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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What if it was Great? Under-Celebrated Heroes!

Anonymous emblem.svg


Have you noticed that in this blog the title of people who we refer to is not used? This is a conscious decision to make the reader evaluate the ideas rather than the person who is suggesting something.

Of course, this is a bit tricky since if you refer to a well-known person, everyone already knows all about the person. But the underlying idea is that readers should focus on the ideas rather than the person and what he or she has achieved so far in life.

A skilled thinker has developed the habit to always looking for positive, negative as well as interesting aspects with an idea. And a skilled thinker also knows that ideas are seldom perfect but can be used as a stepping stone to develop a better idea. Driven by curiosity there is a continuous search for interesting aspects.

In theory, ideas should be so powerful that regardless of the messenger or medium an idea can stand on its own and change the world. But in real life, great ideas are ignored and not evaluated. A famous person can suggest something mundane and still get lots of attention, while less famous people’s ideas are ignored. At a workplace, an idea suggested by a manager or team leader is regarded as great, but if an employee says the same thing it is ignored or regarded as moaning, non-constructive etc.

TED Talks have decided to create a platform of under-celebrated heroes. The talks are given anonymously. This is an opportunity for people who have the knowledge and the ideas but not the celebrity status to put forward their ideas. By not knowing who is suggesting something, you have to focus on the ideas and the message. Of course, this is something that we should do all the time.

Great ideas may also never reach a larger audience since a person may not like the spotlight or they may fear to lose their job or friends and loved ones. The chance to anonymously put forward your ideas and see if they can fly by themselves may encourage more people to give anonymous TED Talks.

The idea to let ideas speak for themselves is not new. The document Common Sense is a wonderful example. It was published anonymously during the American Revolution in 1776, written by Thomas Paine, it urged America colonists to declare independence from Great Britain.

What ideas would you like to share with the world – anonymously? What do you suggest to make life on Earth better?

And how do you practice on exploring the message and the idea rather than the person who suggested the idea?

P.S. What if we let the ideas in this blog stand for themselves and take away the name and the “About” page. How will you find our blog posts?


Photo: IBM Poughkeepsie site, with the word “THINK”.


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.


Crowd Research

There are some fascinating developments which call for some “What If Thinking”.

Four technological developments

Nowadays more or less everyone is connected to someone via the Internet. It is assumed that any person can connect to another person via a friend of a friend, all it takes is six or fewer steps for anyone to be introduced to someone – it is a small world.

Stanley Milgram  explored the relationship in the Small World Experiment in 1967 and although the experiment have several weakness it is still a popular research topic. By the introduction of the Internet only Six Degrees of Separation are between you and  everyone on your mobile phone. Recent studies even suggest that the world has shrinked as a result of Social Networking such as Facebook and there may only be Three Degrees of Separation. We are and feel more connected to each other.


Soon all conceivable devices will also be connected. This means that a thousand physical quantities built-in (like length, or torque, or tensile strength, or clicks per impression), as well as nearly 10,000 units of measure (like inches, or meters per second or katals or micropascals per square root hertz) will be connected to the Internet.Those devices could be linked to a person  (a smart watch for instance), to a product or a process or linked to a GPS-position. If a standard exchange protocol, as proposed by the Wolfgang Connected Devices Project,  will be developed, a seamless integration of as many kinds of devices may be possible.

A third development is that we assume that the production costs of devices will be decreased by the use of nanotechnology and the trend of individuation of products will continue.  As a result of a reduction of production costs, several devices such equipments such as heart rate monitors, fitness equipment and  books,  are becoming more affordable for individual use. These items  were previously only available for organisations and groups, such as a hospital, gym or library,

A fourth development that will function as a kind of multiplier that will dramatically increase the mentioned developments. Manufacturers of devices will no longer offer a device plus its processor plus an infrastructure linked to that device. They will make use of the facilities the buyer already have. That is, a computer or a mobile phone, with all their data processing qualities and connections built-in. We will see that producers will adopt strategies that are derived from the biological concept of  symbiosis.

