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

 

aaeaaqaaaaaaaae9aaaajdrknmnhmgy5ltg1m2utndqzos05ndvmltm2mgvinzdmmdm2za

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

systematic-innovation-an-introduction-to-triz-11-728

systematic-innovation-an-introduction-to-triz-12-728

systematic-innovation-an-introduction-to-triz-13-728systematic-innovation-an-introduction-to-triz-14-728systematic-innovation-an-introduction-to-triz-15-728

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)

zksro7zalpxmefosixp5yo5fmt6jc3sachvcdoaizecfr3dnitcq_0_0

5020662000138936545-4982514339595930017

Patterns in Medicine

laws-of-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.

lateral-thinking-by-edward-de-bono-8-638

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?

Not to miss?  Follow Thinkibility. The blog about Thinking, Creativity, Innovation and Design.

Save

Creative Data Collection

Data collection is the process of gathering and  measuring variables of interest, in an established systematic fashion that enables you to answer stated research questions, test hypotheses, and evaluate outcomes. The goal for all data collection is to capture quality evidence that then translates to rich data analysis and allows the building of a convincing and credible answers to questions that have been posed.

flats_1742028c

However, many research and policy are based on already available information that do  not necessarily fit to the issue or question. For instance, the average income of residents in a district is estimated at the average market value of homes. Suppose there are some big villas in a district. However,  the houses are rented to migrant workers who sleep with twelve persons in a room. Actually, the district has poor inhabitants and impoverishment is lurking. A better measure of prosperity in a district could be the amount of call shops, Travelex foreign exchange bureaus or percentage windows with bed sheets as curtains or without curtains at all. 

Perhaps we could use data of the local supermarkets to assess the risk of impoverish of a district, not only by sales volume, but also the kind of products consumers buy. Income groups differ in the food they buy. Supermarkets may have more or less variety in products they offer, regarding the population.

supermarket

This could lead to a Reverse Open Data movement, where businesses make their data available for town halls to design social and economic policies. Open Data is a movement that  open data should enable third parties to leverage the potential of government data through the development of applications and services that address public and private demands. This information exchange could be made two-sided.

Perhaps we could measure the level of civilization of a nation by registering the percentage of cars that don’t stop for a pedestrian at a pedestrian crossing (a zebra crossing).

big mac

Another example is the Big Mac Index, a creative alternative to determine exchange rates, the rate at which one currency will be exchanged for another. It is based on the concept that a Big Mac is highly standardized all over the world. The difference in selling price in country A compared with the selling price of a Big Mac in country B gives a better idea of the value of the two currencies relative to each other.

brands

Maybe we can say something about the tendency to conformity by counting people who wear clothes of a specific brand. Or determine the percentage women that is involved in street sweeping.

Cleaner-Oct06-D3249sAR

It’s hard to get solid data on drug usage, because it’s traditionally gathered via questionnaires. Respondents can fudge the answers or forget details. Drug users also sometimes don’t know what they are really taking or whether other drugs are mixed in. However, the laboratory analysis of waste water has the potential to get more accurate results more quickly, as a recent study showed that cities’ sewer water exposes use of cocaine, cannabis, meth and ecstasy.

sewer

It is interesting to roam in a town and create some mini theories that explain what is observed, compared with another town. For instance:

  • There are substantially more gulls and open torn garbage bags ;
  • Advertising is everywhere and very blatant;
  • There is a lot of green space and many squares;
  • All doors and window frames are painted in the same color;
  • There are many pizzerias.

What does it mean? Or what does it explain? Can you quantify the phenomena and turn them into meaningful data?

 

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.

Image

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”.

dogma

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?

Image

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:

World Thinkers’ Ideas – Examine No-Difference Results

No one writes an article about a study showing that medicine “x” is as good as “y” when it comes to making a muscle relax. Or that there is no difference between people reading books and video games. Or that girls are just as good on some tasks as boys are. Scientific reports and ideas shall suggest a difference to be noticed. Only results suggesting a difference get headlines – the file-drawer effect -studies showing no difference are hidden in researchers file drawers. Finding a significant difference is simply more interesting, we love to categorise things, and making things fit nicely into different categories is easier.

