Archive for the ‘Innovation’ Category

GDP gives innovation …. or is it the other way around?

October 2, 2015

From The Economist.

To be fair it is quite easy to argue that the absolute value of GDP is conducive to innovation but that innovation leads to GDP growth.

Global Innovation Index 2015 image The Economist

Global Innovation Index 2015 image The Economist

…. The Global Innovation Index and a related report, which were published this morning by Cornell University, INSEAD, a business school, and the World Intellectual Property Organisation. The ranking of 140 countries and economies around the world, which are scored using 79 indicators, is not surprising: Switzerland, Britain, Sweden, the Netherlands and America lead the pack. But the authors also look at their data from other angles, for instance how countries do relative to their economic development and the quality of innovation (measured by indicators such as university rankings). In both cases the results are more remarkable. The chart above shows that in innovation many countries in Africa punch above their economic weight. And the chart below indicates that, even though China is now churning out a lot of patents, it is still way behind America and other rich countries when it comes to innovation quality.


Nokia adapts genetically while Microsoft drops the “Nokia” brand

October 24, 2014
Nokia NMT900 1987

Nokia NMT900 1987

A few days ago Microsoft announced that it was dropping the “Nokia” brand and would continue with “Lumia”.  My first mobile phone ever was an NMT900 in 1988 or ’89. My first five mobile phones were all Nokias. It felt like the end of an era. As if some well loved species was going extinct.

Irish IndependentFor many of us it’s a name synonymous with mobile phones, but Microsoft is now officially axing the Nokia brand in favour of its own Lumia range of Windows smartphones.

The tech giant bought Nokia’s mobile division back in April for $7.2bn along with a 10-year deal to use the Finnish company’s name on smartphones. Now, however, it seems Microsoft wishes to push its own Lumia brand, the most successful iteration of the company’s Windows Phone OS – rival to Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS systems.

The company actually began life in the 19 century as a single paper mill in what was then part of the Russian Empire. It grew into an industrial conglomerate with interests in everything from galoshes to gas masks, with the push into electronics only coming in the 1960s.

From the 1980s to 2000s it had a string of mobile hits (including the famous 3310 – one of the best selling mobile devices of all time, with more than 126 million units sold worldwide) but failed to keep on top of its smartphone competitors.

Windows Phone meanwhile continues to struggle against iOS and Android, with global market falling to 2.5 per cent. Microsoft will be hoping that Nokia’s ever-popular range of capable, low-end devices will eventually shuffle users in developing markets onto its OS, but nothing looks like it will shake Android and iOS in the high end.

But there is no need to be sad.

The brand is not going extinct. It is adapting and changing with the times. The company started with a paper mill and only enetered electronics in the 1960s. Now it has adapted and has returned to profit  – demonstrating the benefits of genetic evolution over stagnating conservation.

The Register: Nokia reported strong results on Thursday even after giving long-suffering shareholders a dividend and taking the hit of a one-time charge.

Profits rose to €353m on earnings of €3.3bn, up from €2.9bn a year ago. 

With the Windows Phone albatross thrown to a reluctant new owner, Nokia is now three divisions: network equipment (Nokia Networks), mapping (HERE) and IPR licensing (Nokia Technologies), but with €2.6bn of income, Networks provides most of the meat.

Nokia Networks sales rose 13 per cent year on year, based on LTE sales into China and North America, the company said. HERE grew 12 per cent, and IP licensing nine per cent to €152m; Microsoft is now a more important licensee. 

The company paid out €1.372bn in dividends and recorded a goodwill charge of €1.2bn against HERE’s profits, the latter reflecting a new evaluation of the division at €2bn.

The HERE charge reflected, “an adjustment to the HERE strategy and the related new long-range plan”. Nokia also spent €220m buying back shares.

Nokia made a string of mapping acquisitions in the Noughties, the largest of which was Navteq for $8.1bn (€5.6bn at the time). The company defended its continuing investment in HERE, declaring that “we continue to believe we have an opportunity to create significant value with the HERE business, as connected cars become more pervasive and as enterprises deploy new location-services to improve their productivity and efficiency”.

Despite all the charges, the company still has €5.4bn in cash and assets.

For a corporation to change its genetic code and shift away from a previously successful habitat and move into new territory is not easy. It needs changes to corporate competences and culture and shape and size – and many of the changes are painful. But Nokia seems to be well on the way to reinventing itself – again.

It is a lesson from the corporate world which should be taken to heart by all so-called conservationists. In the corporate world, continuing with a failing strategy, or a failing habitat or living in past glories does not help survival. It is genetic adaptation (from paper to tyres to gas masks to phones to networks) which provides Nokia with a new future. Similarly, in the animal world, trying to freeze failing species into a failed strategy in an artificial habitat is pointless. Genetic adaptation not stagnating conservation is the way to go.


