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.

Customer-Roles-in-Online-Communities

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

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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-cartoon

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.

values

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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Not-an-innovation

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Thinking in Images

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Most people think in words. When asked to imagine a traffic accident they come up with not very detailed descriptions, in comparison with people who are thinking in pictures. It became even worse if the words are becoming more and more abstract. Words as society, market, law, inflation etc. stay for them just words; they are unable to convert the words into images. Picture thinkers don’t have to translate, they think in pictures.

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As school systems are mainly auditory-sequential oriented, it is not surprising that mainly visual-spatial thinkers will have problems at school. Usually, they encounter learning difficulties. But not only at school. Most picture thinkers don’t fit well in traditional companies and institutions. They do things in other ways than expected or “normal”, due to “weaknesses” in thinking.

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Picture thinkers are also called right-brainers, as some popularisations oversimplify the science about lateralization, by presenting the functional differences between hemispheres as being more absolute than is actually the case.

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We have also committed to this theoretical sloppiness with left/right brain generalisations, although, a handy mini theory to generate creative ideas as we have demonstrated in Blocking the Left Brain Functions.

As we wrote in left brain/right brain thinking, the debate regarding about what goes on in our left and right brain hemispheres seems like a never-ending story. You will find support for the idea that creative people use the right hemisphere while people who are good at organising things are using their left hemisphere. But we can also find support for the idea that creative and non-creative thinking are not two different things but are more reinforcing each other.

The idea that the brain has different specialised functions that can be used to improve memory, learning and thinking are also the part of the foundation behind mind mapping.

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A Whole New Mind: Why Right-brainers Will Rule the Future, a book by Daniel H. Pink, posits that the future of global business belongs to the right-brainers. He outlines six essential senses:

  • Design – Moving beyond function to engage the sense.
  • Story – Narrative added to products and services – not just argument.
  • Symphony – Adding invention and big picture thinking (not just detail focus).
  • Empathy – Going beyond logic and engaging emotion and intuition.
  • Play – Bringing humour and light-heartedness to business and products.
  • Meaning – the purpose is the journey, give meaning to life from inside yourself.

Daniel Pink is one of an increasing number of writers on the importance of the Conceptual Economy, as a follow-up of the Information and Knowledge Age. Conceptual economy is a term describing the contribution of creativity, innovation, and design skills to economic competitiveness, especially in the global context. Other contributors to our understanding of the conceptual economy include Tom Friedman’s The World is Flat, Tom Kelley’s The Art of Innovation and The Ten Faces of Innovation, explaining the role of assets such as empathy, storytelling, individual experiences and stimulating work environments in fostering creative ideas.

The discussion about the necessity to escape from dominant linear-sequential thinking was earlier argued by Howard Gardner. He developed The Theory of Multiple Intelligences in his 1983 book Frames of Mind:

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In one of our next blog posts, we will give hints and tricks together with some useful resources to become “picture smart”. An essential skill to use mind mapping to the fullest of its advantages.

Out of Date Concepts – Thinkibility Nibble

 

Concepts occur in solid form and are often not questioned. After all, they have proved their worth and value. Concepts as an abstract or generic ideas, conceived in the mind, are generalized from particular instances. The more “solid” a concept appears the higher the chances are that the concept was conceived in the collective mind decades or ages ago.

Historically, marriages in most societies were arranged by parents and older relatives with the goal of legacy and economic stability and political alliances. So, the concept then was defined as a kind of business agreement, rather than something that involved love.  It is therefore  not surprising that a concept such as matchmaker – as the process of matching two or more people together for the purpose of marriage –  also got outdated.

In general, outdated concepts can be considered as originally adequate in the circumstances in which they were designed, but now hopelessly outdated because of the changed circumstances, be it economic, social, historical, technological, etc.

Schematically shown:

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For example:  since we have reduced democracy to selecting representatives, and reduced representative democracy to mean simply voting, a valuable system is now mired in deep difficulties.

” In a referendum, we ask people directly what they think when they have not been obliged to think – although they have certainly been bombarded by every conceivable form of manipulation in the months leading up to the vote. But the problem is not confined to referendums: in an election, you may cast your vote, but you are also casting it away for the next few years. This system of delegation to an elected representative may have been necessary in the past – when communication was slow and information was limited – but it is completely out of touch with the way citizens interact with each other today.”

“This blind faith in the ballot box as the ultimate base on which popular sovereignty rests can be seen most vividly of all in international diplomacy. When western donor countries hope that countries ravaged by conflict – such as Congo, Iraq or Afghanistan – will become democracies, what they really mean is this: they must hold elections, preferably on the western model, with voting booths, ballot papers and ballot boxes; with parties, campaigns and coalitions; with lists of candidates, polling stations and sealing wax, just like we do. And then they will receive money from us.”

“Local democratic and proto-democratic institutions (village meetings, traditional conflict mediation or ancient jurisprudence) stand no chance. These things may have their value in encouraging a peaceful and collective discussion, but the money will be shut off unless our own tried-and-tested recipe is adhered to.”

Could we conceive alternative designs for  a system that would express the will of the people, as is the original idea behind the concept of democracy: a system of government in which all the people of a state are involved in making decisions about its affairs?

Look for some real interesting ideas in “Why elections are bad for democracy ” by David Van Reybrouck.

