Routinized Business Innovation: An Undertheorized Engine of Cultural Evolution

Eitan Wilf*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Scholars of cultural evolution and change have tended to conceptualize innovation as a process that results from individual experimentation involving random or very loosely guided trial-and-error alterations to existing cultural elements. Alternatively, they have focused on individual experimentation via decision rules and different heuristics with already existing, potentially innovative cultural elements whose emergence is left unexplained. Based on ethnographic fieldwork I conducted with a number of business innovation consultancy groups in the United States, I theorize institutionalized innovation as a new engine of cultural evolution that might be unique to complex industrial societies characterized by intense intragroup competition that puts pressure on constant innovation. This engine might be responsible for a faster pace of cultural evolution. At stake is a systematic strategy of purposeful innovation that is neither entirely random nor entirely calculation based. Rather, it is based in the rationalized and rule-governed production of what I call "structured contingency," and it is capable of being applied to products and services across different business domains, including to itself.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)679-692
Number of pages14
JournalAmerican Anthropologist
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 American Anthropological Association.


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