The world’s first Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) based in a business school.
The Centre for Unframed Thinking (CUT) is an initiative of Rennes School of Business (Rennes SB) and its partners to foster interdisciplinary research at the highest international level. It contributes to the global effort to analyse the many complex issues raised by the current crises. These include climate change, emerging pandemics and technological transitions. These transitions have not only fueled major innovation and adaptation processes at the corporate level but have also generated fundamental questions from an individual or social perspective that cannot be convincingly addressed by simple adjustments to existing frameworks of thought.
Prof. Raouf Boucekkine, Executive Director of the CUT, Associate Dean for Research
In April 2023, CUT joined the consortium of French IEAs, FIAS (French Institutes for Advanced Study), co-financed by Europe (Marie Curie-Sklodowska Actions). The CUT thus becomes the 7th IEA in the consortium, and Rennes the 7th city in the network after Aix-Marseille, Lyon, Montpellier, Nantes, Orléans-Tour and Paris.
The IEAs burst onto the French academic scene at the beginning of this century with the stated aim of boosting the internationalisation and excellence of research, particularly in the social sciences, following the model launched by Princeton almost a century ago.
Prof. Sarah Robinson, Co-Director
The CUT is the world’s first Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) based in a business school.
It is innovative in several ways:
During the last three decades, industrial and human activities have induced serious environmental problems and caused climate change worldwide. The harmful consequences of industrial activities on the environment have motivated stakeholders, especially government regulators and conscious consumers, to put pressure on industrial managers and to encourage or/and impel them to adopt and implement climate-friendly corporate strategies. Firms are thus constrained to rethink their existing business models and strategies to comply with these new environmental challenges, regulations and changes in consumption patterns. Environmental management and green Innovation are recognised as tools helping companies to reduce the impact of industrial systems and human activities on the environment. This programme will include talks, dialogues, debates and workshops across the two streams outlined below.
Sixty percent of the earth’s natural environment has been degraded over the past few decades. Consequently, environmental degradation has moved from being a peripheral issue to a significant socioeconomic concern in the past decades. Green innovation initiatives are purported to be one of the crucial strategic orientations in dealing with the seemingly inexorable environmental degradation. A concerted effort, however, involving various types of governmental, intergovernmental, industrial and societal stakeholders is essential to develop and deploy effective green innovation activities. This stream explores the strategies, causes, consequences and barriers of green innovation at three broad levels: A) Country-level green innovation B) Industry-level green innovation C) Company-level green innovation. Further, this stream endeavors to shed light on how the interconnectedness between and among these three levels accelerates or decelerates the green innovation activities within a specific country/regional context. Thus, this research stream encompasses a multi-disciplinary topic that necessitates the integration of diverse perspectives such as sociological, political, financial, economic, ecological.
The salient objective of this stream is to develop and disseminate in-depth and comprehensive knowledge and insights about Green Innovation by integrating the varied perspectives of diverse actors/stakeholders that directly and indirectly impact the green innovation activities. To this end, we periodically organise conferences, seminars, symposiums, and roundtables to discuss and debate the critical issues pertaining to green innovation.
Climate change can (and will increasingly) affect our health, food production, infrastructures, safety and work conditions. While several sectors are particularly vulnerable to climate changes, such as agribusiness, tourism or insurance companies; some others like energy and transportation have already initiated their transition to limit the GHG emissions resulting from their activity, hence their contribution to the global warming. Each company within a given sector is characterised by a given capacity to adjust its management decisions to the current and future effects of climate change and a specific necessity to reduce the sources of GHG emissions. Furthermore, from standpoint of governments, the consequences of the climate change such as the rise in sea level, severe drought or floods have already compelled whole communities to relocate to limit the risk of famine. In the future, the number of “climate refugees” is expected to rise and to consequently require resolute government interventions.
This climate management stream focuses on solutions to anticipate the adverse effects of climate change on the economy and will propose appropriate action to prevent or minimise the damage they can cause. Furthermore, our research stream aims, through a cross-disciplinary approach, to help managers and policymakers to respectively take advantage of business opportunities or to anticipate/mitigate geopolitical risks that may arise.
