Quick Thoughts on Innovation

Here are two quick connections that I made today relating to innovation.

First – watch this:

It’s called “All Creative Work is Derivative” by Nina Paley, and here’s her description of how she made it. Brian Arthur argues in his book The Nature of Technology that all new economic ideas build on the combination of things that already exist. I think that this is an excellent way to think of creativity – that it is about making novel connections. Innovation is then about getting these creative ideas to spread.

Second – check out this picture:

It’s from an excellent blog post called “Four Dimensions of Innovation” by Ellen Di Resta (definitely check out her blog – it’s very good). It is one of the best frameworks I’ve seen for classifying some of the important subsets of innovation. She talks about the differences between innovating at the more straightforward end of the spectrum – creating innovations for optimisation and for improvement. However, creating innovations for invention and disruption are harder.

Di Resta correctly points out that these types of innovation require different managerial skills. The problem is that we need to be able manage both the more incremental ideas as well as the more game-changing ones. The small innovations keep us competitive now, but the bigger ones keep us in the game as the competitive environment changes.

Noah Raford made a similar argument in his discussion of the taxonomy of design put together by GH VanPatter and Peter Jones (check out his blog too!). He also has four levels of design, with increasing complexity as you go up the scale. He points out that at the more complex end, design “problems are far more social, far more political, and tend involve many more people with vested interests and different goals.”

This is equally true of innovation, I think. The genuinely inventive and disruptive innovations are much harder to embed within the economy, because so many more people have strong connections to the ideas that are being replaced. That’s a big part of what makes executing innovation so challenging – we have to get the new ideas to spread. In the end, though, I suppose that’s what makes it fun too!

Student and teacher of innovation - University of Queensland Business School - links to academic papers, twitter, and so on can be found here.

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6 thoughts on “Quick Thoughts on Innovation

  1. Thanks Tim!

    Love the concept. I laugh when incumbent corporations talk about innovation and then look to the center for results. Reminds me of Dave Snowden’s great retelling of the Longitude story;


    That’s not “my” taxonomy of design though. Credit goes to GH VanPatter and Peter Jones (@redesign) for introducing me to the idea!

    Keep it up,

  2. Thanks for the feedback Noah – I changed the post to give credit where it’s due. Thanks for the Snowden video – it’s outstanding!

  3. Tim, I made a post that was eaten by my outdated Blackberry software, I think. (It might also have ended up in spam.) Rather than not post at all because I don’t have time to re-form the original post, I’ll just say quickly that it had to do with the idea of creating an innovation taxonomy, which I gleaned from reading this New York Times Magazine article:


    …which largely centers on the taxonomy of good schoolteaching. It was long thought, just as innovation is now, that the ability to be a great teacher was an innate one, rather than one that could be taught. I used the example of Matt Mullenweg of http://ma.tt – creator and innovator of WordPress – as my example of someone who hits all the right points in his creative process. He consistently impresses and makes me go “Why didn’t I think of that?”

    • I think you’re right about the need for a taxonomy Amber. I wrote about it in almost exactly those terms a couple of weeks ago, but I’m still thinking through how to best do it.

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