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)



A More Beautiful Question (2)

Here a sequel to How to Get a More Beautiful Question?


Defining the thinking task before beginning an idea generation session is one of the most neglected stages.

Most starting questions are far too broad defined. For instance. “In What Ways Might We (IWWMW) get more clients?”. It is more helpful to break it down in smaller topics, as in

  • “IWWMW add more value to our product”
  • “IWWMW get more clients with help of our existing clients”
  • “IWWMW use other product to sell ours”

Design at least 15 IWWMW’s by redefine the initial one in order to escape from the obvious and get a really creative challenge.

Avoid formulating IWWMW’s becoming too small. In that case the IWWMW will just be a concrete solution and will not give you a direction for further searching new ideas.

Then make the challenge less boring and more sexy. That is: make them more imaginative, outreaching, challenging, interesting. For instance: sex up “IWWMW get more clients by using our existing clients” into “our clients collect so much organic waste that we have to export it”.

Follow up by adding a constraint: people, money, time, channels.

Finally, construct a propelling question that has a contradiction in it.

A propelling question is one that drives forward the effort for creative thinking by using a bold ambition and a significant restriction. For instance: “let’s get 50 more clients by firing all account managers”.

The technique of the creative focus is to force oneself outside common thinking, already before the creative thinking session actually get started.



Sub-boxing Everywhere

In all highly developed civilizations, we see a trend to more:

  • segmentation: division into segments
  • specialization: made or used for one particular purpose, job, place, etc.
  • differentiation: development from the one to the many, the simple to the complex, or the homogeneous to the heterogeneous
  • classification: a category into which something is put

You could say that products, jobs, scientific disciplines, processes, phenomena, etc are continually divided up into smaller parts or “conceptual boxes”. The consequence is that such societies become more complex: finding the right “box” and making choices are becoming increasingly laborous and burdensome.

Segmentation is one of the eight trends in TRIZ that predicts the future development of a system that could happen. Below some examples:

Sub-specialties of cardiology are developed along electrical properties of the heart, the use of ultrasound, catheters, and nuclear medicine.

In economics and marketing, product differentiation (or simply differentiation) is the process of distinguishing a product or service from others, to make it more attractive to a particular target market.

Some hundred years ago sport shoes were invented as an alternative of the rather rigid all-day-shoe of leather. Nowadays for nearly any sport there is a specialized shoe available, specifically designed for that sport.

Sometimes the further segmentation reaches to the point of absurdity:


Market segmentation is a marketing strategy which involves dividing a broad target market into subsets.


Segmentation has been one of the strongest strategies in marketing as it is traditionally practiced. If you enter a new category, you attempt to create a product that is distinct from those already there, by carving out a niche. However, segmentation is a more-of-the-same strategy and could be easily counterproductive because it is based on the existing products and markets. Instead of fighting over an ever decreasing fragment of a market, by transforming a product enough to make it suitable to satisfy new or different needs, it is possible to create a new market. It is called lateral marketing.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) offers a common language and standard criteria for the classification of mental disorders.The DSM-I, from 1952, listed 106; the DSM-III, from 1980, listed 265, and the current DSM-IV has 297 mental disorders. It means that over 5o% of all Americans will have a diagnosable mental illness in their lifetimes. It seems that “b0xing”and “sub-boxing” provoke their own dynamics, as explained in this interesting article: Abnormal is the New Normal by Robin S. Rosenberg


Logic Bubblegum and Mental Inertia

One of the most powerful concepts to explain creativity is that “Logic Bubble”.

The term was coined in Edward de Bono’s book Future Positive (1979).  All thinking takes place within a perception space,  within that space everything looks logic from the perspective of the thinker. The logic bubble is formed by values about how the world should be assumptions about how the world is as is, his education, her experiences and cultural luggage.

A new idea lies outside the logic bubble. It cannot be finding within the current boundaries of perception. It is not “logic”; however, it should be in hindsight.

The “logic” of a new idea has to be reconstructed in another “Logic Bubble”

Searching for new ideas requires not thinking harder or more logical or even smarter, but thinking outside the Logic Bubble. A perception shift is needed. The standard pattern of thinking has to be broken.

The Theory of Inventive Problem Solving do have a  likewise concept – Mental Inertia. Valeri Souchkov: “ says that mental inertia is a synonym of psychological inertia. In physics, “inertia” means that the heavier a physical body is the more difficult is to stop it or to change direction of movement of the body. Like any physical body have mass, and, respectively, inertia, our memories and mental associations expand and grow during our lifetimes, and create their own “inertia” (in other words, “thinking inertia” or “mental inertia“). In psychology, it also means a habit of standard reaction in any situation, which resembles standard, even if a situation is non-standard. The same happens with our mind: the more someone’s mind is “loaded” with memories and associations, the more difficult someone can think different and build up new creative images.
I first met this term in  Altshuller‘s work  written in the 1960-1970s. And I also met it in some papers on cognitive psychology dated approximately within the same time frame.”

Photo: “Creative Definition Magnifier” by Stuart Miles

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.