GICM selected publications by CUT Senior fellows and RSB researchers:
This interdisciplinary programme, divided into three symposia streams, aims to explore how human organising can support the future development of sustainable organisational systems, advancing the future of humanity. Drawing on sociology, anthropology, philosophy, political science, social activism, as well as business and organisation studies, the three events will consist of interdisciplinary dialogues, debates and presentations between and by theorists, researchers, strategists, practitioners and activists, focusing on organising past, present and future respectively. We discuss how prevailing studies and theories of organisation, and interest representation have been complicit not only in the development of unstainable business practices and behaviours, but also in excluding alternative theoretical paradigms, negatively affecting efforts to develop (alternative) ideas. We follow how the legacy of such processes in the present-day poses ongoing threats to the development of more equitable and sustainable forms of organising and explore how to legitimize and adopt a variety of perspectives. The programme then strives to advance alternatives by highlighting present good practices and identifying future opportunities for organising against (rather than towards) global extinction and for improving societal and organizational structures. The programme will involve 5-6 CUT Senior Fellows, RSB speakers, and invited guest speakers including academics, activists and practitioners. The broad streams interwoven through the three symposia are as follows:
Overconsumption: The use of materials, electricity, water and soil is growing more rapidly than the human population (United Nations 2020). In industrialised countries, the average age of household appliances and electronic devices has shrunken (Ala-Kurikka 2015) contributing to a general trend of consuming more products without improving well-being or lowering poverty levels. Recycling and closed-loop operations are imperfect solutions to address this problem as they still require the use of electricity and water and add to the environmental footprint of humankind.
Social investment and social entrepreneurship: Mission-driven businesses are doted as providing workable solutions on how to make societies more sustainable. In many countries new legal forms such as the société à mission (France) or the benefit corporation (USA) are promoted to make it more attractive to design a business that addresses one or more social and/or environmental objectives with their business activities. With the rise of social ventures, social impact investment is also growing and supported by policy-makers including the European Union.
The aim of this stream is to assess and propose solutions for the following risks: labour market risks, social security risks, representational security risks, political and geopolitical risks and health risks. Associated topics also include: migration, the rise of fascist/populist ideologies and the unintended consequences of the widespread adoption of monitoring technologies and Artificial Intelligence (AI) including, but not limited to, risks associated with singularity theory (Kurzweil 2005). This stream will study how these risks interact and may compound into possible disintegration of social and political institutions that media conflicts and provide a certain degree of societal cohesion.
This stream (re-)envisions role of leadership in addressing the grand challenges of our current and future worlds: How can understanding the significance of leadership in the economic, political, technological and social relations of organisation and society work towards sustainable futures? How can alternative forms of leadership, for example, indigenous leadership, feminist, paradox and pragmatist-inspired leadership shed new light and understandings to guide and develop leaders in pivotal sectors, industries, political parties and social movements
OTAE selected publications by CUT senior fellows and RSB Faculty:
Technological development and innovation influence the evolution of societies and are in turn influenced by the way societies evolve. What are the new emerging patterns of technological development and innovation? How are these related to new attitudes toward innovation? How will they change the perception of what is good or not for society? Could we define a sustainable technological path along with all these dimensions and devise tools to implement it? KiS tackles these questions through a multidisciplinary approach where business and economics considerations are integrated with views from technology assessment and forecasting, ethics, knowledge diffusion, history and philosophy of science, as well as societal and political considerations. To this end, KiS connects the broad range of knowledge held by different stakeholders including academia, industry, civil society and policymakers.
History is replete with examples of new technologies that were introduced too early, that didn’t really meet any need or want, eventually, ill-designed for the intended audience or socially unsuitable. In the context of accelerated technological change and global competition, firms should develop complex innovative solutions that require the interaction of multiple players. In this framework, the integration of knowledge and meaning is a key strategic dimension to keep the edge.
Innovation ecosystems and a meaningful development or application of technologies should not consider people only as the end of the process but incorporate wants, desires and aspirations at the very begin by taking a human-centered approach. A Human-centric stance is important to go beyond GDP in the search of new indicators incorporating well-being, for example, health and safety matter when we evaluate alternative choices. Implementation of human-centered innovation systems is key in this respect and will be a major axis in this CUT programme.