Crowd Research

Crowd research offers a great opportunity to explore possibilities and opportunities. Already we can see examples how those four developments or trends will interact and reinforce each other, especially what we call, by lack of better, Crowd Research

  •  SETI, a distributed computingproject in which volunteers donate idle computer power to analyze radio signals for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence.
  • In the Open-Source Bee Project a global set of sensors could give scientists new insight into the possible causes of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).  A cheap sensor could turn backyard beekeepers into an army of citizen-scientists
  • Zooniverse is a citizen science web portal owned and operated by the Citizen Science Alliance. The organization grew from the original Galaxy Zoo project and now hosts dozens of projects which allow volunteers to participate in scientific research. Zooniverse projects require the active participation of human volunteers to complete research tasks. Projects have been drawn from disciplines including astronomy, ecology, cell biology, humanities, and climate science. The Zooniverse community consisted of more than 1 million registered volunteers. The data collected from the various projects has led to the publication of more than 50 scientific papers.
  • eBird is an online database of bird observations providing scientists, researchers and amateur naturalists with real-time data about bird distribution and abundance.  eBird has been described as an ambitious example of enlisting amateurs to gather data on biodiversity for use in science. eBird is an example of treating citizens as scientists, allowing the public to access and use their own data and the collective data generated by others.
  • Tomnod took images gathered by their satellites and offered them to the public for viewing and identification in the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. 2.3 million people used the site to look for signs of wreckage, oil spills and other objects of interest. During the 2010 Haiti earthquake, OpenStreetMap and Crisis Commons volunteers used available satellite imagery to map the roads, buildings and refugee camps of Port-au-Prince in just two days, building “the most complete digital map of Haiti’s roads”

Emerging Crowd Research

We may speculate that the availability of cheap devices linked to mobile phones will increase crowd research exponentially in nearly every area of human activity.

The Quantified Self is a movement to incorporate technology into data acquisition on aspects of a person’s daily life in terms of inputs (e.g. food consumed, quality of surrounding air), states (e.g. mood, arousalblood oxygen levels), and performance (mental and physical). Such self-monitoring and self-sensing, which combines wearable sensors (EEGECG, video, etc.) and wearable computing. Quantified self is self-knowledge through self-tracking with technology. Quantified self advancement have allowed individuals to quantify bio-metrics that they never knew existed, as well as make data collection cheaper and more convenient. One can track insulin and Coriolis levels, sequence DNA, and see what microbial cells inhabit his or her body.

If the collected data are shared, imaging what hidden cause-effect relations will emerge foe example, between life style, geographical area, and food consumption. Architects could use the data to design better buildings, routes and cities. The data can be used to design office layouts that stimulates physical exercise. The data could be used to monitor healthy persons, which could lead to changes in medical science which is per definition based on ill people. It can be used to map the spreading of viruses. People could compare their work pace with others in the branch and in other branches. Scientific disciplines as psychology and sociology would be freed from unreliable research methods like interviews and questionnaires.

 What if dreams are massively recorded on a world scale? Do poor people dream about other things than rich people? Are Japanese dreams different from dreams in Africa? Shadow: Community of Dreamers, crowd financed with $82,500, wakes people up with an alarm, prompts them to anonymously describe their dreams, and beams those reports into a massive online set, where they can be searched and analyzed. Dreams are coded for age, sex, location, and time.  

What if there are cheap devices that measures the quality of tap water or swim water? What if people near Fukushima are no longer dependent on radiation levels from the government or TESCO because there is a cheap device that in combination with a mobile phone share information about radio activity? If many, many people have their own weather station and are plugged in a network, would it not enhance farming at a huge scale? What if anybody with a mobile phone could recognize a sought or missing person?

What if cars have an on-line device that measures the air quality, but also will display that level of air pollution at their rooftops ? Would it lead to “air pollution traffic control”? Wouldn’t it be confronting and provoke to action by citizens?

air quality

All cars have an indicator on their roof that shows the level of pollution: low, medium, too high

Ultimately, we may see an enormous democratising of information that till now has been  monopolised by institutions  and governments and, as history shows,  often a lot of data and information has been denied or hidden from civilians.

Thinking Patterns in Science

Some time ago Robert Sheldrake  suggested ten dogmas of modern science. In a TEDx presentation he argued that science,  by using a rigorous method, has become a belief system that has become the default in the scientific community and this system is based on reductionism and  mechanical philosophy. This idea caused an uproar in the scientific community and – ironically – also the watchers of the YouTube channel “Ideas Worth Spreading”.


As followers of Thinkibility already know, the more controversal a topic is, the more interesting. Sheldrake had apparently broken a pattern of thinking or challenged a common pattern and this was followed, as it always does,  by anger and attack. Below are the ten assumptions Sheldrake suggested in his talk.

