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?

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


Improbable Reserach – Slipperiness of Banana Peel

slip banana

How painful is it to look at an ugly painting? How does a reindeer react when he sees a human wearing a polar bear suit? And how slippery is banana peel?

The Ig Nobel Prize is rewarded for unusual or wacky scientific research projects. This reward is the comical counterpart to the prestigious Nobel Prize, which is awarded by the Swedish and Norwegian Nobel committees in recognition of high achievements.

The underlying criteria for winning the Ig Nobel Prize is that the research should make people laugh and then think. Raising people’s curiosity is important and many of the prize winners inspire you to think about what is important both in science and in life.

“The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’ but, ‘That’s funny…” Isaac Asimov

The Ig organisation publish a magazine – Annals of  Improbably Research.

Among the prize winners this year was.

  • A team of Japanese scientists earned the Ig Nobel prize in Physics for their paper titled “Frictional Coefficient under Banana Skin” – the hazards of stepping on a banana peel.
  • A team of Norwegian and German researchers tested how reindeer react to seeing humans wearing polar bear costumes and won the Arctic Science prize. The researchers found that the reindeer run away  more than twice the distance when they saw the man in a polar bear suit.
  • The Art Prize was awarded to an Italian team who measured the relative pain people suffer while looking at an ugly painting.
  • Researchers looking at how dogs defecate and urinate picked up the Biology Prize  and if you have a dog you can check and see if he or she align the body axis with Earth’s north-south geomagnetic field lines.
  • Are you staying up late at night? Well, according to the winners of the Psychology Prize, you may be  more self-admiring, more manipulative, and more psychopathic than people who habitually arise early in the morning.

And yes, this blog post was written by someone who habitually arise early in the morning. . . with the help of my dog. . .

What funny ideas for research do you have? What improbable hypothesis do you like to test? And how would you test the idea?

Crazy and wild ideas are encouraged!

I want to test if the slipperiness of banana peel is affected by the height of the heel. The hypothesis is that high heels makes the banana peel less slippery since you may pierce a hole in the banana peel. . .  Men and women could be tested wearing shoes with different heel heights. . . And what do people feel when they found out that their leather jacket is made out of fermented tea, kombucha? A quick raise in the heart rate followed by sweaty palms is predicted.

We wrote a blog post about last years winners. Go here to read the Thinkibility Nibble Walking on Water.