From graphene to borophene

January 29, 2014

Technology development waves

The discovery of graphene is leading to a new excitement in materials research. I have a notion that technology advances take place in step waves, where each step is both enabled and constrained by the materials available. Each time a new material (or material family is discovered), technology development starts very fast and then tapers off until another material comes along and ignites a new development wave.

Boron is Carbon’s neighbour in the periodic table and the discovery of graphene has ignited studies to see if a similar variation of boron would be possible.

Boron is a Group 13 element that has properties which are borderline between metals and non-metals (semimetallic). It is a semiconductor rather than a metallic conductor. Chemically it is closer to silicon than to aluminium, gallium, indium, and thallium. Crystalline boron is inert chemically and is resistant to attack by boiling HF or HCl. When finely divided it is attacked slowly by hot concentrated nitric acid.

Boron, Symbol: B, Atomic number: 5, Atomic weight: 10.811, solid at 298 K

“Boron has one fewer electron than carbon and as a result can’t form the honeycomb lattice that makes up graphene. For boron to form a single-atom layer, theorists suggested that the atoms must be arranged in a triangular lattice with hexagonal vacancies — holes — in the lattice.”

A new paper shows that borophene is possible – now it just has to be made!

Zachary A. Piazza, Han-Shi Hu, Wei-Li Li, Ya-Fan Zhao, Jun Li, Lai-Sheng Wang.Planar hexagonal B36 as a potential basis for extended single-atom layer boron sheetsNature Communications, 2014; 5 DOI: 10.1038/ncomms4113

Brown University Press Release:

Unlocking the secrets of the B36 cluster
A 36-atom cluster of boron, left, arranged as a flat disc with a hexagonal hole in the middle, fits the theoretical requirements for making a one-atom-thick boron sheet, right, a theoretical nanomaterial dubbed “borophene.” Credit: Wang lab/Brown University

Graphene, a sheet of carbon one atom thick, may soon have a new nanomaterial partner. In the lab and on supercomputers, chemical engineers have determined that a unique arrangement of 36 boron atoms in a flat disc with a hexagonal hole in the middle may be the preferred building blocks for “borophene.”

Researchers from Brown University have shown experimentally that a boron-based competitor to graphene is a very real possibility.

Lai-Sheng Wang, professor of chemistry at Brown and his research group, which has studied boron chemistry for many years, have now produced the first experimental evidence that such a structure is possible. In a paper published on January 20 in Nature Communications, Wang and his team showed that a cluster made of 36 boron atoms (B36) forms a symmetrical, one-atom thick disc with a perfect hexagonal hole in the middle.

“It’s beautiful,” Wang said. “It has exact hexagonal symmetry with the hexagonal hole we were looking for. The hole is of real significance here. It suggests that this theoretical calculation about a boron planar structure might be right.”

It may be possible, Wang said, to use B36 basis to form an extended planar boron sheet. In other words, B36 may well be the embryo of a new nanomaterial that Wang and his team have dubbed “borophene.”

“We still only have one unit,” Wang said. “We haven’t made borophene yet, but this work suggests that this structure is more than just a calculation.” ……..

Wang’s experiments showed that the B36 cluster was something special. It had an extremely low electron binding energy compared to other boron clusters. The shape of the cluster’s binding spectrum also suggested that it was a symmetrical structure. ……..

…… That structure also fits the theoretical requirements for making borophene, which is an extremely interesting prospect, Wang said. The boron-boron bond is very strong, nearly as strong as the carbon-carbon bond. So borophene should be very strong. Its electrical properties may be even more interesting. Borophene is predicted to be fully metallic, whereas graphene is a semi-metal. That means borophene might end up being a better conductor than graphene.

“That is,” Wang cautions, “if anyone can make it.”

AbstractBoron is carbon’s neighbour in the periodic table and has similar valence orbitals. However, boron cannot form graphene-like structures with a honeycomb hexagonal framework because of its electron deficiency. Computational studies suggest that extended boron sheets with partially filled hexagonal holes are stable; however, there has been no experimental evidence for such atom-thin boron nanostructures. Here, we show experimentally and theoretically that B36 is a highly stable quasiplanar boron cluster with a central hexagonal hole, providing the first experimental evidence that single-atom layer boron sheets with hexagonal vacancies are potentially viable. Photoelectron spectroscopy of B36 reveals a relatively simple spectrum, suggesting a symmetric cluster. Global minimum searches for B36 lead to a quasiplanar structure with a central hexagonal hole. Neutral B36 is the smallest boron cluster to have sixfold symmetry and a perfect hexagonal vacancy, and it can be viewed as a potential basis for extended two-dimensional boron sheets.

RIP: Augusto Odone – creator of Lorenzo’s oil

October 26, 2013

Augusto Odone, a former World Bank economist who challenged the world’s medical establishment and created Lorenzo’s Oil has died in Italy aged 80,

The story of Lorenzo’s Oil is now well enough known (and not least because of the 1992  film). Augusto Odone’s effort is the ultimate example of Citizen Science prevailing over Big Science, of a lone, non-establishment individual battling, persevering and triumphing over an establishment view.

Augusto Odone with his son Lorenzo

Augusto Odone refused to accept medical opinion that his son Lorenzo would die in childhood – BBC

And it is becoming increasingly obvious that Big Science, whether in Medicine or in Physics or in Climate Change suffers from the fundamental weakness which results from a massive inertia which prevents the non-establishment view from surfacing. Consensus Science smothers creativity and ingenuity.

Coping with climate change drove innovation

June 18, 2013

When and how innovation occurs sometimes seems random and the corporate world has long pursued the creation of “environments” in which innovation can flourish. And while the very definition of what counts as innovation can be debated, it seems to me that it is a changing environment rather than a static environment which is a key ingredient. And it could well be that the greater the change to be handled then the very necessity of coping with that change could be the “mother of all innovation”.

I suspect that some of the most fundamental innovations have been driven by the need not just to survive but also to thrive in “rapidly” changing and threatening environments. And climate change where “rapid” would mean several hundred if not thousands of years would also have been a powerful driver. One advantage in the stone age would have been that humans would have focused on coping with the change as it unfolded and not wasted too much effort in trying to control the climate.

A new paper addresses how climate change could have driven innovation in the stone age centered around the discovery and establishment of new refuges.

Ziegler, M. et al. Development of Middle Stone Age innovation linked to rapid climate changeNature Communications 4, Article number: 1905.

Abstract: The development of modernity in early human populations has been linked to pulsed phases of technological and behavioural innovation within the Middle Stone Age of South Africa. However, the trigger for these intermittent pulses of technological innovation is an enigma. Here we show that, contrary to some previous studies, the occurrence of innovation was tightly linked to abrupt climate change. Major innovational pulses occurred at times when South African climate changed rapidly towards more humid conditions, while northern sub-Saharan Africa experienced widespread droughts, as the Northern Hemisphere entered phases of extreme cooling. These millennial-scale teleconnections resulted from the bipolar seesaw behaviour of the Atlantic Ocean related to changes in the ocean circulation. These conditions led to humid pulses in South Africa and potentially to the creation of favourable environmental conditions. This strongly implies that innovational pulses of early modern human behaviour were climatically influenced and linked to the adoption of refugia.

PhysOrg reviews the paper:

According to a study by the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, the University of Cardiff and the Natural History Museum in London, technological innovation during the Stone Age occurred in fits and starts and was climate-driven. Abrupt changes in rainfall in South Africa 40,000 to 80,000 years ago triggered the development of technologies for finding refuge and the behaviour of modern humans. This study was recently published in Nature Communications.

Archaeological and genetic evidence suggests that modern humans (the modern form of Homo sapiens, our species) originated in Africa during the Stone Age, between 30,000 and 280,000 years ago. The latest  in southern Africa have shown that technological innovation, linked to the emergence of culture and modern behaviour, took place abruptly: the beginnings of symbolic expression, the making of tools from stone and bone, jewellery or the first agricultural settlements.

An international team of researchers has linked these pulses of innovation to the climate that prevailed in sub-Saharan Africa in that period.

Over the last million years the  has varied between  (with great masses of ice covering the continents in the northern hemisphere) and interglacial periods, with changes approximately every 100,000 years. But within these long periods there have been abrupt climate changes, sometimes happening in the space of just a few decades, with variations of up to 10ºC in the average temperature in the polar regions caused by changes in the Atlantic . These changes affected rainfall in southern Africa.

The researchers have pieced together how  varied in southern Africa over the last 100,000 years, by analysing  deposits at the edge of the continent, where every millimetre of  corresponds to 25 years of sedimentation. The ratio of iron (dissolved from the rocks by the water during the rains) to potassium (present in arid soils) in each of the millimetre layers is a record of the sediment carried by rivers and therefore of the rainfall throughout the whole period.

The reconstruction of the rainfall over 100,000 years shows a series of spikes that occurred between 40,000 and 80,000 years ago. These spikes show rainfall levels rising sharply over just a few decades, and falling off again soon afterwards, in a matter of centuries. This research has shown that the climate changes coincided with increases in population, activity and production of technology on the part of our ancestors, as seen in the archaeological records. In turn, the end of certain stone tool industries of the period coincides with the onset of a new, drier climate.

The findings confirm one of the principal models of Palaeolithic cultural evolution, which correlates technological innovation with the adoption of new refuges and with a resulting increase in population and social networks. For these researchers, the bursts of demographic expansion caused by climate change in southern Africa were probably key factors in the origin of modern humans’ behaviour in Africa, and in the dispersal of Homo sapiens from his ancestral home.


When it comes to radical innovation, the customer is not always right

March 22, 2013

We are all customers and and we are all essentially conservative at heart. We tend to prefer to stick to what we know and like.  So while listening to your customers is paramount when it comes to incremental improvements of products or services, the existing customer may not be the best when it comes to radical innovation and the introduction of something completely new.

Customer co-creation in service innovation: a matter of  communication? by Anders Gustafsson, Per Kristensson and Lars Witell, Journal of Service Management, 23(2012)3: 311-327. 

The paper (available as an Open Access manuscript) reports on the results of a survey among 334 managers who all had experience with innovation in the creation of new products or services. The researchers selected 284 real development projects  divided into two main groups:

  • Incremental innovation: 207 of the projects dealt with minor improvements of products or services.
  • Radical innovation: The remaining 77 projects dealt with development of radically new products or services not previously known to the market.

… The implication for the dysfunctional model is that the communication process – and therefore co-creation – is different for radical innovations than for incremental innovations. The model for radical innovations produced two significant paths (using adjusted t-tests), frequency (0.336, p< 0.05), and content (-0.246, p< 0.05). The results indicate that companies should interact frequently with their customers; this is similar to the findings in the case of incremental innovations. The path coefficient for content is negative, which indicates that customers should not be too highly involved in developing the actual content of radical innovations. …..

…. The results of the present study contribute to a deeper understanding of why new offerings developed through market research techniques based on co-creation with customers are more profitable than those developed with traditional market research techniques. ……

However, the communication process of co-creation for radical innovations seems to behave quite differently in that the four suggested dimensions are not entirely applicable in the same way for radical innovation as they are for incremental innovation. The different dimensions in the communication process behave differently in the two conditions, which suggests that companies must apply different communication strategies in co-creation depending on the degree of innovativeness of a development project. The two dimensions that are significant in radical innovation are frequency (positive) and content (negative). Direction and modality did not have a significant impact on product success. This implies that companies should learn from customers through frequent contact, which is the same as in the case of incremental innovations. However, companies should not be overly concerned with suggestions of the content of a potential new offering. Radical solutions can often be considered unthinkable in advance, which can make radical solutions hard to imagine, but customers know a good idea when they see and use it. Customers create solutions based on their previous experiences of usage of different products or services, which makes it difficult to suggest solutions that are truly radical.

Innovation – To do what cannot be done

June 19, 2012

The Wall Street Journal Weekend Interview has talked to Sebastian Thrun:

One of these ideas was for a self-driving car, not through a desert, but on the streets of San Francisco and beyond. Crazy. But Mr. Thrun and 12 engineers created a car that could drive itself down twisty Lombard Street without a human driver. How did they do that? “We should question all the rules—we should break the rules,” he says. “I like to put myself in the most uncomfortable position. There’s so much baggage we take on. Why is that so? We should have the courage to put everything overboard.” …… 

At Google X, Mr. Thrun brought in University of Washington Prof. Babak Parviz to create a set of eyeglasses that are capable of displaying Web and Google search results. Not easy—yet another cross-discipline challenge to make the device ultra lightweight and natural to use. It was announced recently as Google Glass. It works like bifocals in that you look up to see the display so your normal vision below is never blocked. “We discovered this is not some crazy moon shot, this is real. It turned out we were closer to something interesting than all of us thought.” Every geek is itching for a pair.

To be able to state that “something” cannot be done we must first be able to articulate that “something”. And to articulate it we must be able to imagine it. And when we find “it cannot be done” we can qualify it to be “it cannot be done now” — and the process of innovation starts.

I suppose I am an optimist. I am sure that tomorrow will be filled with things “we cannot do now”.  In less than 10 generations from now the current fears of global warming and the mass extinction of species and of unsustainable populations and of resource exhaustion will be seen on a par with primitive peoples fearing that the moon was being swallowed up during an eclipse. And 10 generation from now they will have found new things to fear and new things that cannot be done.

There are things we don’t know we don’t know.
Donald Rumsfeld

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