12 Modes of Innovation

Arguably, there is only one definition of ‘innovation’, which must read something like ‘to create something outside a known frame of understanding’: for me there is something about looking beyond the frames and context that we know, and looking through new lenses. But within that context, there are many modes, some driven by ideas, others by technology, and today i am exploring some of those. It’s not intended to be a definitive list, and some cross over with each other, but this process of ‘deconstruction’ is one i find useful, when looking for new ideas and approaches around a subject. Incidentally, all of this writing on innovation is contextualised by this piece, which summarises my current thinking.

12 Modes of Innovation

I recently shared ‘12 modes of failure’, exploring mechanisms by which Organisations fail. I’m building upon that work today, sharing ‘12 modes of innovation’. It’s intended to be a provocation, to think about the mechanisms of innovation, and how it relates to wider frames and perceptions. Together with the modes of failure, i’m using these in a card game, with teams, to get them to think about things differently.

Connection: putting 2 + 2 together, and making 5 work. A fairly classic model, additive, where two things are combined, and the combination delivers more than the sum of the parts. I guess a model would be commercial co-working spaces, where we put together space, and utilities, and gain collaboration.

Category: creates a new category of product or service. The archetypal example being the iPad, where technological advancement delivers against vision: the real innovation here is in the ability to look beyond existing, ‘known’ frames, and ask ‘why’.

Optimisation: streamlines to a point of differentiation. This builds upon some language you may have seen me use recently, about the extension of value chains, and supply chains, and how simply the process of optimisation may differentiate us, either by removing radical complexity, or hollowing out a business model to the point of negligible costs. Note that this easily flips to a mode of failure, where we simply add in radical complexity, and fragility.

Context: repurposes the existing to fit a new context. New uses for old things. I guess examples would be factories, repurposed to loft living, or maybe the rise of smartwatches, which are within an existing category, but the context of use changes (health support, not just timekeeping).

Breakthrough: removes what was thought immovable. Another classic innovation space: breaks down barriers, usually driven by technology. A simple example may actually be a ticketing system that allows you to search for the cheapest combination of deals to make a long journey. The radical complexity, the sheer volume of sites, previously made that untenable. Another may be cryptocurrencies bypassing the role of central banking.

Oppositional: innovates through deconstruction of the status quo. Punk is the obvious example here, finding power precisely in opposition to the established power. Uber does this to a degree too, relishing in it’s disruptor status.

Secondary: innovation manifest as a result of something else e.g. a little bit nerdy this one, but companies like Sabic exist because they exploit the waste products of the petrochemical industry. And it’s vast.

Accidental: emergent innovation, with no forethought. I would be tempted to say ‘text messaging’, and hence, ultimately, WhatsApp: SMS texts were an afterthought, using some spare space alongside the signal. Nobody expected they would form a dominant revenue stream for telecoms companies. Until they did.

Iterative: innovation through blunt force, and rapid iteration. I suspect some genetic research falls into this, and any mathematical approaches to engineering through simulation. Hit it hard, and continue, and apply more computing power. This can even result in innovation where we do not know how it works. Probably many algorithmic approaches based upon pattern recognition and prediction fall here.

Need: innovation driven by urgent need. Churchill orders his ‘funnies’, variants on tank design (like swimming tanks) to support the D Day landings. The need was urgent, and he just needed an unconventional thinker to solve this. Which, fortunately, he found. Possibly global warming will provoke such innovation.

Sustainability: reduces consumption of materials, close to closed loops. Closed loops are ones that require no new raw materials: they achieve 100% recycling of resource. Largely fictional at this stage, but a driver for innovation for e.g. the car industry. Electrical waste is growing at something like 5% a year, so the fastest growing category, and ripe for innovative solutions.

Frugality: breakthough allows us to achieve more, with less. Possibly not the sexiest type of innovation, but ones that allow us to achieve more with less, for example, approaches that use more of a raw resource, like plant fibre, or off-cut materials. Possibly aided by machine learning e.g. optimising usage, storage, logistical networks, distribution and stock levels. A company like Ocado may support this, where is specialises in automated warehousing and distribution.

About julianstodd

Author, Artist, Researcher, and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the context of the Social Age and the intersection of formal and social systems.
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8 Responses to 12 Modes of Innovation

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