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)



Patterns in Medicine


We came across a booklet that could be a good example for the kind of studies by the envisioned Thinkibility University. At its West Wing, scientists dissect the basic thinking patterns in a scientific discipline.

Siddhartha Mukherjee was asking himself: If there is a science of medicine, then science has laws. Physics has laws. Chemistry has laws. Biology has laws.

The simple question was: If that’s the case, then what are the laws of medicine? These were not meant to be universal commandments. These were meant to be explorations about principles that might hold true about medicine today and about medicine in the future. That was the framework for this book.

Law One : A strong intuition is much more powerful than a weak test.

Law Two: “Normals” teach us rules; “outliers” teach us laws

Law Three: For every perfect medical experiment, there is a perfect human bias

Watch or read here an interview with him about the book. You could also read the Ted book: The Laws of Medicine Field – Notes from an Uncertain Science

For us, Gijs and Asa, it is not the description of the laws of a scientific discipline that interests us – how interesting they are by itself but the possibility they give to escape from it. Once spelled out, laws are just vehicles to set up new approaches.

In short, at the West Wing of the Thinkibility University, they are thinking laterally about science.


We have earlier written about patterns in science and possible escapes from them in the following blogposts:

Our next post about the topic “Patterns in Science” will be about Patterns in Law. Could it be that in Western law assumptions are hidden that hinders us in modern times?

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Conceptual Thinking and Using Physical Things

There is a misunderstanding that conceptual thinking is abstract in nature. Conceptual thinking is seen as just playing in your head, without physical devices?

Conceptual art is the physical result of conceptual thinking. In conceptual art, the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work. When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes a machine that makes the art.

Academic pre-promotions are the most boring ones in the world. The candidate presents his or her findings to a committee of academic professors, verbally and only incidentally supported by audio-visual means. But why not dance a thesis or explaining statistics?

To get a drivers license most people study traffic rules by books. Traffic rules are indeed conceptual by nature but in Africa, they use dinky toys to explain them. What about simulating traffic jams by using dinky toys?

The approach of Lego Serious Play is based on research which suggests that hands-on, “minds-on” learning produces a deeper, more meaningful understanding of the world and its possibilities. Lego Serious Play is a powerful example of the benefit of using physical things for conceptual thinking. Participants are forced to express concepts in bricks, literally.

We assume that conceptual thinking –thinking with the help of abstract concepts – will improve dramatically when using the opposite: physical objects.

We invite the reader to come up with ways to explain the concept of a bitcoin, a ledger and blockchain technology, using physical objects.

Benefits of Conceptual Thinking

Conceptual Thinking – Thinking with the help of concepts – does have a lot of advantages.

concept (Wikidictionary)

  1. abstract and general idea; an abstraction
  2. understanding retained in the mind, from experience, reasoning and/or imagination; a generalization (generic, basic form), or abstraction (mental impression), of a particular set of instances or occurrences (specific, though different, recorded manifestations of the concept).

conceptual thinking

Stripped of all details, and nuances it makes the thinking far more efficient, straightforward and fast, at the same time getting more insight and overview. It is like the counter-intuitive result of speed-reading. The faster the reading, the more comprehension and recall. Or like learning only the main points of a lesson. It turns out that students who are told that only headlines would be examined, scored far better on detailed questions than students who were told to study for details and in-depth knowledge.

For people who are afraid of letting out nuances, different perspectives and subtleties,  thinking in boxes – conceptual thinking – is very difficult and they get often emotionally blocked, as shown in the cartoon below. However, it is a false dilemma.

simple and complex

False dilemma

We assume that it is a result of academic education with its emphasis on accurate and complete description and consequently the status someone can get by his ability to nuance, showing different perspectives and adding subtleties. The fallacy is: “complex is per definition right”.

However, the goal of thinking is not a description. Thinking with the help of condensed concepts – leaving out details, subtleties, perspectives- is nothing else than setting up some hypothesis, in order to get more insight.

However, there is no objection at all to formulate 5 or more descriptions of the same concept, in terms of different functions, mechanism and values. (See for more “How to describe a concept“)


Use more boxes of the same concept

At that way, one obtains some overlapping concept descriptions that contain subtleties, nuances, and perspectives. It takes only a few minutes and three sentences per concept description.

As for now, we can identify   benefits from thinking with help of concepts

  • Stripped of details, it makes thinking must more simple.

  • The simplification enables higher level thinking

  • It helps one to draw conclusions 

  • Because a pattern might be identified one can guess  how a situation is likely to evolve

  • Once the main characteristics of a concept are identified, one is able to escape from the underlying dominant thinking, and create new concepts

  • By extracting underlying concepts, one can multiply the results of an idea generation session.

