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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Thinking outside the Sea Map


In 17th and 18th centuries England, France, and Spain contested the Dutch domination of world trade and the control over the seas and trade routes. After initial English successes, the war ended in a decisive Dutch victory.

In 1667 Lieutenant-Admiral Michiel de Ruyter sailed up to the river Thames and attacked the British Royal navy in her home base and towed away the Royal Charles, pride and flagship of the English fleet to display it as a tourist attraction in Hellevoetsluis in the Netherlands. It was one of the worst defeats in the Royal Navy’s history, comparable with that of the fall of Singapore in 1942.

Till then, both navies had tried to fight each other at the open seas. Numbers of war ships, range and caliber of the guns and coordinated maneuvering skills were key success factors. However, de Ruyter did something totally different, he sailed up to Chatham and surprised the resting British fleet there.  That way he outperformed the British navy by changing the rules of the game.


This kind of thinking is the same you should apply when you want to reach dramatic cost reductions, come up with a radical new concept for an existing product or creating a breakthrough innovation. In those cases more-of-the-same thinking will not provide for a game change in the market. Patterns of standard thinking should be broken in order to get competitive advantage.

Edward de Bono, de inventor of lateral thinking, called it Sur/petition: creating value monopolies when everyone else is merely competiting.


However, it is not simple to come up with disruptive ideas. And also, to convince your board and your crew.

When the secret instructions were opened on June 7 there was a lot of protest. It was noted that most officers do did their best to find objections, but not to come up with solutions.

See also: Creative Execution: What Great Leaders Do to Unleash Bold Thinking and Innovation or watch this video 2′ 23”

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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Time Fascism – Thinkibility Nibble


With Time Fascism we mean that sometimes time restrictions are used in a way that should be characterized as oppressive, intolerant, dictatorial and/or aggressive.

Babies and toddlers are expected to develop within a certain time-frame. Those who for various underlying reasons do not sit, crawl or read or should be known by the authorities, so they can help and ensure the best treatment. However, many children develop in other directions and at other paces. Early support is often beneficial for lots of conditions but the framework is often rigid. There is also a risk that a child will be defined as someone with a developmental or learning disability, and more importantly the environment will behave to conform this “fact “. However, many children do not follow “normal development” and they nevertheless grow up to became successful people.

IQ tests and other learning performance tests have time limits. If you have not solved the problems in a certain time-period, you get a lower score or even fail. But what if someone is able to solve all the problems in 24 hours, and then performing better than the average student? Notwithstanding that in some countries they define entrance levels for higher education at the age of 10.

To get a passport, or other official documents, we are bound to opening hours. Mostly we have to take an holiday to fulfill our obligations as a citizen. However, the government should work for citizen and should open their offices like shopping malls, who are welcoming their clients they depend on.

At the age of 18, if you want to go to university you should have A-levels in a couple of disciplines. What if someone is brilliant in mathematics, but lacks sufficient fluency in a required language? He or she  will not be admitted to an university, because they had not acquired some skills in a certain time. What if the person could acquire that extra skills later?

To be on time when having an appointment is a good business habit, so you don’t waste time for the person you have made the appointment with. But maybe by being late you give the person an opportunity to reflect on his or her functioning or even time to clean up the desk?

We understand that an individual, institution or group we have called a Time Fascist will find the way we selected examples to be highly offensive and inappropriate. We just tried to show how authoritarian and intolerant power-holders use time as means for repression, which in some way is homologous with fascist ideology: that is governmental suppression of individual freedom.


Ways to Recognize Concepts

How to recognize concepts?

A concept can be described as a perceived pattern or regularity in events or objects. We form groups of different events or objects into a single category on the basis of some underlying similarity. We are often not aware of what aspects or characteristcs that are underlying the categorization of events and objects into concepts. In a sense, when becoming manifested, the embodiment of an concept will become clear. conceptwords Concepts or categories can be associated with a single word. The development of  “single word” concepts in young children is fascinating, as Douglas Hofstadter and Emmanuel Sander show in their book Surfaces and Essences.A child forms their first concepts between birth and three years of age. The construction of concepts begins before the acquisition of language. Hofstadter and Sander discusses how categories associated with a single word are constantly having their boundaries extended by analogies, the word  mum is extended when the child acquires words like grandma, fairy-queen, and surrogate mother. Other single word concepts are words such as town, village, room, seat, table, store, but also more abstract words like society, liberalism, economics, law, money In addition,  there are multi word concepts, like Achilles heel, that seems to indicate a whole complex of meaning that could be used to describe a situation in only two words (“A serious weakness that may lead to someone’s undoing”). Many proverbs and fables are multi word concepts, like we earlier discussed in Sayings and Proverbs as Thinking Patterns. Examples are A picture paints a thousand words or Penny wise, Pound foolish. There also much more abstract concepts and spontaneous categories, that somehow make a reference to a situation experienced before or to an analogous situation. Examples are “she hit me with her question” or “it’s no different than moving the deck chairs on the Titanic”. New categories are constructed every day to give concise meaning to situations or phenomena. Sometimes they have the form of a caricature such as uncle Dagobert stands for greed, a Kafkaeske situation for bureaucratic loopholes. what is a concept As you may have noticed, in this blog we write a lot about thinking patterns. That is: patterns of concepts that are used in thinking. One of the ways to discover thinking patterns is to pay attention to the words that are used, especially if some words come back regularly. When we pay attention, it becomes possible to identify the “thinking pattern behind a policy paper”, that is, the basic concept of the policy. We mentioned earlier that language is not innocent, and that concepts function like filters of reality, at the same time they will give meaning of reality. If we are able to concisely describe the basic thinking  of a policy maker, then we make it vulnerable for constructive criticism. That will be one of our next posts about concepts. To read more about Thinking Patterns in science: click here

