Where do innovations come from?

Creativity and innovation are the driving forces which are necessary for an advance of any type, be it cultural, technological or scientifical. I chose to go more in depth with this topic because I think that it is the core aspect of most businesses these days. Even though some firms may get away with doing the same thing year after year, a vast majority of companies rely on new ideas and innovation in order to keep up with the competition. Just think of Apple or a pharmaceutical company and you get the idea.


This week I decided to research how innovations are born. The first thing that pops into my head when someone says the word ’innovation’ is a cartoon picture of a crazy scientist with round eye glasses experimenting with colorful liquids in a lab with a light bulb over his head. This rarely is the case and so I decided to research a little how innovations usually are born.


I started by watching a TED talk by Brian Cox who is a physicist at the Manchester University. In his talk he argues that exploring sciences are extremely important to all other sciences and to the society as a whole. He informs that in developed countries such as the US, France or Germany 0,6 percent of the GDP is used in R&D yearly. During economically difficult times it tends to be the first thing from which the government cut spending. According to Brian Cox this is not necessary because money used on R&D is not money down the drain but quite the opposite – for example for every dollar spent on the Apollo mission 14 returned to the economy.  Exploring sciences also enable innovation to happen by accident, the best example being penicillin.


The next TED talk I watched was by journalist Charles Leadbeater who is also a researcher at London think tank Demos. In his talk he claims that the most commonly innovations are not made by ”special people in special places” (also known as the R&D departments of companies) but by the actual users of the innovation. He calls this open-source innovation. His idea puts customers in a new position, where they are not just passive consumers but feed the companies with fresh ideas and innovation. Charles Leadbeater also claims that the public can also come up with a use for an innovation when the company is unsure about what the exact use will be. This was the case with SMS messages for instance. As soon as the technology existed, customers came up with a use for it even though the company didn’t know what to do with it and how to advertise it.


In my opinion open-source innovation makes sense because then the innovators are the people who are going to use the product and know what they want and need, unlike that engineer with a fancy degree who might never use the innovation. This might be problematic for traditional companies but they can make use of it. By conducting for instance customer surveys and asking customers not just what they think about a product in its current form but also what kinds of improvements do they would propose, how they would do things differently and how they use product at the moment. In the best case the collected information can lead to new business opportunities (remember HDFA chapter 1 where they found out that there were a lot of men using the cream, which lead to an innovation and a new product).


Often the best ideas are born during spontaneous brainstorming and interaction. The japanese concept of ‘ba’ describes a state in which information is born and shared communally. Understanding the concept helps to undestand how a community helps in creating new ideas. Nowadays interaction doesn’t necessarily require the face-to-face aspect thanks to new technologies such as Skype or social media. This allows interaction between even more people and consequently more innovation and new ideas.


In my native Finland there has been some controversy caused by the growing number of research funded by companies as the government has cut down on funding for universities. This poses a threat to exploring science as it usually interests companies less. In my opinion even during economically difficult times governments should invest in R&D and fund exploring science because new innovations help create jobs and wealth and thus fight unemployment.


One comment

  1. Highly interesting topic! Actually I have a similar kind of cartoon in my mind when thinking of innovations 🙂
    I like the way you structured your post, it is very well-arranged. I would have maybe appreciated some subheadings or questions risen in between.
    But your way of writing is special and there is some sort of flow that does not make me as a reader get bored.

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