Facing our complex (global) challenges in a rapidly changing, unpredictable, and uncertain world begs the question of how we can bring about innovations that have a reasonable and sustainable purpose and that shape and lead to thriving and novel futures. The claim of this paper is that, in order to bring forth such purposeful innovations and novelty, it is necessary to turn things on their head: instead of learning from the past and extrapolating past knowledge/experiences into the future, we have to start from the future. In this context Scharmer’s Theory U plays an important role as one of its main claims is to understand change and innovation as “Learning from the future as it emerges.“ (Scharmer 2007, p 52)
The goal of this paper is (i) to develop an alternative approach to innovation that is driven by future potentials. (ii) By doing so, we will develop an epistemological /ontological framework providing a theoretical foundation both for Theory U and, as we refer to it, for Emergent Innovation. Bloch´s “not yet”, Aristotle´s potentials (vs. actuality), S.Kauffman´s “adjacent possibles”, Ingold´s “correspondence”, as well as Scharmer´s “Source” and “Higher Purpose” play a central role in this approach.