PurpleBeach Postcards

PurpleBeach and the Dialogic Nature of Innovation

Share this

By Maijastiina Rouhiainen-Neunhäuserer

In rather rare cases an innovation think tank is genuinely built on real dialogue. When aiming to create genuine and exceptional ideas, non-rivalry is hard to avoid and it is challenging for people involved to open up and share their knowledge without reservations. Knowledge, however, cannot be owned by one person but needs and is shared and created in interaction with other people. In other words, innovation as knowledge creation occurs in a relationship and successful innovation builds on high-quality human relationships. How does then a first class human relationship look like? What makes human interaction appropriate and effective? How should we engage into relationships and interact with each other?
Martin Buber (1957/2006), an Austrian-born Jewish philosopher, describes the interpersonal nature of human existence through two concepts constituted by two pairs of words, dialogue (I – Thou) and monologue (I – It). The pairs of words categorize the dual modes of consciousness and interaction through which a human being engages with other human beings.

In dialogue the two terms, I and Thou, encounter each other in a relationship. In this mutual exchange I becomes Thou (subject – subject). In other words, the I and Thou relationship is a direct, reciprocal interpersonal relationship where human beings are aware of each other as having a unity of being. (Buber 1957/2006.)

In a monologue relationship between I and It, I confronts an idea of the being in its presence. More precisely, It is treated as an object (subject – object) (Buber 1957/2006). Thus, the relationship and hence interaction occurs in the mental representations of the individual mind and only becomes actual first when it changes into an I – Thou relationship (Buber 1957/2006). For human beings mental representations are endogenous. However, as Buber (1957/2006) states, a person who lives only in a reality of I and It and treats others as objects is not a human being. So long as we are engaged in communication with others, we are engaged in a dialogical process that continually shapes and reshapes ourselves and others, and our relationship to each other. All reality is laden with the traces of other people who we meet and with whom we are in interaction (Barge & Little 2002). Thus, dialogue represents and emphasizes notions of equality, otherness, and freedom in human interaction (Spitzberg & Cupach 2002). When a person engages in a relationship with another person, the relationship becomes mutual: It becomes Thou and Thou consequently I (see Buber 1957).

As work is increasingly knowledge-based, i.e. conceptual, abstract and based on collaborative practices of people creating, sharing and negotiating about meanings, work methods and practices based on the principle of set-agendas seems an inappropriate way to create new ideas and innovate. As a consequence, there is a need to find alternative principles and ways for sharing and creating new knowledge and to innovate. There is a need for a place that produces meaningful social interaction and where people treat each other as equals.

PurpleBeach offers such a space for innovation. PurpleBeach is there to orchestrate dialogue, i.e. to adapt individual actions to the intentions of others, develop shared intentions, and thereby participate and lead dialogic action. We as PurpleBeach participants need an open mindset for entering into interpersonal relationships in order to identify the attitudes with which we participants in the interaction approach each other, the ways we talk and interact, the consequences of our meetings, and the context within which we meet. Dialogical communication is always on the border between what we can control and what not; and it is a process that shapes us as much as we shape it (Heath et al. 2006).

I'm looking forward to this kind of interaction at PurpleBeach where I can let go, bring my ideas and thoughts to the sunlight, game with other PB participants, thinking about and taking a stand together with another participant in a discussion and leave the beach with a healthy tan and energy.


Barge, J. K. & Little, M. 2002. Dialogical Wisdom, Communicative Practice, and Organizational Life. Communication Theory 12, 375-397.
Buber, M. 1957. Ich und Du. In M. Buber 2006 Das Dialogische Prinzip, 7-136 (10th ed). München: Gütersloher Verlagshaus.
Heath, R. L., Pearce, W. B., Shotter, J., Taylor, J. R., Kersten, A., Zorn, T., Roper, J., Motion, J. & Deetz, S. 2006. The Processes of Dialogue: Participation and Legitimation. Management Communication Quarterly, 19, 341-375.
Spitzberg, B. H. & Cupach, W. R. 2002. Interpersonal Skills. In M. L. Knapp & J. A. Daly (Eds.) Handbook of Interpersonal Communication (3rd ed.), 564-611. Thousand Oaks: Sage.

Back to PurpleBeach postcards»

Postcards are unedited and remain unchanged as written by authors.

PurpleBeach © 2017, All rights reserved