the innovation process. It encourages experimentation and chance encounters, as well as being open to new perspectives and ideas from diverse sources. Additionally, it also promotes a more inclusive and democratic approach to innovation, where anyone can contribute and participate, rather than being limited to a centralized power structure. This approach allows for a more dynamic and responsive system that can adapt to changing conditions and capitalize on new opportunities.
“A rhizome has no beginning or end; it is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo. The tree is filiation, but the rhizome is alliance, uniquely alliance. The tree imposes the verb ‘to be,’ but the fabric of the rhizome is the conjunction, ‘and…and…and.’ This conjunction carries enough force to shake and uproot the verb ‘to be.’ Where are you going? Where are you coming from? What are you heading for? These are totally useless questions. Making a rhizome is the opposite of starting over, beginning again. A rhizome proceeds by variation, expansion, conquest, capture, offshoots.”