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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Creative Marketing – Thinkibility Boost


Classical marketing campaigns are mostly massive in nature, like the Napoleonic Wars. By using brute force and heavenly leaning on resources (people, money, gun power, logistics, management skills) they ty to win. Basically, both parties are in the same game, each trying to use better but more-of-the-same tactics.

An alternative for the not so powerful is to turn to guerrilla warfare. Poor but highly dedicated small teams use asymmetric tactics to surprise and confuse the enemy, thereby using maximal creativity.

But what is creative marketing?

Creative thinking is not doing more-of-the-same

(in the example: applying straight lines), but breaking away from that, for instance by using curved or broken lines.

Thinking patterns
However, it is not easy to break away from standard patterns.
Also, any time we break a standard way of thinking, a behaviour or new idea, bystanders will react with a rejection: this is impossible, it can’t work, it is too costly, complex, difficult or risky. Every time a negative is used, the thinking stops.
Creative marketing is escaping from the standard approaches that are used by big companies. But how to get new ideas?

Normally we think with the speed of light to the first satisfying idea

By that, we miss interesting alternatives along the way
With a Provocative Operation we break away from mainstream thinking. The Provocative Operation (moving outside the mainstream to the green spot) is a attempt to escape standard thinking in order to arrive at an original idea.

For instance: Apple sells our (paper)notebook together with their notebooks.

We will discuss four creative thinking techniques to escape standard thinking:

  • Taken for Granted
  • The Provocation
  • Use Resources
  • Focus

Taken for Granted

Make a list of taken for granted things of a product, at least 15. That is what is normal, assumed to be, standard, generally accepted or obvious. Then we escape by abandon it or modify it.

It is taken for granted that a restaurant has a venue and that the guests are dressed.

A restaurant does not have a venue. That could lead to the idea to set up a picnic service for romantic people.

Guests are naked. That could lead to the idea of a nudist restaurant.

To get creative marketing ideas about for instance an Eco bottle. What is obvious of a bottle (form, materials, filling, getting it, getting rid of it, etc.). Then modify (remove, amplify, change, combine, etc).

The Provocation

Try to escape negatives by redefining criticism by “this is interesting” and “under what circumstances might this have value”, or “could we create value out of this?”. The aim of the Provocation is to move forward the thinking towards an idea that works.

Sandwiches will make themselves

Senor citizens, refugees and children donate by age for using supporting services.

Use Resources

We tend to solve problems by using known and standard solutions. For instance: for attaching something to the ceiling we automatically think of a ladder. But only after we give ourselves the explicit thinking order to use what is at hand, we come up with alternatives: using tables, making a tower of bodies, using the walls, making a long pole.

This creativity technique is also called: think inside the box, meaning no adding additional resources

Make a list of props (things) and persons in your immediate surroundings. Think up in what ways they could contribute or add value.

Integrated Values

A petrol company wanted to create more brand loyalty. That is not simple, for most drivers petrol is just petrol. One of the company’s resources is the car driver. By getting under the skin of the driver, they discovered that getting a parking place in town is an important value for the customer. So they set up a cooperation with parking garages. For the drivers, the petrol company and the parking garage a win-win situation. Together they delivered an integrated value.

Could we design integrated values for the customers of a fruit selling shop?


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.

However, it is more helpful to break it down into smaller topics, as “IWWMW add more value to our product”,“IWWMW get more clients with help of our existing clients”, “IWWMW use other product to sell ours. Redefine at least 15 IWWMW’s in order to escape from the obvious ones 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 any direction for further searching new ideas.

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

Then add a constraint: people, money, time, channels.

Finally construct a propelling question, a question 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”.

Again, the technique of the creative focus is to force oneself outside common thinking. The technique on the focus can be applied to all of the four of the marketing mix:

  • functionality, packing and service of the Product
  • policies about paying and Price
  • sales, advertisements, Publicity
  • and Promotion logistics, storage, inventory and selling channels

Creative Marketing is all about standing out of your competitors, being perceived as a Blue Fish, at no costs.


See also:


Philosophy + Science – Thinkibility Nibble


Today it is regarded by many professional groups to be fruitful as well as necessary to bridge the gap between art and science. Many areas of scientific research needs better thinking and creative working relationship between humanistic and scientific subjects is one approach to ensure that the best solutions and ideas are developed.

Neuroscience is an exciting as well as fast developing research field. In some cases, the ideas and developments involve manipulation of the human brain. Neuroengineering is an area where in the future it will be possible to regulate people’s moods with brain implants. Neuroscientists are often good at exploring values and ethical consequences of their research, yet a working relationship with philosophers may be beneficial both for the scientists and the philosophers. They often explore similar questions from different angles and perspectives. Philosophers have a long tradition of examining some of the questions that neuroengineers are facing. and philosophers may benefit from new inputs and thinking more actively about problems that may face humans in the future.  At the same time, neuroengineers may gain a deeper understanding into some of the problems they may face when they develop brain implants.

Some general issues that scientists and philosophers can explore are:

  • Do we have free will?
  • Who are we?
  • What is the difference between controlling the mind with implants and chemicals, and controlling it with economic incentives?
  • What are the ethical and social consequences of being able to choose to live >150 years?
  • What is the consequences of the moment when you cannot see a difference between humans and robots ( singularity)?
  • What are the consequences of using genetic modified food?
  • Manipulation of DNA?
  • What are the benefits and risks of geoengineering?
  • How to solve problems with the  increasing gap between high income and low income classes?
  • Global capitalism and the destroyed middle class.

