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

 

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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

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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)

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Trends in Innovation – Think Inside The Box!

Trends in Innovation

In an interesting article in the Harvard Business Review, “Reversing the Decline in Big Ideas” Max Marmer argues;

“The number of teams working on transformational ideas in Silicon Valley seems to be declining and homogeneity of founding teams is one of biggest reasons why. We started with the dynamic duo of the businessman and the engineer. Recently we added the designer. Now if want to continue to create products that scale into billion dollar companies, create thousands of jobs and transform society, we need to add domain experts to the founding DNA of Technology Companies.”  

As I interpret Max Marmer we are leaving the era of technological breakthroughs which drove an enormously technology push. As competition grew, the suppliers of the new goods tried to differentiate by adding  more gadgets and finally they turned to industrial designers. The aesthetics, ergonomics, and usability of a product, but also the brand development and sales were introduced to gain competitive advantages.

Design for Value: More teams with expert knowledge

Max Marmer asks himself why the world is full of brilliant domain experts and full of people who are great at building software, but who rarely speak to each other or work together. It is inconceivable that, for example, there is no software for performing opportunity audits, or for systematic value creation in product and service design.

The next big idea may therefore come from teams of  engineers, businessperson, designers or domain experts. From technology push to demand pull, or from providing tools to designing value.

We may see a trend towards advantages for manufacturers who are able to think intelligently and creatively about interesting values for consumers. As Tim Brown says,

“Now, however, rather than asking designers to make an already developed idea more attractive to consumers, companies are asking them to create ideas that better meet consumers’ needs and desires. The former role is tactical, and results in limited value creation; the latter is strategic, and leads to dramatic new forms of value.”

However, due to the economic crisis, things in at least the Western world have dramatically changed. Citizens and governments have become increasingly frugal, while the growing affluence of consumers in emerging economies will place an increasingly heavy burden on already strained supplies of energy, water, and other resources.

Frugal innovation – More value for less cost for more people

Navi Radjou, Jaideep Prabhu, and Simone Ahuja from HBR Blog Network believe that this new age of scarcity in the face of ever more demanding consumers will require a new strategy for disruptive innovation and growth that they call More for Less for More (M4L4M): a strategy that places an emphasis on

delivering more experimental value to customers while simultaneously reducing the cost and delivering that value to a greater number of people. M4L4M offers firms a new way to reconcile multiple, seemingly contradictory financial equations”.

However, Western product developers are spoiled with an overabundance of resources. Most products are over-engineered, engineering problems are often solved by adding more resources or by compromising, and if resources are not enough, the project is abandoned. It is well known that former USSR software developers were far more creative than their US counterparts, who had easily access to much more hardware. Carlos Ghosn, Chairman and CEO of the Renault-Nissan Alliance, famously coined the term “frugal engineering” in 2006. He was impressed by Indian engineers’ ability to innovate cost-effectively and quickly under severe resource constraints.  Here some notable examples of Frugal Engineering.

TRIZ

Frugal engineering is close to TRIZ. In TRIZ, it is known as “ideality”, and the approach was introduced by Altshuller  more than 60 years ago, was focused on achieving the needed result by using existing resources as much as possible. ARIZ, for instance, forces a user to use resources available within a system to change the system to obtain a result required. Another TRIZ tool, “Trimming” focuses on trimming system components as much as possible while preserving functionality, quality, and performance. The advantage of TRIZ is that it provides specific tools in a systematic approach. 

More Thinking Inside the Box 

However, it is more about changing mentality of engineers. So, the next time when there is a demand for more resources, say:”No, adding resources is allowed. Use available resources. We are in a closed world, and in that world we have to find a solution”. As you will notice, this thinking instruction will almost automatically lead to creative alternatives for adding for example more energy, time and money.

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Innovation – The Blue Economy Approach 

Photo: “Gift Box With Ribbon” by metrue