Searching for innovation

Innovation is about finding a better way of doing something. Like many of the new development buzzwords (which many of them are over-used on many business documents), the concept of innovation originates from the world of business. It refers to the generation of new products through the process of creative entrepreneurship, putting it into production, and diffusing it more widely through increased sales. Innovation can be viewed as t he application of better solutions that meet new requirements, in-articulated needs, or existing market needs. This is accomplished through more effective products, processes, services, technologies, or ideas that are readily available to markets, governments and society. The term innovation can be defined as something original and, as a consequence, new, that “breaks into” the market or society.

Innoveracy: Misunderstanding Innovation article points out that  there is a form of ignorance which seems to be universal: the inability to understand the concept and role of innovation. The way this is exhibited is in the misuse of the term and the inability to discern the difference between novelty, creation, invention and innovation. The result is a failure to understand the causes of success and failure in business and hence the conditions that lead to economic growth. The definition of innovation is easy to find but it seems to be hard to understand.  Here is a simple taxonomy of related activities that put innovation in context:

  • Novelty: Something new
  • Creation: Something new and valuable
  • Invention: Something new, having potential value through utility
  • Innovation: Something new and uniquely useful

The taxonomy is illustrated with the following diagram.

The differences are also evident in the mechanisms that exist to protect the works: Novelties are usually not protectable, Creations are protected by copyright or trademark, Inventions can be protected for a limited time through patents (or kept secret) and Innovations can be protected through market competition but are not defensible through legal means.

Innovation is a lot of talked about nowdays as essential to businesses to do. Is innovation essential for development work? article tells that innovation has become central to the way development organisations go about their work. In November 2011, Bill Gates told the G20 that innovation was the key to development. Donors increasingly stress innovation as a key condition for funding, and many civil society organisations emphasise that innovation is central to the work they do.

Some innovation ideas are pretty simple, and some are much more complicated and even sound crazy when heard first. The is place for crazy sounding ideas: venture capitalists are gravely concerned that the tech startups they’re investing in just aren’t crazy enough:


Not all development problems require new solutions, sometimes you just need to use old things in a slightly new way. Development innovations may involve devising technology (such as a nanotech water treatment kit), creating a new approach (such as microfinance), finding a better way of delivering public services (such as one-stop egovernment service centres), identifying ways of working with communities (such as participation), or generating a management technique (such as organisation learning).

Theorists of innovation identify innovation itself as a brief moment of creativity, to be followed by the main routine work of producing and selling the innovation. When it comes to development, things are more complicated. Innovation needs to be viewed as tool, not master. Innovation is a process, not a one time event. Genuine innovation is valuable but rare.

There are many views on the innovation and innvation process. I try to collect together there some views I have found on-line. Hopefully they help you more than confuze. Managing complexity and reducing risk article has this drawing which I think pretty well describes innovation as done in product development:

8 essential practices of successful innovation from The Innovator’s Way shows essential practices in innovation process. Those practices are all integrated into a non-sequential, coherent whole and style in the person of the innovator.

In the IT work there is lots of work where a little thinking can be a source of innovation. Automating IT processes can be a huge time saver or it can fail depending on situation. XKCD comic strip Automation as illustrates this:

XKCD Automation

System integration is a critical element in project design article has an interesting project cost influence graphic. The recommendation is to involve a system integrator early in project design to help ensure high-quality projects that satisfy project requirements. Of course this article tries to market system integration services, but has also valid points to consider.

Core Contributor Loop (CTTDC) from Art Journal blog posting Blog Is The New Black tries to link inventing an idea to theory of entrepreneurship. It is essential to tune the engine by making improvements in product, marketing, code, design and operations.






  1. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Top five strategies to deal with turbulent times in the engineering industry

    How engineering firms plan for, analyze, and react to the expected and unexpected will define their future success.

    1. Know your differentiators

    There are key strengths in an engineering firm. How those strengths measure against other firms and what makes your firm unique in the marketplace require two things: a good understanding of your market and the ability to self-reflect.

