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:

    How Mindfulness Meditation Can Save America

    More broadly, mindfulness meditation isn’t warm and fuzzy. In a certain sense it’s cool and clinical. It involves, among other things, examining your feelings and deciding whether to buy into them, whether to let them carry you away.

    Obviously, America could stand for people to be a little less susceptible to getting carried away by their feelings. But the contribution mindfulness can make to bridging the great tribal divide is more powerful than that simple formulation suggests. To appreciate this potential, you have to understand how subtle the psychology of tribalism is.

    Tribal psychology involves, at one level, some obvious ingredients: rage, vengeance, loathing—the kinds of raw emotions you might imagine when you imagine tribes literally at war. But the psychology of tribalism also involves—in fact, I’d say, it mainly involves—cognitive biases that warp our perception of the world.

    Cognitive biases have gotten a lot of attention in the popular psychology literature over the past decade.

    Consider the role confirmation bias can play in “fake news,” false or deeply misleading information that spreads widely, typically via social media.

    Such information is sometimes spread cynically and knowingly. But often it is spread unknowingly, by people who click “retweet” or “share” without first investigating what they’re sharing. A

    Indeed, if you pay close attention at the moment you’re sharing this kind of news on social media, you may observe a sequence of feelings: a positive feeling upon seeing the news, the subtle but palpable urge to spread it, and the feeling of gratification you get upon spreading it—a gratification that is deepened if this addition to the nation’s discourse then gets a lot of retweets, shares, or likes. These are the feelings that can make you part of the fake news problem.

    Obviously, meditation won’t singlehandedly end fake news. But I think it would reduce the fuel supply for false and slanted information. And that could make a big difference, because the problem with such information isn’t just that it confuses the people who believe it. It also has an unfortunate influence on the people who don’t believe it—the people in the tribe who didn’t spread it. It reinforces their belief that the people in the other tribe are, at worst, knowingly lying and, at best, deeply confused.

  2. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Fast Forward Labs CEO: ‘If every idea on the roadmap is a good idea, that scares me a bit’
    Hilary Mason on Cloudera acquisition, AI hype and getting enterprises to experiment

    Businesses’ aversion to risk means they miss out on the potential rewards of machine-learning projects – but some still have impractical ideas about what artificial intelligence can really offer them.

    That’s according to Hilary Mason, founder of analytics and algorithm research biz Fast Forward Labs, which was last month acquired by Hadoop-flinger Cloudera.

  3. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Tribbles’ Creator Eyes Our Disruptive Future

    Sci-fi author David Gerrold makes predictions for AI, IoT, biotech, energy and data security, and calls humor a “defining aspect” of intelligence. We’d expect no less from the guy who foresaw the trouble with Tribbles.

    David Gerrold is most famous for having written the Star Trek episode “The Trouble with Tribbles.” But his science fiction includes the first description of a computer virus and explores the nature of artificial intelligence (in his 1972 novel “When HARLIE Was One”), as well as covering big-picture sci-fi themes ranging from galactic empires to time travel. I recently managed to pin down the energetic author to talk about his visions for the future.

    Opening with a witty, “I write science fiction; predicting the future is harder,” Gerrold started the conversation by talking about energy sources and energy management. “We are definitely shifting away from fossil fuels to clean energy sources. Solar and wind are the most cost-effective right now, but we are likely to need nuclear power as well. Thorium-based reactors might be the safest way to go.”

    There are “safe technologies,” Gerrold said. “The problem has always been getting the power to the consumer. So there will have to be significant advances in battery technology. We’re already seeing some significant advances in the laboratory, if they can scale up, that’ll be a good start, but … storing enough power in a practical container has always been the weak link in the chain.”

  4. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Innovation should be a school subject – Commissioner Navracsics

    Innovation should be taught as a subject in European schools, according to Tibor Navracsics, the EU’s Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, who says that education can be a defining factor in the life of young scientists.

    ‘Education can be a decisive force, an engine in the socialisation of young scientists,’ he said. ‘It is important to have the institutions to support those young kids who have the aspiration to become a scientist.’

    He was speaking at the annual European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) conference, held in Budapest, Hungary, on 16 and 17 October, which aimed to discuss the direction of innovation in Europe.

  5. Tomi Engdahl says:

    An 11-year-old has become ‘America’s Top Young Scientist’ for her sensor detecting lead in water

    11-year-old Gitanjali Rao won this year’s Discovery Education and 3M Young Scientist Challenge. Her winning invention was a sensor that can more accurately detect lead levels in water compared to current methods.

    “The idea just came to me when I saw my parents testing for lead in our water,” Rao, a seventh-grader, told Business Insider. “I went, ‘Well, this is not a reliable process and I’ve got to do something to change this.’”

    They can either use lead-testing strips, which are fast but not entirely accurate; or they can send the water to the EPA for analysis

    Over the course of the summer, Rao worked with 3M scientists to bring her proposed sensor to life. The device, which Rao named Tethys after the Greek goddess for water, uses carbon nanotubes to detect the presence of lead. She tuned, or “doped,” the carbon nanotubes specifically to detect lead, pairing the device with a mobile app displaying the water’s status.

  6. Tomi Engdahl says:

    This Doctor Diagnosed His Own Cancer with an iPhone Ultrasound
    Can a smartphone-enabled ultrasound machine become medicine’s next stethoscope?

    Every marketer wants the perfect story to tell. But if you’re in medicine, you don’t want it to be about yourself.

    Earlier this year, vascular surgeon John Martin was testing a pocket-sized ultrasound device developed by Butterfly Network, a startup based in Guilford, Connecticut, that he’d just joined as chief medical officer.

    He’d been having an uncomfortable feeling of thickness on his throat. So he oozed out some gel and ran the probe, which is the size and shape of an electric razor, along his neck.

    On his smartphone, to which the device is connected, black-and gray images quickly appeared. Martin is not a cancer specialist. But he knew that the dark, three-centimeter mass he saw did not belong there. “I was enough of a doctor to know I was in trouble,” he says. It was squamous-cell cancer.

  7. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Spare me the confected ‘Innovation Theatre’ that is hackfests and their ilk
    Sure, the ideas spurt out in a torrent, but they’re no longer potent

    HackFests, innovation days, ideas portals and other initiatives of this nature are the same: lots of excited activity, but with no possibility of results.

    I call this “innovation theatre” because the activity itself is quite fun. Sure, extra cleaning can be required in Boardroom Two every now and then and, but we emerge satisfied that we are doing our best.

    We are not meant to take them seriously, nothing really happens as a result of the effort put into them and the poor young kids who get tricked into participating in this kabuki style thought harvesting are left with an empty and slightly dirty feeling after walking out of the CIO’s office after collecting their “Prize”. We’ve all been there.

  8. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Most innovative companies according PwC research

    Biggest R&D Investors:, Inc.
    Alphabet Inc.
    Intel Corporation
    Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd
    Volkswagen AG
    Microsoft Corporation
    Roche Holding AG
    Merck & Co., Inc.
    Apple Inc.
    Novartis AG

    Most innovative companies:

    Alphabet Inc.
    Apple Inc., Inc.
    Tesla, Inc.
    Microsoft Corporation
    Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd.
    General Electric Company
    International Business Machines Corporation
    Facebook, Inc.
    Alibaba Group Holding Limited

  9. Tomi Engdahl says:

    The 2017 Global
    Innovation 1000 study

    Investigating trends at the world’s 1000 largest corporate R&D spenders.

    Will Stronger Borders Weaken Innovation?

    The flow of talent, investment, and ideas that has boosted companies’ global R&D efforts may soon be impeded by the rise of economic nationalism.

    Economic nationalism is motivated by a range of intentions, many of which continue to be hotly debated. But there is an unintended consequence that has received less attention to date: As many politicians and policymakers in the world’s major economic powers look inward, the world of innovation has been thrown into uncertainty. The global innovation model long embraced by leading multinationals, one based on the free flow of information, money, and talent across borders, is at risk.

  10. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Design thinking , Finnish design thinking or design thinking, is in particular the term and method chosen by service design offices. It strives for agile, user-centered problem solving. The model was developed in the United States already in the 1960s, but it has slowly gained foothold in international big companies that are not considered design houses.

    Software companies such as SAP and Citrix have adopted the method. Nabergoj mentions that even the Singapore government used the design thinking method when designing its entry process again.

    “It will take a long time to develop something new and it will not be accepted. Why? No one asked the customer or the end user what they really wanted and what their real problems and knowledge were. Sometimes the IT function asks, but it does not always try to work according to the wishes. It is believed that the problems are better known to the customer and often start after the first solution. It’s a bit hypocritical. ”

    Platan has seen how iteration and quick testing and experimentation with users or customers are often forgotten. He criticizes inward-looking organizations that spit out the products out of the end user.

    “It is an introvert organization that delivers high quality products, but it has to understand that they also serve the actual customers of the company. In the design thinking process they learn it. It’s got to see what they produce and how to get it. ”


  11. Tomi Engdahl says:

    On how to be an inventor: Because the world is so complicated, you have to be a “domain expert” to find solutions to problems. “But the danger is that once you’re a domain expert, you can be trapped by that knowledge.” You have to approach things with childlike curiosity. Inventors are the experts with beginners minds, he says.