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.

I Am a Depressive Character – You’re Absolutely Right

This post is about patterns or logical bubbles in psycho therapy. As we will see there are some parallels with lateral thinking.

lateral thinkingThere are several reasons why a person attends psychotherapy. Someone may attend psychotherapy because she is suffering because she thinks herself into a situation she doesn’t want to be in. She visits  a psychotherapist to get an alternative for her mental state. Or someone visits a therapist because he does something compulsively, and wants to get rid of that compulsory habit. We can represent this situation as someone being caught in a destructive thinking path, as show in the image as a road from A to B. The patient is looking for an escape to an alternative path to help them get into another thinking or behavioral habit. In the picture represented as side way C.

Some readers will recognize this as the way Edward de Bono explains main stream thinking and lateral or creative thinking. With main stream thinking we mean how  humans normally and routinely make sense of, interpret, represent or model the world they experience, and to make predictions about that world (A -> B). The thinking involved with discovering new inventions, coming up with new ideas and concepts and non-obvious alternatives need breaking away from standard thinking patterns (A -> C)


An assumption in psychotherapy is that the therapist has to diagnose the patient before a treatment plan can be made. In order to do that the therapist will delve into patient’s past, his problems, how he solved them, and how he digests uncomfortable feelings and emotions. Psychotherapists must be  ood active listener: re-stating or paraphrasing what they have heard in their own words, encouraging the patient to express feelings, showing complete understanding and empathy.The therapist is responsible for a solution. That solution is per definition outside the standard thinking or behavioral patterns of the patient, so a big challenge is the acceptation of therapist’s solution by the patient. If he doesn’t do that, the therapist is not professional enough. This phenomenon is called psychological resistance  in which patients either directly or indirectly oppose changing their behavior or refuse to discuss, remember, or think about presumably clinically relevant experiences.

Everyone who ever ventilated a breakthrough idea – an idea outside accepted thinking – will recognize this mechanism. It is rejection and you will have to come up with a better idea, That is why much therapy processes takes years. The patient refuses to alter his thinking, so the therapist is forced to make a better diagnose. Both patient as therapist are caught in a perpetual pattern in which the patient does not want to leave his comfort zone, a behavioral state within he operates in an anxiety-neutral condition, using a limited set of behaviors to deliver a steady level of performance, usually without a sense of risk.


Does this remind you of a situation in which you do want to come up with fresh ideas, and you are trying and trying, erring in circles with no results? You are still in main-stream thinking (A->B).

An alternative to classical psycho therapy is Provocative Therapy, invented by Frank Farrelly which advocates radical (and sometimes humorous therapeutic moves intended to jolt the client out of his current mindset.

That is exactly what lateral thinking also is about. To escape from taken for granted thinking to alternative perceptions by deliberately setting up Provocations.

Imagine, someone tells you that she is depressed. Normally you would comfort her, you would do your best to cheer her up, give her a fresh look on the situation or just show empathy. But what if you respond that she is absolutely right and perhaps still far too cheerful? What would happen?

Regarding Jeffrey Wijnberg there are some rules that form the basis of Provocative Psycho Therapy. As you will notice, these are radical different as what therapists usually do:

  1. The therapist gets an equal speaking time as the client;
  2. The therapy starts immediately as the patient enters the clinic;
  3. The therapist uses deliberately no structure during the talks;
  4. The therapist never use hands solutions;
  5. The therapist tries to get in the “laughing state”as soon and well as possible;
  6. The therapist don’t prepare the sessions, but transfers that task to the client;
  7. The therapist uses a (played) pessimistic attitude;
  8. The therapist understands little or nothing of the deeper meanings of what the client tells him;
  9. The therapist is paradoxical in his communication: non-verbal he is signalling warmth, passion, empathy) but verbally he is critical, provocative (doubt, challenging, incomprehension);
  10. The therapist says whatever comes to him.

Please note, it is vital to create a “safe container” when using Provocative Therapy. The work is carried out in an environment designed to be positive, there is a regard for the client and a belief in their capacity for change.