    2. Know your indicators

    Many owners and leaders use metrics and indicators to look at a firm’s health. It’s important to use “lagging” indicators—such as profit and loss and balance sheet data. These indicators inform management about the firm’s history. Equally important are leading indicators that can provide clarity to future performance. Think about what metrics are being reviewed to identify future improvements, test your position against external factors, and act as those leading indicators.

    3. Test your firm against the market

    With the right indicators, changes in the market can be detected early.

    4. Respond decisively

    When analysis shows the need for change, preplanned responses can allow for rapid change. Preplanning may sound militaristic; however, the concepts around what to do for engineering firms can prevent crises in the organization and capitalize on situations that would ordinarily leave a firm on the back foot.

    5. Deploy deftly

    Perfect prior planning and preparation will prevent poor performance. Many within engineering firms are all for change as long as they aren’t the ones who have to change.

  2. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Top five strategies to deal with turbulent times in the engineering industry

    How engineering firms plan for, analyze, and react to the expected and unexpected will define their future success.

    Pausing in a market that has more work than people is not typically high on the list of things to do by firm leaders. Looking at the real economic drivers of your firm, and observing the workload, project delivery practices, and behaviors are important. The following are five strategic choices that engineering firm leaders may want to consider when looking at their company strategy and planning for the unexpected

    1. Know your differentiators
    2. Know your indicators
    3. Test your firm against the market
    4. Respond decisively
    5. Deploy deftly

  3. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Accelerating Innovation with Embedded Motion Control

    Embedded motion controllers reduce multiple cycles of algorithm development, implementation, and testing to setting a few parameters and exporting the code to your own firmware

    What do self-driving cars, advanced 3D printers, and the next generation of “smart” prosthetic limbs have in common? They are all beneficiaries of the emergence of embedded motion-control technologies (see also “Three Trends Driving Embedded Motion Control”). These systems, which pair application-specific motion-control silicon with open hardware and software platforms, are part of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, a trend that is accelerating the rate of innovation for robotics, industrial automation, and even consumer products that use mechatronic technology.

    This new class of devices simplifies the development of mechatronic products by “encapsulating” most basic control functions as hardware logic or verified software building blocks that embedded developers can work with using the same rich toolsets and code libraries that they use for conventional applications. In addition to dramatically shortening development cycles, embedded motion controllers make it possible to add new capabilities to existing products while also facilitating the emergence of many new classes of products.

    Three Trends Driving Embedded Motion Control

    Battery/low-power operation
    Living on the IoT
    Bringing motion control to consumer and commercial applications

    Embedded motion control technology’s lower cost, compact form factor, and versatility is reducing the cost of control automation and other traditional industrial applications. These advantages have also made it possible for embedded motion control technology to address new application spaces in the commercial and industrial sectors, where developers face new demands and requirements such as battery operation, IoT capability, and shorter development cycles.

  4. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Inside China’s Silicon Valley: From copycats to innovation

    At the Huaqiangbei Market in Shenzhen, you can build a smartphone from scratch in a couple of hours.

    Spread over several floors and covering hundreds of thousands of square feet, the market is home to vendors selling the parts that make up your standard phone — cameras, motherboards, frames, screens and so on. All you have to do is buy the right bits and know how to put them all together.

  5. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Linda Liukkaan kolumni: Scifiä on turha ylenkatsoa, sillä se kirittää teknologiaa ja auttaa meitä näkemään, mikä maailmassa on vialla

    Ilman tieteiskirjallisuutta maailma olisi aika paljon tylsempi ja takaperoisempi, pohtii Linda Liukas.

  6. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Teknologia viekoittelee unohtamaan inhimillisyyden – teknologian ilmiökartta maaliskuussa 2019

  7. Tomi Engdahl says:

    How we’ll invent the future, by Bill Gates

    We asked Gates to choose this year’s list of inventions that will change the world for the better.

  8. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Introducing kids to computational thinking with Python

    Coding program gives low-income students the skills, confidence, and knowledge to break free from economic and societal disadvantages.

  9. Tomi Engdahl says:

    The hipster effect: Why anti-conformists always end up looking the same

    Complexity science explains why efforts to reject the mainstream merely result in a new conformity.

  10. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Why Do We Crave Sweets When We’re Stressed?

