More-of-the-Same or a Breaktrough Innovation?



In  a recent post What’s (not) an Innovation? we mentioned that an innovation consists of a new combination of

  • a function – the innovation has the purpose of satisfying a need
  • a principle – there is a mechanism or idea how to deliver that function
  • a market – the innovation has a value that can be traded.

But still remains the question:

  • When is an innovation really breaking patterns more than other innovations?
  • When is an innovation incremental?
  • When radical?
  • When is a technical solution just more-of-the-same routine engineering?
  • What is the difference with a scientific invention?
  • When is it patentable?

Valeri Souchkov presented a new classification scheme for solutions or inventions, based on the original classification by Genrich Altshuller.

world-conference-triz-future-2008-57-november-2008-university-of-twente-enschede-the-netherlands-5-638Principles (scientific discoveries) cannot be patented. The levels of inventions 2 to 4 are patentable. So, a new combination of a principle with a function and a market can patented, regardless the fact that the new combination of principle and function in another market already exists. Below you will find 4 examples of patentable solutions, based on the same principle and the same function, but with different applications. That is to say: fulfilling different needs and as such, serving different markets.

Principle: quickly increasing/decreasing pressure, the Function that is used is to remove things; 

Applications (market):

  1.  remove seeds from peppers
  2.  remove shells of cedar nuts
  3.  remove sunflower seeds
  4.  remove dust
  5. splitting imperfect crystals




Actually, in the examples above we see here concept extraction at work, or in other words “How to Search for (Patentable) Ideas”:

  1. Look for the concept behind an idea (concept= a function and a principle or mechanism)
  2. Apply the concept to other areas (product/market combinations)



What’s (not) an Innovation?


Nowadays, innovation is very in fashion. As a person, you should be innovative (creative?). A product should be innovative to tempt you to buy it (why?). Research should be dedicated to innovations (instead of discoveries?). Or even worse, boards of directors feel compelled to proclaim a “year of innovation” or ask their employees for vibrant new ideas. . . But for what?

vibrant new ideas

But what is innovative, what is an innovation?

Fifteen innovation experts gave their definitions of innovation:  Executing an idea which addresses a specific challenge and achieves value for both the company and customer.

In our rather humourous Thinkibility nibble “Innovations that Complicate Things”, we suggested that some innovations seems to make things more complex, inconvenient, more costly or reduce value. Since then, we have seen tonnes of examples of so called innovations that actually reduces the quality of life. (P.S. Insert the last phrase into a search engine and you will get only examples of innovations that create value for people what illustrates the unconscious assumption that innovation is always good).

The definition contains four characteristics:

  1. An idea
  2. A challenge
  3. Value for the company
  4. Value for the customer

What is an idea? 

Apart from philosophical speculations – where ideas are usually seen as mental representational images of some object – ideas are in our opinion a result of breaking standard thinking patterns. A thinking pattern consists of a fixed entry point (definition of a situation) and a set of assumptions (things taken for granted).  Ideas that really break existing thinking patterns are often called disruptive, game-changing, breakthrough, blue ocean, out-of-the-box or even a new idea. Examples of this can be found in  “What Big Data, What Information Dominance?”.

Many creative thinking techniques produce hundreds of ideas, but what’s a good idea? To explore this topic we wrote the posts: “What is a Really Good Idea?” and “Thinking outside the Sea Map”.

It takes time and effort to transform an idea into an innovation. That is why a distinction is made between the stages of idea generation, innovation development – making the idea practical, prototyping it, calculating the business case, setting up production, pre-marketing- and implementation. Each of the stages requires different organisation, cultures, project management tools.


A challenge

An idea – to be practical- must satisfy a need. That might be:

  • a problem:  a gap between an existing situation and the desired situation
  • an improvement
  • an opportunity


Seven triggers or sources for innovation are mentioned by Peter Drucker:innovation_sources

The usefulness of this overview of sources and triggers for innovation is not in the summary or description. You can actively check your product or service against a trigger: an occasion or even a necessity to innovate?

To read more about what the main triggers are that push people to innovate in the technical area, look here for an interesting article by Valeri Souchkov.

The biggest problem, however, remains the tendency to ignore challenges because it is unknowingly assumed that they are impossible. In “The Thinking Habits of Steve Jobs” we wrote: Jobs did not settle for less than more than best. He simply ignored practical objections. That drove his designers to extraordinary, hitherto considered impossible performance. Moreover, the ability to ignore generally accepted impossibilities was the main criterion to select employees.