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

Innovations – hype, a mantra, or fashion

A mystery

What is innovation? Is it an improvement, a further development of the product? Is it an extra button? A new colour?  Or something impossible? To encourage innovative thinking we need to inspire action and at least in some cases, swim against the tide.

The pitfall that many for us step into when trying to be “innovative” is that we often have no idea what innovation is. We often start enthusiastically with attending an innovation forum, and courses in “Creative Thinking”. Many companies train their own facilitators for brainstorming sessions. Yet disappointments often follow from using any of the mentioned strategies. Innovation remains a mystery to many of us despite our search for knowledge. How can we learn to develop skills to nurture innovation?

An innovation delivers value for the customer and the supplier

Edward de Bono gives a good definition of an innovation. An innovation is an implementation of an idea that generates value for the customer and the supplier. It begins with a new idea, and a new idea. And this is the good part – it is a breakthrough of standard thinking.

The idea is no longer something “more-of-the-same”. A jacket in a new fabric is not an innovation. A jacket made of different fabrics and a asymmetrical design, is a breakthrough of standard views on a jacket. And according to de Bono’s view this is innovative.

An innovation is the radical removal of contradictions

Heinrich Altshuller (TRIZ) goes even further. An innovation is the radical removal of a contradiction, an unbridgeable gap. A vacuum cleaner is either powerful and consumes much energy or has a low suction and low power consumption. Standard (engineering) thinking is to find an optimum: maximum suction power with minimal energy consumption. This leads to a compromise, which is not very innovative. A real innovation would be a vacuum cleaner that is very powerful and consumes no energy at all. Another innovative idea is to have soilless vegetable planting. This idea breaks our common way of planting plants in soil. As for the jacket, well a radical removal of old ideas is to make an electrical jacket.

Companies will have to define what an innovation is. How otherwise would they decide on ideas that enthusiastic staff put forward for implementation?

Ideas that are not aligned to a company’s visions and goals are a waste of time and resources. A company needs both Big Ideas and Small Ideas. The approach to encourage everyday innovative and creative thinking may lead to the big idea. Many modern successful companies provide time and resources for their employees to stimulate innovation. Brainstorming sessions on client’s issues can lead to new insights. Awarding ideas that suggest a new way of doing something that has not been done before by proving extra time off may stimulate people to think about problem at little bit harder.

Every employee needs to be seen as a resource for innovation. Putting ideas into action is risky and fear of failure is often stopping new innovative ideas from being implemented. Finding 99 ways that does not work is a different way of looking at ideas than calling them 99 failures. Innovations trigger change and it means something new and risky.

Photo: “Soilless Vegetable Planting” by Sura Nualpradid

History of Deliberate Creativity

The idea that you can be taught to be creative by using techniques of deliberate creativity is a recent phenomenon. The first approaches originating between fifty and seventy years ago.

There are roughly three approaches to deliberate creativity:

  • Brainstorming
  • Lateral Thinking
  • TRIZ

Innovation – the implementing of ideas that have value – is a younger concept.
Below we will explain shortly the differences behind each approach to deliberate creativity.

Brainstorming was invented by Alex Osborn during the World War II; the idea was developed when he realized that conventional business meetings were inhibiting the creation of new ideas.  The foundation for his ideas was based upon Organizational Development. Later on, Syd Parnes developed brainstorming into the Creative Problem Solving Process (CPS), and he founded the renowned Creative Problem Solving Institut.

Basically, the concept of brainstorming is derived from Freud’s theory about the development of the psyche. If we have the inner child in us free from the critical inner parent, then we can release the unspoilt natural creativity that has been repressed because of growing-up. There are more than hundreds variants of brainstorming techniques.

Because of their great appeal to free association, which is a technique used in psychoanalysis, the use of mind maps to enhance creativity and techniques to stimulate right brain activities head also under this approach.
Brainstorming has been successful technique especially in design and advertising.

Lateral Thinking
Lateral thinking, as opposed to vertical or logic and critical thinking was designed by Edward de Bono around 1970. It is based on the idea that information in the brain organizes itself in chains of associations or thinking patterns. Patterns can be seen as logical bulbs and are dictating what we perceive. Creativity is the deliberate escape from these patterns, in order to change perception, hence the name lateral thinking.
A related concept is that of Paradigm Shift by Thomas Kuhn, a change in the basic assumptions within the ruling theory of science.

The concept of lateral thinking is also closely related to the idea of human sense making and social construction of reality.

Although lateral thinking can be applied to a range of problems and challenges, it is especially useful in non-technical issues, as there are in business and public policy.

Triz, the Russian acronym for Theory of Inventing Problem Solving was developed by  Genrich Althuller around 1946. Based on a review of 40.000 patents, he devised a set of generic solutions for classes of problems. A central concept in TRIZ is that an invention typically overcomes a dilemma or a trade-off between opposing needs, a contradiction. This reflects the philosophy of Weber on Western progress and that of Karl Marx on dialectics in particular.

Originally, TRIZ was designed for solving technical problems and next generation systems, but is increasingly applied to software and business challenges.

The work of Altshuller is continued by the Altshuller Institute for TRIZ studies.

Photo: Splash Verde Acqua by Idea go