The latter, concept extraction is one of the most, but also unknown, fruitful  techniques to boost ideas. Ina later blog post, we will explain how it works.

For not missing this Thinkibility Boost, don’t forget to subscribe!

big thinking

Design New Concepts – Thinkibility Boost

There are several ways to design a new concept deliberately. But what is a new concept? Not many people have a quick answer to this question, other than “differently than expected”, “something else as normal”, “not seen before” or just “interesting”.

One of the easiest ways to design a new concept is to escape from an existing concept. For that, we need a concise description of the existing concept, otherwise we will be lost in all the details containing in the concept.

In an earlier blog post we gave some handles to describe a concept:

  1. Give it an appealing name;
  2. What is the function of the concept: aim, goal, objective? What should be achieved?
  3. Wat is the mechanism or working principle? How does it work? How is the function carried out?
  4. What are the values of the concept: advantages, positives, the importance, worth, or usefulness, merits, beneficial? Why does the concept deserve to exist? For who else?

For instance:

  1. Football match
  2. The function of a football match is to exercise sports
  3. The working principle is that there are two teams that try to get the football into each others goals, according to rules.
  4. It is valued as entertainment, physical exercise, social exchange

Escape for instance the mechanism: instead of two there are three teams and three goals.

3 sided football

You can imagine that three-sided football will be a real game-changer, literally. As the BBC mentioned: a game of alliance and betrayal. The whole dynamic of the game is dramatically changed.

Once a new concept has”opened up” in your mind, we might “see” the world in a disruptive way, through the new concept and take analogies from it.

For instance: the conflict in Syria is basically a three-side game. That might open up new strategies and policies for military planning and diplomacy. Or prevent from blundering into military and diplomatic disasters by interpreting wrongly a three actors situation as a classical two actors cold war situation.

Or we can apply the same concept escape to another two-sided  game, f.i. three player chess


We could also escape from the aspect of values, by excluding, adding, or changing values.

Escape from values: add spectacle to the game.

Ideas:  change the game from 2D into 3D, using acrobats.

Actually, the concept change is from 2 D to 3D. This new concept can then be applied to other 2D games and opens new possibilities, like 3D chess


The same we could apply to escaping from function (goal, aim or objective of the concept). F.i. the function of a pension is that people who can’t work any longer are provided with a minimum of money to survive.

We could change the function: let’s suppose that the aim of “pension” is to keep the retiree as long as healthy. Now we can come up with mechanism that could realise this new function. For instance that the retiree does not receive a fix amount of money per year during the rest of his life time, but a linear increasing one. This would stimulate the retiree to stay active during the first years of his pension, by doing some paid work  during some hours in the week.

Many new business models are the result of changing one or more aspects of the concept description. See for example  how these fast-growing, innovative companies are redefining money lending, e-commerce, and more,

We invite you to describe how their innovative  business models differ from classic business models in terms of function, mechanism and value.


How to Describe a Concept

According to Wiktionary a concept is an abstract and general idea, an abstraction. It is an understanding retained in the mind, from experience, reasoning and/or imagination. It is a generalization (generic, basic form, or abstraction (mental impression), of a particular set of instances or occurrences (specific, though different, recorded manifestations of the concept.


As you see, a concept is rather conceptual defined and it is very difficult to put it in practical use.The definition does not say anything about how to describe a concept properly. Reading newspapers about new policies of the government, business plans, research papers, books mostly do need detailed descriptions to define a concept. Which is paradoxical:  a concept is an idea stripped of details, but in order to circumscribe and explain it, adding mass of details and examples are needed.

Could this be made easier, more simple without losing the essence of a concept. Could we catch the essence of a concept in just three sentences?

Mindmap presentatie Ideathons

  1. Give it an appealing name;
  2. What is the function of the concept: aim, goal, objective? What should be achieved?
  3. Wat is the mechanism or working principle? How does it work? How is the function carried out?
  4. What are the values of the concept: advantages, positives, the importance, worth, or usefulness, merits, beneficial? Why is the concept held to deserve? For who else?

Describing a concept in just three sentences will help you with what is called “conceptual thinking”: Conceptual thinking is the ability to understand a situation or problem by identifying patterns or connections, and addressing key underlying issues.

Just try to circumscribe in just three sentences the concept of

You will notice that this will not be so easy, but Practice Makes Perfect. Sometimes you may only cover one aspect of a concept. Then set up a second, slightly different description, or even a third.

You will experience that the simplification enables higher level thinking. Stripped of details, the thinking is made much easier.

There are more advantages of using  concepts. But that is for another Thinkibility Boost.

For more about concepts. look more about concepts.