Challenge implies that there is a call to someone to participate in a competitive situation or fight to decide who is superior in terms of ability or strength, or that a task or situation is waiting that tests someone’s abilities. This is rather passive, but challenges can also be created deliberately: Create Opportunities. 

Value for the company and value for the customer

Some posts that explore the concept of Value are:

In general, values are not coming by itself, they should be designed.


Can you design something so that people stay politically engaged? How would you design a fabric that is made out of waste? What if it was possible to design a spot where people feel safe? Or a game that provides people suffering from Alzheimer game with a channel of communication? (To our post about New Brave Design Thinking Approach)

What is at heart of design when you design a hospital or health care systems? (To our post Empathy and Design Thinking)

In summary

In other words, we could say that an innovation consists of a new combination of

  • a function – the innovation has the purpose of satisfying a need
  • a principle – there is a mechanism or idea how to deliver that function
  • a market – the innovation has a value that can be traded.

But still remains the question: “When is an innovation really breaking patterns more than other innovations?. When is an innovation incremental? When radical? When is a technical solution just more-of-the-same routine engineering? What is the difference with a scientific invention? When is it patentable?



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Blue Economy – Open Source Communities


The Blue Economy uses an open source approach to encourage positive entrepreneurship.
Overall, the aim with Blue Economy is to transform the way we are thinking about the environment. Solutions should be sustainable and capable of responding to people’s need for food, water, energy  and health care.

When you want to create an open source community where ideas are shared and used, you do not want to restrict the freedom of using the ideas. Yet there may be cases where  the “open source attract attention of people who want to consider this as their exclusive opportunity even though all was shared open source without restrictions. The free download of ideas, experiences and know-how causes a few individuals to desire an exclusive money making scheme” (Gunter Pauli, 2013).

So if you do not want to restrict the use through license agreements, trademarks or franchise, what do you do? Gunter says that it does not make sense to focus on making money first and securing a job for oneself, instead creating jobs and value in the community is the main goal. And if the trust is misused, he suggests that instead of using a legal framework it is better to continue to use the open source framework and  to avoid using bad behaviorus to deal with a negative use of ideas and people involved in open source projects. The underlying idea is that justice in the end will be done.

Yet it is tempting to explore ways to if not prevent people from misusing open source materials and exploiting people at least to minimize the risk. The statistical risk for misuse might be small, but we should not underestimate the role of rare events. We want to identify where danger is most likely to occur.

Defining the problem is a necessary part in searching for solutions and  we should perhaps spend more time on framing the problem.

Frame for ideas:

  • develop trust while ensuring that ideas can be open source.
  • no legal framework that prevents the sharing of ideas
  • positive flow should be blocked
  • minimal cost involved in implementing the idea
  • protect ideas and people from being misused and exploited

Most approaches towards ensuring that people to not misuse ideas rests on the assumption that we have to prevent and stop people from behaving in a certain way. This assumption could be challenged and we could explore ideas that:

  • Encourage people to ensure the open source community of their good intentions – could lead to ideas such as people openly signing a declaration of their good intentions with using the idea. Could then minimise the risks of misuse by  exploring the intentions and behaviours of those who do not voluntarily sign any declaration. Identify high risk behaviours, such as ignoring all communication.
  • Support communication between people using the open source material.
  • Turn the attention to people buying the products – do you as a consumer buying material from people and open source ideas have any responsibility? This approach could lead to ideas such as using mobile phones to encourage people to support people using open source ideas and also report suspicious activities.

We could rephrase the problem and say that the people who misuse open source material are unaware of the main purpose with providing ideas that are free to use (exchange the word misuse with unaware)

  • Use storytelling to inform people about not only the idea but also about how open source material should be used. Comic strips, videos, mobile phones could be used to spread the message.

Another approach is to fly over the problem and look at the big issue. In this case, people cannot be trusted. This could lead to ideas such as:

  • We need to change people’s view of themselves and their value in the world. Provide material that enhances users of open source material confidence and self-esteem to ensure that they are developing skills that protects them from abuse.

Go here to read Justice will be Done by Gunter Pauli.