Neuroscientist Lise Eliot set out to examine sex difference between boys and girls – something that from the start looked like a straightforward task. She could simply link differences between girls and boys to their differences in brain development. Boys and girls and different and many parents can cite numerous differences between their sons and daughter. They often have different interest and their emotional reactions are different. Media often report on various differences between the sexes – boys are at greater risk for most of the major learning and developmental disorders such as dyslexia and attention deficit discords. In many countries, particularly in the Western World, girls are more likely to get better marks than boys are.

However, Lise Eliot found few differences when she started to look into data more closely. She challenged the notion that sex differences are “hard-wired” by studying results related to sex differences and no-sex differences. She suggests that there are small differences between boys and girls’ brains at birth but neuroplasticity – our brain’s ability to change throughout life – shapes children’s gender development. The gap between the sexes grows partly because of the way we treat and expect boys and girls to act and behave and not because of differences in the brain.

Focusing on extreme results has lead to stereotyping. Examining statistics is vital and in some cases, we exaggerate results. In 1982, a study with 5 females and 9 males was published that suggested that corpus callous, a fibre bundle that connects our two brain hemispheres, is larger in females. This result is still cited and the revision of fifty similar studies suggests that there is no difference is forgotten and has rarely been  noticed by media. In addition, recent results suggesting that there are no differences between girls and boys and male and female fetuses are also largely ignored.

In a similar way, when we are comparing results from two organisations or departments in our company, it is easy to exaggerate the difference; we rarely explore results that suggest that two companies get similar results despite using different strategies. Thinking should explore and examine differences as well as similarities.Finding the points where to more or less similar groups or items start to differentiate is vital to gain a complete picture. When it comet to sex differences, we can detect differences in the way children choose toys around  the age of three – watch the  videos to find out more.

Photo: “Row Of Color Bokeh ” by wiangya

Innovation and Design

 

A vision on innovation

Innovation is a very misunderstood technique.

We would like to introduce some clarity:

  • Innovation does not just fall into your lap
  • Ideas have to be consciously designed
  • Application of a technology follows the generation of an idea, not visa versa

Innovation does not  just fall into your lap

You will often hear that innovation will provide the solution:

  • If you give enough knowledge vouchers to SMEs and increase investment in research.
  • If only companies would listen more to the customer and collaborate with other companies. . .
  • Or if companies become more ‘open’ and allow employees to make mistakes. . .
  • If entrepreneurs become less risk-avoiding and the workforce are better trained. . .
  • If we produce ‘social innovations’ and the government ‘changes’. . .

But how? And who will provide the ideas?

In many cases, they do not come from the existing market.

From a knowledge centre then, but which one?
Or from a few non-conformists in your organisation? Who produce ideas you do not  really want, but do have to implement, and you even have to pay them generously for it!

Or do the ideas come from you?

Ideas have to be consciously designed 

Simply waiting for a good idea to come along has ruined many entrepreneurs. Purposefully developing a good idea has not. And by a good idea, we do not mean ‘more of the same’. Or brainstorming during a team away day with flip-overs and coloured pens.
So what then? Thinking up a good idea is most like ordinary, traditional work. Select the appropriate thinking technique and from a ‘vague’ beginning become increasingly clear and focused. The starting point is always: your situation. 

First the idea, then the technology. Not the other way around. 

If you go on holiday, you first choose your destination and then decide whether to go by train or car. And you may even be able to walk. Innovation is no different. The technology required to implement almost any idea will have existed for some time. You must first develop the idea and then select the technology to implement it. If you reverse the order, your path will end in a cul-de-sac.

After the idea has been properly detailed, a thorough evaluation of its feasibility in terms of technology and marketing techniques will be required. Just as strictly as with ‘ordinary’ investment decisions:

  • Perhaps additional applied research will need to be carried out
  • The risks must be categorised and covered.
  • Intellectual properties must be protected.
  • The funding must be finalised
  • It may be necessary to look for partners.
  • Or the organisation may need to be modified.

But all this is only after the idea for innovation has been designed.

By the way, what is innovation? A hype, a mantra or just a mode.

Photo: By Karoly Lorentey from Budapest, Hungary (Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons