[EAS] Innovation- What & How?

pjk pjk at design.eng.yale.edu
Sat Mar 13 16:06:54 EST 2004

Subject:   Innovation: What & How?

Dear Colleagues -

Regarding the politically hot topic of the outsourcing of jobs, the
proponent's standard mantra is that, yes, outsourcing causes
short-term dislocation, but long-term it is best for the US. We will
retain our primary role as innovator, it is said. What is outsourced
represents the "less desirable" jobs. 

I pause to wonder what defines that process of innovation we expect
to retain to our comfort? What makes it so unassailably "American"?

A dominant theme of our technology has been automation, replacing
much of the "messy inefficiency" of human volition and judgment with
the predictably manageable processes of computer modelling. The
items below exemplify the application of, or should I say
encroachment of, the automation tendencies to innovation. That trend
had better not be the entire claim for US advantage in innovation,
as the last item below suggests. If we want to be innovative, we
better not stop being vigorously messy and human.

A timely collection of background articles on "Technology and the
Global Economy" can be found at


(from INNOVATION, 3 March 2004)

Companies increasingly are turning to technology to automate
portions of  the innovation process. Environmental scanning, for
example, tracks events,  trends, and relationships outside your
organization's environment, helping  top executives identify and
understand strategic threats and opportunities.  Environmental
scanning services like Nexcerpt and CyberAlert use software  agents
to search online publications, Web sites, newswires, and newsgroups 
to find information of interest. But they go beyond simple keyword 
searches, letting you define complex Boolean queries, assign
priorities to  different information themes, restrict the scope of
sources covered, and  add content and context to their reports.
Businesses often use  environmental scanning to underpin competitor
intelligence and reputation  management initiatives, as well as to
monitor megatrends. The information  yielded can help develop road
maps for your organization or product. Road  mapping helps create a
combined strategic, product, and marketing  perspective, which can
drive innovation. Road-mapping software helps define  and visualize
the route toward a breakthrough product, service, or  organizational
change. To stimulate creative thinking, many companies use 
inexpensive software packages like ParaMind and IdeaFisher. Another,
IdeaCue, uses an electronic flash card to offer a series of random
ideas  for improving existing products. IdeaCue's concept scrambler
combines  multiple ideas; you determine if a particular combination
is worth  pursuing. (Intelligent Enterprise 7 Feb 2004)

(from INNOVATION, 10 March 2004)

Stephen Thaler's Creativity Machine is changing the way the process
of invention occurs, says General Dynamics' Rusty Miller, who calls
the device "Thomas Edison in a box": "His first patent was for a
Device for the Autonomous Generation of Useful Information," the
official name of the Creativity Machine, says Miller. "His second
patent was for the  Self-Training Neural Network Object. Patent
Number Two was invented by  Patent Number One. Think about that."
Thaler first conceptualized his  invention by studying the "noise"
-- random activity -- that neural network  connections produce as
they're in the process of "dying." "Noise allows neurons to have a
little elbow room to dream up new ideas," says Miller. Some
biologists have postulated that in the human context, noise is 
essential for the brain to function properly, providing the
variability that allows organisms to adapt to new situations. Thaler
has capitalized on that theory by "tickling" the connections just
enough to get them thinking. In response, the Creativity Machine has
produced the concept that became Oral B's CrossAction toothbrush,
has discovered new substances more durable than diamonds, has served
as the "brains" of a robotic cockroach, and has been recruited by
spy agencies to track the Internet and report unusual activity. 
(St. Louis Post-Dispatch Jan 25 2004)

Good food, plenty of water, lively music and shared laughter are
essential  for successful innovation sessions, says Lynda Curtin, a
specialist in  creative and conceptual thinking, referred to as an
"ideation facilitator."  Ideation, she explains, describes the
complete process, from deciding where  ideas are needed, to
generating and evaluating ideas, to planning and  carrying out next
steps. Framing innovation in this way is "much more  powerful and
practical than traditional brainstorming - where anything goes  and
very often nothing happens as a result," says Curtin. Other
practical,  matter-of-fact advice: Forget about trying to come up
with the one best problem statement -- or the one best solution, for
that matter. Instead,  generate multiple focus statements, then
choose a few to work with during your session. "Go broad. Set
yourself up for a wider range of powerful solutions to choose from,"
she says. Then actively plan for multiple solutions with a "wave of
ideas approach" -- as one idea is implemented, the next idea is
already well on the way to implementation. To help get a  new
perspective on familiar problems, invite people outside your area of
expertise -- including customers and suppliers -- to your ideation
sessions. (Webpronews.com Feb 2004)

(from NewsScan Daily, 11 March 2004)

     New software called "Solutions Genie" from the Indian company
DSS Systems & Software Technologies offers tools for brainstorming
and allows a facilitator to group, sort, export, import ideas, etc.
The software also provides idea ranking/decision making tools,
multiple level implementation tools, and network brainstorming and
idea filtering, where the facilitator and the team may carry out
these exercises from their remote machines on an intranet or the
Internet. http://www.brainstormingdss.com

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