Innovation has always been thought of as the creation of an idea or concept that is novel. It has been the pursuit of a new way to perform a required function. The search for what was previously undiscovered has been the goal of ideation activities for most as far back as can be remembered. The search for the undiscovered has fueled ingenuity and has been the driver but that perspective is changing. The way people innovate is changing as well as the field evolves. Innovation has historically been practiced as an art- meaning smart people applying black-box thought to generate solutions to problems. There was no recognizable or algorithmic approach to the field and the concept of innate innovativeness was promulgated. The Theory of Innovative Scarcity was formed based on this erroneous presumption that you were either born innovative or you weren’t. It is understood currently that the practice of ideation can be reduced to a set of principles that may embody sets of algorithms that describe the innovation function. Scientific components are being applied to the field and they complement the existing artistic components. This is yielding repeatability, predictability, and reliability to the field were fiat and eureka moments ruled the day (or didn’t). The reduction of innovation to an exact science (or at least progression in that direction) has produced methods that are trainable and this has been validated across many organizations. The innovative capability of each person who is exposed to these methods is being increased. This universal increase in the organization’s innovation quotient has profound implications and is the father of the Theory of Innovation Plenty. The impact that innovation has on the world has changed dramatically as well. The impact of innovation is now global and capable of creating a multitude of sub-innovations. The discovery of scientific phenomenon has been the driving force for the creation of entire fields of commerce and innovation. The internet for example has spawned countless international pockets of innovation and invention. The field of e-commerce and all the innovations created to match sellers and buyers is one example. Advances in transaction security are another set of inventions derived since the advent of the internet. The pace of change has increased as well. Societal (VOS) and Customer (VOC) needs are changing faster than ever before in history and this demands that businesses respond faster as well. The increase in the rate of change in societal needs and the changes in the field of innovation force us to look at discovery in a new light.
Some have made the observation that all that can be invented has been invented. This is not my position although you could argue that the number of high level inventions has diminished over time with the overwhelming majority of patents issued being on a significantly lower innovative level. Johann von Goethe has stated that innovation has changed such that the solution to you r problem may already exist and therefore your task as the problem solver is to find those pre-existing solutions and ADAPT them to suit your purpose(s). This makes for a different approach to the search for an innovative solution. It isn’t novelty that is pursued but analogy. That is why the discussions about non-linear problem solving are so important. The non-linear approach takes the problem solver from the specific to the generic and this generalization is the key to adaptive innovation. Adaptive innovation is the key to the ability of an organization’s ability to respond quickly to the needs of society and the customer. I am called this approach to innovation that leverages any ability to adapt and existing solution to suit for purpose Adaptivation. Adaptivation should be pursued as par t of any problem solving activity. This is due to the work that has been achieved in the field where patents and invention disclosure have been analyzed in order to catalogue the efforts of previous problem solvers. These efforts are made available to the problem solver primarily through the field of TRIZ (Theory of Inventive Problem Solving). TRIZ is much more than an Adaptivation methodology however this aspect of TRIZ will be the focus of this discussion.
TRIZ as Adaptive
A fundamental aspect of the TRIZ methodology is the analysis of previous problem solving records. These records are invention disclosure, patent records, and historical observations classified as heuristics. Observations were made concerning the specific problem and the specific solution. The observations were coupled with analysis that affinitized specific problems and specific solutions into abstract groups. These abstract groups are useable when your specific problem is converted to an abstract problem that is analogous to one of the abstract problems from the researched group. A matrix then provides the appropriate solution concepts from the solution group. This empirical approach allows the problem solver to practice systematic adaptation. This reduces innovation process cycle-time and prevents the generation of previously discovered solutions thereby eliminating the waste of duplication from innovation. This increases the efficiency and the effectiveness of the process. This provides improvements in ideation that make the organization’s ability to respond on the same scale the rate of evolution for the societal and customer needs. This process doesn’t preclude the search for the novel but is used in conjunction with it. This non-linear approach is both convergent and divergent and therefore appeals to the different problem solving styles present in the organization. Adaptivation will allow the organization to increase performance across several problem solving metrics and integrate the brilliant work of past problem solvers into your organization. The process is relatively easy to learn and competency can be established in a few months.
Adaptivation needs to become a key competency in the Preservation strategy of an organization. It should also be the first step in the Evolution strategy as well. This allows for an ambidextrous application of adaptivation across the organization. Also, streamlining the demands placed on limited resources is a step in the right direction as part of the Third Wave (the systematization of the field of innovation). Doing more with the resources you have is an ideal solution and leveraging the pre-existing work of others expands the corporate intellect. This is a robust method of expanding the search space during problem solving. The expansion of the search space integrates another key component necessary in today’s evolving competitive environment: Open Innovation.
Adaptivation as an Open Approach
Adaptivation provides insight into solutions to analogous problems from industries, technologies, and even scientific fields that may not traditionally overlap with yours. This is an open approach to solution generation and it provides additional benefits to the problem solver. Not only are pre-existing approaches considered but the search space for these solutions is considerably larger than the organization’s typical search space. Typically the organization would look inwards at existing patents, competitive intelligence, or for team members to create the solution to the problem based on previous experience. Collectively this describes the closed approach to innovation whose narrow-minded focus is no longer an acceptable ideation approach given the evolving natures of competition and innovation.