Photo: “Businessman Holding Business World” by SOMMAI

Positive Whistleblower


Exposing those who refuse do good! What an interesting idea! A shift in the perspective from exposing dishonest or illegal activities (misconduct). Gunter Pauli says, “It’s a problem that people do bad – worse is that people refuse to do good”. It is not enough to stop negative attitudes. We need positive actions. Asking someone to do less harm is simply not enough.  According to Gunter Pauli, a shift in thinking is required “from doing less bad to committing to do more good”

Several courageous whistleblowers have exposed violations of laws, rules, regulations, or direct threats to public interests, such as fraud, health/safety violations, and corruption. Whistle blowers frequently face illegal actions against them, sometimes at the hands of the organisation or group that they have accused, sometimes from related organizations, and sometimes under law. Whistleblowers are prepared to risk their careers and they have the guts to think and act. A number of movies have been made on the subject of the whistleblower: All the President’s Men, The Insider, Fair Game, The Whistleblower, Chasing Madof, Silkwood, Enron: the smartests guys in the room.

But it is enough to fight bad practices? What about all those situations and actions that are signs of a refusal to do good?  Spotting and detecting actions that lead to waste or not a fruitful use of resources, human or natural resources, requires a different approach. Bad results are often more apparently and visual. Few people are trained in detecting opportunities from a description of problems.

A positive whistleblower may expose companies who do not do good by using their waste (Gunter Pauli uses an example from instant coffee producers). Burning waste instead of looking for good ways of using it is not a positive action. And it is a missed opportunity to make more money. A shift from preventing companies and organisations to make money to actively search for opportunities to make more money, while working towards better conditions for employees and the environment. So go ahead and be a positive whistleblower today. And if you are a movie maker, well, we like to see movies about POSITIVE WHISTLEBLOWERS!

To read more about how to detect opportunities look at our eBook.

Go here, here or here to read more about Gunter Pauli, Blue Economy, and Innovative Thinking.

Photo: “Eye Of Earth” by Idea go

Gunter Pauli – Blue Economy and Innovation


Entrepreneur Gunter Pauli’s believes that “What is necessary for life should be free”.  Inspired by natural systems, where renewable energy and full employment is the aim, Gunter Pauli has been searching for the science that can be used as a foundation for business models to achieve that vision.

Go here or here to read more about Gunter Pauli, Blue Economy, and Innovative Thinking. And to look at our new eBook go here

Photo: “Earth In Grass” by basketman

Earth Day and Constructive Thinking

Actions Speak Louder than Words

The annual Earth Day is marked by a mix of ideas ranging from inspired initiatives to shameless ideas where the purpose it to get us to buy even more.  “Together, we can help to make Every Day Earth Day!” is a great idea but when it is put next to signs, where the price has been reduced on bottles of water (an article about the impact of bottled water can be found here). Well, maybe it was not such a great idea after all.

The goal to get one billion Green Acts on Earth Day is a step in the right direction. You can sign up and commit yourself to make a change. Actions speak louder than words. You can promise yourself to turn off the water when you brush your teeth, plant a tree, or hold an Earth –Day Event to mention a few ideas.

Yet, choosing actions that makes a long-term difference to the conditions on Earth is difficult to say the least. So many factors interact and influence each other and determining the best action is not easy. Every action has a consequence and the effects are often always easy to predict. Is it better to buy locally produced food and prevent people in developing country from selling the food in your local shop? It might seem like a great idea until someone points out that the farmer in the developing country will then exploit the soil more to increase the profit to support the family. They may test GM crop and this will affect the market price on food in your country, which will. . .  well, vicious circles are difficult to break and making the right choice is not easy.

Consider Different Aspects

Turning your attention to different aspects of a problem is a vital skill. However, it is a skill that it is easy to overestimate. We tend to believe that we have explored the problem from all angles. Yet, it is vital to stop and reflect on the thinking so far.

Traditions and old ways of doing things are part of our culture and of our thinking. Take a subject such as architecture. We expect that architects should be great designers, and good  at mathematics and physics. Most of the training of architects consists of physics and mathematics. Yet, biology is the base of health on Earth. The position of the sun may be taken into account especially if you are building the northern hemisphere where the numbers of south facing windows are important. But mostly architects look at factors such as the volume, surface area, and the number of rooms. Viewing a building as part of an ecosystem where the flows need to be taken into account. Flows are factors such as air, light, sound, matter, energy, occupants, and water. The health of a person is vital when designing a house and the flows influences our health and well being. The ways architects are educated influence our health and well-being and the problem spreads though the society.