  12. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Turn Medical Imaging From 2D Into 3D With Just $10

    One of the modern marvels in our medical toolkit is ultrasound imaging. One of its drawbacks, however, is that it displays 2D images. How expensive do you think it would be to retrofit an ultrasound machine to produce 3D images? Try a $10 chip and pennies worth of plastic.

    The team mounted the sensor onto the side of the probe with a 3D printed collar. This relays the orientation data to the computer running software that sutures the images together into a complete 3D image in near real-time, turning a $50,000 ultrasound machine into its $250,000 equivalent.

    How a $10 microchip turns 2-D ultrasound machines to 3-D imaging devices

    Technology that keeps track of how your smartphone is oriented can now give $50,000 ultrasound machines many of the 3-D imaging abilities of their $250,000 counterparts—for the cost of a $10 microchip.

    The key to the technology is a fingernail-sized microchip that mounts onto a traditional ultrasound probe—the plastic scanner that slides over gel-slathered skin to relay two-dimensional images of what lies beneath.

    Just like a Nintendo Wii video game controller, the chip registers the probe’s orientation, then uses software to seamlessly stitch hundreds of individual slices of the anatomy together in three dimensions.

    The result is an instant 3-D model similar in quality to a CT scan or MRI, said Joshua Broder, M.D., an emergency physician and associate professor of surgery at Duke Health and one of the creators of the technology. Two-D ultrasound machines with higher resolution have clearer 3-D pictures.

    “With 2-D technology you see a visual slice of an organ, but without any context, you can make mistakes,” Broder said. “These are problems that can be solved with the added orientation and holistic context of 3-D technology. Gaining that ability at an incredibly low cost by taking existing machines and upgrading them seemed like the best solution to us.”

    Both Duke and Stanford are testing the technology in clinical trials to determine how it fits in the flow of patient care. The creators believe some of the most promising uses could be when CT scans or MRIs are not available, in rural or developing areas, or when they are too risky.

    “With trauma patients in the emergency department, we face a dilemma,” Broder said. “Do we take them to the operating room not knowing the extent of their internal injuries or bleeding, or do we risk transporting them to a CT scanner, where their condition could worsen due to a delay in care? With our new 3-D technique, we hope to demonstrate that we can determine the source of bleeding, measure the rate of bleeding right at the bedside and determine whether an operation is really needed.”

  13. Tomi Engdahl says:

    The Leaky Pipe: Why Women Leave Engineering

    In recent years, the Women in Microwaves—a subset of the IEEE Women in Engineering (WIE)—has created networking opportunities, recognized accomplished women in the industry, and delved into why women do not enter or stay in microwave engineering. Typically, much of this effort is put into events during Microwave Week, when the International Microwave Symposium is held.

    In recent years, the U.S. microwave industry has put more emphasis on attracting and retaining women engineers. The Israeli industry faces many similar and yet some different issues.

  14. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Six straits for excellent engineers

    1. Natural curiosity
    2. Self-organized
    3. Detail-oriented
    4. Good analytical skills
    5. Strong mathematical skills
    6. Good communication skills


  15. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Conspiring with engineers helps make science great

    Though science is more about acquiring knowledge and engineering more about applying it, the two passions often coexist in the same individual. Engineers possess the spirit of discovery, too. And a lot of scientists harness their findings for the betterment of humankind.

  16. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Inspiring the next generation of potential technical talent in electronics

    At the MEMS Executive Congress (MSEC) 2017 in Silicon Valley, I had the pleasure of meeting with two members of the top management team from SEMI, the organization that sponsors this event (last year SEMI integrated the MEMS & Sensors Industry Group into their organization as a strategic partner). Joining me from SEMI were Ajit Manocha, appointed President and CEO in February of this year, and Jonathan Davis, Global VP of Industry Advocacy. Our mutual area of interest was educating young potential engineers for our industry.

    The two leaders discussed talent challenges that the semiconductor industry is now facing in the ‘talent pipeline’ of highly skilled workers. There are so many unfilled key positions in the semiconductor industry; I heard this first-hand from MEMS and sensor companies as well as fab owners at this event. Challenges abound with an aging workforce, retention issues, H1B Visas, diversity, and more.

    In their presentation, Davis and Manocha discussed an MSEC flash poll where some of the biggest talent issues were:

    Attracting qualified candidates critical to the company’s success
    Having open, unfilled STEM positions
    Companies have MEMS/sensor-related jobs not existing three years ago
    Competing for talent with companies outside the industry

    Later, when we met privately, we had a vivid discussion regarding what SEMI does for the growth of the industry and, also about their passion for cultivating tech/engineering talent early on for the global electronics chain.


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