Posts Tagged ‘Innovation’

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.

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.

Apocalypse Not!

August 18, 2012

I have a theory that within a hundred years we will be bemoaning the lack of world population. The collapse of society will be forecast as an impending catastrophe as the total world population stabilises at less than 10 billion with the proportion of the young working population decreasing relative to the increasing numbers of the “leisured” population.  And that apocalypse too shall not come to pass.

Matt Ridley has a new essay in Wired which needs to be read. Just some excerpts below:

Apocalypse Not: Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Worry About End Times

When the sun rises on December 22, as it surely will, do not expect apologies or even a rethink. No matter how often apocalyptic predictions fail to come true, another one soon arrives. And the prophets of apocalypse always draw a following—from the 100,000 Millerites who took to the hills in 1843, awaiting the end of the world, to the thousands who believed in Harold Camping, the Christian radio broadcaster who forecast the final rapture in both 1994 and 2011. ………


Apple dumps “green” certification in favour of design freedom

July 10, 2012

It was inevitable!

Wall Street Journal:

Apple has pulled its products off the U.S. government-backed registration of environmentally friendly electronics.


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

Brainstorming for Innovation

June 12, 2010

In conducting and participating in brainstorming sessions for innovation, I have found the critical requirements, judged empirically, to be:

  1. A limited number of participants (about 20 in my experience is a practical limit and 5 is too few),
  2. A minimum level of intellectual ability (and I have seen sessions ruined because “political correctness” or misguided notions of “fairness” have led to the inclusion of incompetent participants),
  3. Sufficiently long but not too long sessions (with each session never less than one whole day and never more than 3 days is my rule of thumb),
  4. Well prepared participants who have spent sufficient time in individual contemplation of the matter at hand (and since participants tend to come to such sessions unprepared it has always been worthwhile to allocate time – perhaps half a day for a two-day session – at the beginning of the session for individual contemplation),
  5. A clearly prepared initial “problem statement” even if the group may itself later modify the problem statement,
  6. A moderator capable of cutting across hierarchical boundaries, avoiding negative comments during any idea-generation phase, of enforcing the grounding of statements during the assessment of ideas and unafraid of puncturing “noise” and “stories”, and
  7. A clearly communicated post-session process.

In Idea Generation and the Quality of the Best Idea Prof. Girotra of INSEAD and Professors Terwiesch and Ulrich of Wharton examined the effectiveness of group dynamics and the innovation process. Their experiments show  that a hybrid process – in which people are given time for individual contemplation on their own before discussing ideas with their peers resulted in the generation of more ideas and of a higher quality than a purely team-oriented process. In a conventional team process concepts of “fairness” and hierarchical inhibitions were not conducive to innovation.

In my experience, the initial contemplation and role of the moderator and his ability are crucial.

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