A mindful approach to knowledge and innovation will help to rearticulate an old point: innovation has a direction, not only a rate of change. Choices about innovation are complex and often contested (e.g. issues with the acceptance of vaccines), and research on innovation should go beyond the opportunities offered by new technologies to consider the implication, desirability, and possible noxious consequences of some innovations on society at large. That is, bring an ethics-based reflection about the broad implications of innovations early enough in the innovation-diffusion process.
Indeed, in the initial phases of innovation diffusion, positive aspects tend to be overstated and negative ones underrated. New emerging technologies creates new opportunities but also generates new constraints. For example, a digital world is a world where some critical materials will matter and sourcing and recycling will be critical; a world partly driven by AI may limit the set of choices available to humans and induce severe disruptions in the balance of formal and informal power within and across communities and socioeconomic sectors. For a given market structure, including in a free-market economy, innovations can be indeed manipulated, calling for a better understanding of the role of powers in directing innovation.
After decades of free markets, privatizations and unsupervised growth, recent major crises (e.g., financial, climate, COVID, Ukraine war) sparked a rethinking of the current economic model, and the way economies and global players interact. Strategic autonomy of key technologies is gaining momentum, among others because a strong role in world geopolitics, like the defense of democracy, requires a certain degree of autonomy. Nowadays the control of key emerging technologies related to health, climate, and digitalization is a rising policy concern at both national and European level.
Economic and management theories have been developed largely disregarding power and geopolitics. Concepts like power, sovereignty, security or resilience should inform new theories and cross-fertilization from different disciplines is a key factor to advance our understanding of innovation in a globalized world.
KiS selected publications by CUT senior fellows and RSB faculty:
A distinctive feature of CUT as an Institute for Advanced Study is that it hosts relatively short fellowships, generally starting at two weeks and lasting for no longer than 3 months (a typical fellowship in the IAS system is one semester or an academic year). This choice is essentially in order to avoid compromising on the scientific excellence criterion and to stick as closely as possible to the dynamics of the research projects underway at Rennes SB and with its partners.
As standard in the IAS system, fellows are external to Rennes SB and its partners. They are invited and/or selected upon public calls to foster interactions at the highest level with Rennes SB and their partners’ researchers. In the case of CUT, fellows are either leading national or international researchers, distinguished non-academic experts from the socioeconomic sphere and major national and international institutions, or independent intellectuals and artists.
Rick Van der Ploeg
Besides producing ideas to serve in the elaboration of high-level research projects, CUT’s activity will take various forms not only in research (the main output) but also in teaching and public engagement. Here comes a short list of selected events.
This ranges from the regular monthly CUT seminar to the CUT Campus event (once or twice per year) to occasional seminars or workshops organised according to the presence of interesting academic and/or non-academic personalities in the close neighbourhood or under the solicitation of local and national partners. CUT campuses are meant to bring together once or twice per year (on campus and/or virtually) a group of CUT fellows and researchers from Rennes SB and partners to exchange (and initiate projects) on chosen topics. They include conferences/lectures given by the fellows and group work in close relation to the UBIAS Intercontinental Academy model.
Fellows will be occasionally invited to teach PhD courses (upon prior agreements) with a dedicated CUT Doctoral Lectures series or to give conferences for the
Programme Grande Ecole following arrangements with the managers of this component of Rennes SB. Rennes SB partners who are involved in CUT could also take advantage of this arrangement.
This is an essential component of the CUT programme in order to raise local visibility. The idea is to organise a series of CUT Public Conferences for the general public, typically organised outside the Rennes SB and partner campuses. It is envisaged to organise five to six such conferences per academic year.
Vincent de Crayencour
Laurence Le Coq
Yann-Etienne Le Gall
CUT is managed by an Executive Committee composed of Faculty members of Rennes SB and its partners, coordinated by the Administrator, Christèle Wright. It includes the director(s) and the programme directors of CUT, and the following regular members:
Thomas Flichy de la Neuville