Gunter Pauli says that natural systems always use flow in their designs. Interactions between different flows are also part of nature. Using these principles to design our society will provide us with solutions that natural systems have been sign for millions of years. These buildings would be more than green they would enhance well-being and create a balance between humans and ecosystems. Leonard da Vinci was one of the first architects that stressed the importance of flow and the imagined cites that was designed based upon the flows of water, waste, and people.  Leonardo took the surrounding of the building into account and the garden was regarded as part of the house.

Twist and Turn

Exploring a subject before making a decision is part of everyday life. Many of us check and compare prices on different items before we buy them. Other aspects in the decision may change the way you select items or even the way you shop. Including new factors and aspects is not easy. Often knowledge about factors that influence a process is not enough to gain new insights. Twisting and turning aspects such as looking at a building from above, underneath, inside and outside may help you to include vital factors. And so may turning and twisting your everyday actions – today, and tomorrow.

In the book “Blue Economy” by Gunter Pauli you can read about ways to use the wisdom of science and combine it with art and beauty. Gunter Pauli directs the “Zero Emissions Research Initiative” (ZERI), which is a network of creative minds seeking solutions to world challenges. He describes himself as a person with a mission with passion.

Photo: Abstract Background With World Map by maple

Innovations – The Blue Economy Approach


Today’s world is characterised by quick and dramatic changes. This means that there is a constant search for new ideas. Yet, there is a difference between innovation and ideas. Most of us have ideas, some of them good, other not so good.

Miguel de Icaza, the founder of the GNOME and Mono projects makes the following distinction between ideas and innovation.

“Are ideas innovations?  Everyone has ideas.…  For an idea or an innovation to a have a practical effect, they need to go beyond the discussion at the lunch table with your friends and become a reality.”

Innovation means to introduce something new or a new approach to doing something. Creativity and the generation of ideas is only a part of the innovation process. Generating new ideas can be a conscious approach where you use methods such as brainstorming or more focused approaches such as random words to generate ideas. Out of 1 000 ideas, 100 may be good, 10 may be practical and one out of these 1 000 ideas may actually be carried out.

So innovations are implemented ideas and not acting on great ideas can have devastating effects for a company. The company Kodak developed over the course of a number of years many good, and quite a few brilliant ideas. They had a creativity room to inspire their employees to come up with ideas. And they did come up with ideas such as digital photography. Yet, these ideas were not implemented and they did not result in any innovation. The company wanted to be sure that the idea was brilliant enough to earn the company more money. This is a serious problem and not acting upon ideas can mean that a company is declared bankrupt and so can of course engaging in risky projects.

Inventions can be the fruit of a creative spark or the result of fixing a problem. It can also be the result of a focused approach where the search for new ideas is directed towards a certain area. The Blue Economy began as a deliberate search for 100 nature-inspired innovations. The innovation should provide basic needs for humans such as food and jobs. Many of these innovations are fascinating to study by themselves. The idea was to integrate them with real world economies.

The innovations had to be beneficial to the people.Criteria such as substitute something with nothing mean an active search for ideas that do not use any resource for the production. Moreover, waste does not exist and by-products are the source for a new product. These criteria may seem like huge restrictions to select ideas that can be worked upon. In the Blue Economy approach, the inspiration and source for the selecting ideas comes from innovations that are based on ideas that are generated by studying nature. This approach is opposite to what most of you reading this blog post may be looking for. You want to get the ideas so that you can discover an innovation.

So is it possible to work in the other direction? Set up the criteria for what you want and then actively open up the thinking by direction the focus at certain areas. It is possible to use random inspiration and then apply your rules. Linking two concepts and creating a new one.

Deliberately narrowing down the number of ideas that can be generated by putting up criteria for the ideas such as design a life-west that pulls a person towards the nearest coast. Using this criterion, you could use random words to generate ideas ways to search for the nearest coast. Many of the suggestions may not be possible directly to apply to a life-west. However, the idea is to work backwards and ensure that the criterion is included in the idea. Thinking process could be described as an opening and closing of doors. In some cases, you need to explore all possibilities, while in other cases; you need to close gates.

By setting up criteria for the idea generation you are limiting the effects of using a random word or picture as inspiration. However, by using knowledge and actively searching for a certain type of idea you may be able to get new insights. In the Blue Economy, the focus is on searching for ideas by studying nature. Restrictions helps to focus the attention and then random inspiration and the hard work can begin.

Photo: Transparent Globe by digitalart