  1. Nature acts like a machine, relations between phenomena are mechanical
  2. Nature does not have consciousness
  3. The laws of nature do not change
  4. The total mass and energy is constant
  5. Nature does not have a purpose
  6. Inherited biological properties are material
  7. Memories are stored inside the brain
  8. The mind is inside the brain
  9. Thinking do not have physical effects
  10. Only mechanistic drugs work

You may or may not agree these assumptions, but that is not the point to be taken here, in our point of view. We belief that putting these assumption in a True either/or Untrue box is a  premature approach. Of course, we could use these assumptions as preliminary hypotheses to work with, yet it is wise to acknowledge your assumptions and not regarding them as dogmas. Instead of that we could better, or even must, regard them as possibilities and triggers to question: “What if?”.

Also, as Kant argued, it is not sufficient that hypothesis are positive confirmed by experiments. Kant recommended that we should  indicate under which conditions a hypothesis would be wrong. A hypothesis is called falsifiable if it is possible to conceive an observation or an argument which proves the statement in question to be false. Could we?


Challenging the dominant thinking patterns in science could led to a paradigm shift as Thomas Kuhn described in his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. A paradigm shift is a change in the basic assumptions, or paradigms, within the ruling theory of science. It is in contrast to the idea of normal or generally accepted science.

Beside our considerations above, it would be an excellent exercise in Thinkibility to think up a compelling science fiction story by challenging the standard beliefs of science.

What if ?

what if

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

Create Opportunities


Learn to Spot and Create 
To create opportunities, you need imagination and skills to abstract or generate ideas from concepts. These skills can be taught and one approach relies on making lists of everything and anything that could be improved in the world. Another approach is to avoid using the word “problem.“

The only difference between a problem and an opportunity is in how you decide to act. You can act in a way that makes a problem into a blooming business. However, describing things as opportunities rather than problems makes them “appear” more attractive. Most things can be looked upon as an opportunity. Naturally, there are exceptions, such as diseases and addictions. Then, you need to explore and twist and turn the opportunity into a feasible idea. What new insights and capabilities does the opportunity give you?

Actively listening to people helps you to spot opportunities. Often we are talking or thinking about what we are going to say next. Constantly waiting to talk again prevents us from listening. To create and spot opportunities, it is fruitful actively to listen to people. Often we try to create opportunities by attending events, twitter chats, and conferences, and meeting new people. The trick is to create opportunities from comments you read, blog you browse, and conversations you take part in or overhear.

Initial Spark
Creating opportunities from everyday encounters means not only that the chances that you can create something worthwhile increase; it also means that the opportunities you create will be from things and activities that you have knowledge and understanding about. In this way, you can create an opportunity from something that used to be a problem in your life. Meeting other parents who have children that suffer from Aspergers Syndrome can lead to an opportunity to create a computer programme to help the further develop your children’s strengths.

In business, one of the best ways to create an opportunity is to listen to customers. They will provide you with ideas a new insight that you can turn into real opportunities. This approach is often used in business. But the same principle can be adapted to several other areas, such as schools, social services, and hospitals. Listening to people, really listening, will help you create opportunities. It will provide you with insights and ideas. Listening to friends and let them help you to create opportunities, listening is not a one woman/man game.

Create opportunities rather than wait for them eventually to find you. Steve Jobs, founder of Apple Inc. said But innovation comes from people meeting up in the hallways or calling each other at 10:30 at night with a new idea, or because they realised something that shoots holes in how we’ve been thinking about a problem.”

Work on the Idea
It is important to remember that you seldom get the finished idea by asking customers or listening to friends. They can provide you with ideas that you can use as a starting point for your own thinking. If a car designer asks families about things they like to improve, they may say: ”we would like a mirror in the backseat so we can see what our kids are doing while we are driving.” This practical suggestion can be used to design a mirror. But you could explore different ideas about how to improve security related to attention when people are driving the car you are designing. This may lead to a new button on the front panel where you have the traffic signs. Thus, you need ways to intentionally deign and look for new breakthrough ideas. However, the initial spark can come from customers and from listening to people. For more ideas and tips, please read this an article on creating opportunities.

Trends and Future Worlds

Opportunities could be created by capitalizing on trends. Make a content analysis by studying and exploring certain aspect of messages found in books, journals, newspapers, private letters, and publications of political parties, reports, surveys, interviews, television, and the Internet. Try some Razor Blade Reading and collect the most leading and controversial magazines in your field of interest during three months.

It is advised not to use too much mainstream media. Instead, it is better to use regional papers and magazines. After collecting, scan the magazines and cut out with a razor the articles, which might intrigue you intuitively. Then try to discover patterns. There are some alternatives for Razor Blade Reading in the form of applications that captures information from web pages.

Photo; Abstract World by ddvaumba