Photo:”Idea Concept With Human Head” by renjith krishnan


World Thinkers’ Ideas – Do What You Love

Using the Internet to promote our skills is becoming increasingly more important. New skills and ideas are required and Peter Thiel says that it is vital to let interests and talents help to us find a career that inspires us. Choosing subjects and topics that we are interested in and love, mean that we are motivated to work.

Peter Thiel started the “20 Under 20 Thiel Fellowship” to encourage young entrepreneurs to find ways to fund their own projects. Supporting the next generation of innovators is a keen subject for Peter Thiel, who is one of the founder of PayPal and a current board member of Facebook. Lifelong learning and independent thought is encouraged –  the Thiel Fellowship challenges many traditional ideas regarding what to takes to be an entrepreneur.

Mentors are used to inspire young people and to help them break away from life tracks that interfere with young people’s curiosity and desire to start new projects. Peter Thiel believes that the best way to become an entrepreneur is to learn by doing. The initiative to inspire young people to “stop out of school” may be controversial. Yet the idea is not to stop learning and growing in skills and understanding. Here is a response by a Thiel Fellowship Finalist.

The Thiel Foundation also promotes and support organisations that defend the ideal of freedom. The mission is to defend and promote freedom in all its dimensions –  political, personal, and economic. Today many companies and organisations are striving towards including values and ethical aspects in their daily work.

The term value refers to worth and we often find it easier to measure worth. Yet it is vital to explore social, ethical, or environmental values in our daily work and when we are exploring new ideas and solutions. Values are often described as worries about how we should do things. Consequently, it is easy to ignore ethical aspects. But we can learn to explore value/s in different ways. And keeping worth and ethical aspects separate may not be a fruitful solution. A simple way to explore both dimensions is to  assign numerical values to rank aspects related to worth as well as ethical aspects.This means that it is easier to compare issues related to worth with ethical aspects. It might not be a perfect solution yet it is a beginning.

Photo: “Keyhole And Ladder” by Master isolated images

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

Thinking about Value


Thinking about Value

The importance of value is the theme in the book “The Little Prince” by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.  The narrator observes that grown-ups like numbers. Grown-ups think that they know a person after then have asked questions related to a new friend’s age and how much money his parent’s make. The little prince value aspects such as the games that his new friend likes.

Our value system can be investigated by asking questions related to things and activities that we like or do not like. These kinds of questions are asked in job interviews, when you try to become a member in certain societies. They are also frequently used in dating sites, where you are asked questions such as: “What do you like to do on your holiday, improve my tan or visit museum?”and “What do you like more, a town trip or a walk in the country side?” By asking about likes, problem solving solutions, behaviours, material things, hobbies the idea is to profile you in a value system.

In most other situations, value is involved and value can be of a social, economic, moral, ethical, or ascetical origin. When you are solving a puzzle or maths problem, you are pleased if you get the right answer. This is a value in itself. Yet, the value could also be to avoid boredom, intellectual challenge, or amusement.

Thinking about value can be tricky since other people are involved and their value and points of reference can be widely different. Value is subjective and often it is about what you are prepared to pay or give up having a certain object. Value refers to “something of worth” or “highly appreciated.” It could also refer to deeply felt beliefs or strongly held convictions about moral behaviour.  Identification of new market or increasing the charitable contributions may help to increase the value that other people ascribe to the company. Encouraging people within an organisation to think could be described as a positive value.

The Value of Creating

We often value the things we make ourselves and by letting people design their own  T-shirt or select the ingredients in their muesli, you provide people with the illusion that they have created something themselves. As a result, people value the product more and often they are prepared to pay more for a product that they have designed.

Knowledge and understanding about what people value may come a as surprise and getting this wrong may means that it takes longer for an idea to become popular.

The first instant cake mixes required no effort and they were not popular. By letting people add an egg, the mixtures became a hit. Now they cooks felt valued. And they enjoyed baking cakes using the instant cake mixes.

Design by Using Values

There are different approaches to understanding how, why, and to what degree people should value things. Whether the thing is a person, idea, object, or something else.  From an economic perspective, economic values are seen as an underlying value. In ethics, instrumental and intrinsic values are discussed.  Some things are good because they may result in good things – instrumental values. Others are good in themselves – intrinsic value. It is sometimes argued that wild life in itself has an intrinsic value and that this value comes before using nature as a resource for humans.

Build a car around the concept of confidence or value set of say three values, such as, confidence, reliability, and simplicity.

Confidence is generally described as a state of being certain either that a hypothesis or prediction is correct or that a chosen course of action is the best or most effective. Confidence can be a self-fulfilling prophecy as those without it may fail or not try because they lack it and those with it may succeed because they have it rather than because of an innate ability.

The task is now to make cars that make drivers more confident but avoid overconfidence. This could lead to the idea that the car’s computer gives feedback to the driver about the car’s handling. Maybe it is possible to use GPS and electronic maps for that.

Photo: Dripping Gold Color by pixtawan