There are many concepts that have become outdated or soon will become. Can you think of any? And can you design any new concepts that can be used instead?

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

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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

Kieseritzky_Cubic_Chess_board

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.

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The West Wing of the Thinkibility University

west wing

The West Wing of the Thinkibility University – our exciting recent project – is dedicated to thinking patterns in sciences. At the West Wing, scientists dissect the basic thinking patterns in a scientific discipline.

Although philosophers of science will work there, the research agenda will not be philosophy of science – roughly this discipline is concerned with when we could claim that something might be true. Instead of exploring the relationship between science and truth scientists in the West Wing will focus on the paradigms of science or thought patterns, including theories, research methods, postulates, and standards for what constitutes legitimate contributions to a field. Thus, the focus is not on true/false claims.

Since we believe that science is basically the outcome of processes of human interaction, you will also find at the West Wing  sociologists, psychologists, political scientists and even anthropologists who explore people and their ancestors’ habits in relation to culture, and social and environmental factors.

However, besides classical education in traditional sciences, the people working at the West Wing will all have received thoroughly training in thinking theories. They will be skilled in Lateral Thinking, TRIZ, Anti Conventional Thinking, Biomimicry and several other disciplines and approaches that are slowly entering the body of knowledge about a rather significant feature of humans – thinking.

The main goal is not to describe the standard thinking in a scientific discipline, but to escape from it. To design alternative approaches for scientific development. The scientists  are involved in design thinking for scientific research.

A basic assumption that underlies the work a the West Wing is that most of the sciences nowadays are still ruled by a Newtonian view of balls and forces.

In an earlier post we argued that classical economy is a typical example of a science based on mechanical assumptions and by that, possible, totally inadequate. The scientific queeste of the department could be to explore if it is possible to base economic theories on system dynamics or quantum physics? Or even evolutionary biology? How could we design methods and techniques to escape from standard thinking in economic theory?

In Patterns in Psychological Research we provided another example of what could be an intermediate result of the Department for Psychology research. In Thinking Patterns in Science we gave even more examples such as for dominant thinking patterns in engineering systems. Another example of a dominant idea in brain research is that it would be located in the brain, while for more fruitful research it might better be assumed as an outcome of interactions between environment and the body, or even all body cells.

The objective of the West Wing research groups of the Thinkibility University will be to design alternative approaches for “doing science” in the classical sciences. The people working there will use systematic and deliberate creative thinking techniques to achieve the goals.They will offer alternative thinking strategies for  scientific disciplines.

Wouldn’t it be interesting if by escaping standard thinking strategies students at the West Wing of the Thinkibility University would generate new hypothesis in nearly every branch of science?

hypothesis

Guess what we will have in mind for the North, South and Eastern wings?

New Brave Design Thinking Approach

FungiFood_web

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?

The artist and innovator Daan Rosegaarde says.  “You make the things, but the things also make you. . . Good design never stops. You must remain a voluntary prisoner of your own imagination.”

Design thinking is different from analytical thinking and the underlying idea is to build up ideas that embraces big issues (we will explore  differences and similarities between analytical and design thinking in another blog post). Design thinking can be part of a way to find solutions to problems associated with social issues, politics, ecology, energy, and health. This approach is also different making something pretty and beautiful to look at. Designing a new cutlery can be an art where different materials are used to create something that is visually attractive. The cutlery should also be designed in a shape and way that it feels good to use them.

Yet you can push the design thinking  further. For example, you can design cutlery as part of a new innovation –  an incubator that transforms plastic waste into mushroom. Sounds incredible!

The Fungi Mutarium is a prototype to grow fungi around recycled plastic wastes, breaking down and digesting the material as it develops. It may take weeks for the plastic to be fully digested so they are ready to be eaten. To help with the eating of these fungi a moon spoon was designed that helps you scrape the tiny fungi from the pods.

Watch the video below and check out this idea at Livin Studio.

The ultimate goal of design thinking is the discovery of the best outcomes for all the participants. Questions are the core in design thinking,  at the Design Academy Eindhoven the focus is on the following questions.

  • What do you want?
  • What do you like?
  • What do you think the world needs?
  • What do you make?
  • And Why?

Design thinking is a fascinating topic and if you want to read more, Daan has contributed to the book Looks Good Feels Good Is Good – How Social Design Changes Our World.

You may also like:

Poor Social Design – Thinkibility Nibble

According to a Dutch report, the number of people with intellectual disabilities getting paid care,  increased between 1998 and 2011 fivefold (the figures for other Western countries will not be much different)

The large increase is not because more people have a disability, but because the diagnosis is now  made more often by changing demands in society. This would be partly because more and more digital services, such as Internet banking and the smartcard, have becomm widely available. That someone has a mild intellectual disability is by that more likely to be noticed.

Zahlstation im real,-  Future Store

Read again.

The number of people with intellectual disabilities getting paid care are increasing because more and more services become digital available.

It is normally assumed that (digital) technology will make our existence  easier, yet large population groups are excluded from participation in society by using the same (digital) technology.

Instead they get paid off for their inconvenience, caused by a poor design of digital services.

Technology should be used to make things more simple. Techology that make thinks more complex is simple of a very poor design quality, even for not intelectual disabled.