    A brain researcher explains our desire for chocolate and other carbs during tough times

  11. Tomi Engdahl says:

    5 Predictions of Tech Disruptions in the Next Decade

    This year brings us one step closer to a decade that will be full of disruptions. Here are five big predictions for 2020 and beyond.

    So, with that in mind, here are five major disruptions to watch (and watch out) for in the next decade:

    1.) Artificial Intelligence (AI) Will Reflect the Worst of Us
    2.) Connected Cars Will Create Safer Highways and Less Construction
    3.) Healthcare Will Embrace Gene Editing
    4.) The IoT Will Finally Work
    5.) We’ll Get Cybersecurity Figured Out

    Security, like ease of use, is a prerequisite to fully engaging on the potential of a connected world. Today, with all of the distance we’ve come, social engineering – a human contacting a human – is still the biggest class of security exploit. We will always need improvements in technology security, but it will never be enough without solving the human social problem.

  12. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Top five strategies to deal with turbulent times in the engineering industry

    How engineering firms plan for, analyze, and react to the expected and unexpected will define their future success.

  13. Tomi Engdahl says:

    This Brain Implant Could Change Lives

    It sounds like science fiction: a device that can reconnect a paralyzed person’s brain to his or her body. But that’s exactly what the experimental NeuroLife system does. Developed by Battelle and Ohio State University, NeuroLife uses a brain implant, an algorithm and an electrode sleeve to give paralysis patients back control of their limbs. For Ian Burkhart, NeuroLife’s first test subject, the implications could be life-changing.

    Battelle NeuroLife® Neural Bypass Technology

  14. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Humans Need to Beat Robots at Collaboration

    Team scientists believe the shortcomings of robots offer the perfect opportunity for humans to become better, more efficient collaborators.

  15. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Kevin Carey / The Huffington Post:
    A look at “OPMs”, companies which manage online courses for top US universities and take a 60% cut from tuition fees, which may reach $60K+ per online degree

    Today, the country’s best colleges are an overpriced gated community whose benefits accrue mostly to the wealthy. At 38 colleges, including Yale, Princeton, Brown and Penn, there are more students from the top 1 percent than the bottom 60 percent.

    Tuition prices aren’t the only reason for this, but they’re a major one. Public university tuition has doubled in the last two decades, tripled in the last three.

  16. Tomi Engdahl says:

    What Happens When Maths Goes Wrong? – with Matt Parker

    Most of the time, the maths in our everyday lives works quietly behind the scenes, until someone forgets to carry a ’1′ and a bridge collapses or a plane drops out of the sky.

  17. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Scary, costly and funny results of maths errors, by Stand-Up Maths comedian Matt Parker | ITV News

    Like most in his trade comedian Matt Parker has learned to look at the world from an unusual angle.

  18. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Humanity will communicate through thoughts by 2050

    Humanity will abandon speech and communicate using nothing but thoughts by 2050.

    According to the producer of the ‘Collective consciousness’ exhibit Marko Krajnovic, at the Museum of the Future in Dubai

  19. Tomi Engdahl says:

    he Gap is in Opportunity, Not Skills

    Electronics companies often bemoan a lack of engineering skills they need, but it seems if the industry put more effort into creating opportunities for engineers to learn, the skills would be there.

    There’s a common mantra in many industries about the “skills gap” and not being able to find the right skills to fill specialist vacancies. But that’s just not true. The youngsters with skills are out there – they just have an opportunity gap, which it’s up to industry to address.

  20. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Can schools be agile?

    We certainly don’t need to run our schools like businesses—but we could benefit from educational organizations more focused on continuous improvement.

  21. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Virtual reality for pain relief and Stentrode: A brain computer interface that can be implanted in the brain without open brain surgery.

  22. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Death by PowerPoint: the slide that killed seven people

    We’ve all sat in those presentations. A speaker with a stream of slides full of text, monotonously reading them off as we read along. We’re so used to it we expect it. We accept it. We even consider it ‘learning’. As an educator I push against ‘death by PowerPoint’

    The fact is we know that PowerPoint kills. Most often the only victims are our audience’s inspiration and interest. This, however, is the story of a PowerPoint slide that actually helped kill seven people.


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