Systematic methods for innovation identification work with known knowledge or heurisms and rely on repeatable procedures. Examples of such methods are the ‘Theory of Inventive Problem Solving’ (TRIZ), the ‘Contradiction-Oriented Innovation Strategy’ (WOIS) or ‘Requirements Guided Innovation’ (RGI). What they have in common is a structured approach that converges on the result.
This makes them more efficient than creative-intuitive methods. The knowledge that a company has acquired over years is then ignored. The consequence of this low starting level is that the “wheel is often reinvented” in so-called innovation workshops. Only rarely radical ideas emerge. Participants tend to move primarily in familiar lines of thought [30, p. 173f; 7, p. 143]. In general, they prefer consonant information, i.e., information that conforms to the conventions of their environment. The behavior of avoiding dissonant information is even more pronounced [7, p. 172f]. Therefore, it is not surprising that participants remain in their comfort zone. This is favored by fun and games, which are the focus of creativity. The prohibition of criticism also prevents constructive limits from being set.
Successful new products do not necessarily break with all traditions. This is shown by a look at patent analyses or at current “innovations”. On the contrary – they show that up to 99% of all patents are a recombination of known solutions or carry-over solutions from other fields [1, p. 77; 2, pp. 16-26]. The success of these products of medium innovativeness can be explained by the fact that novelty follows a U-function in relation to success. Too much novelty quickly slides into the bizarre or incomprehensible. Too little is simply boring [7, p. 63].
Figure 1: Level of innovation of products in relation to their success/popularity (own representation according to Brander)
This effect is known from the psychology of learning. People think in categories and operate with prior knowledge when they discover or learn something new. New is a relational concept that reveals itself with reference to what is already known. Radically new things that cannot be categorized remain incomprehensible and are disregarded [7, p. 262ff]. Even if new things only appear in the context of previous knowledge, it remains a laborious way to acquire them. It must be prepared out of the known as something still unknown. The leeway that the systematics keeps open is perfectly sufficient for normal “99% innovation”.
Figure 2: 99% of all innovations are based on existing knowledge (according to Altshuller)
A look at many current products shows: They are created thanks to systematic innovation and yet are by no means ‘uninnovative’ . The Apple iPhone has fundamentally changed the market for cell phones. Nevertheless, it is one of the products that have solely combined the familiar in a new way. It uses the operating concept of Mac computers, adopts functions from other smartphones and hardware from regular providers.
Another example is Froop from Müllermilch. It is a very successful product of the company that offers well-known ingredients in a new combination or concentration. This product is completely planned and systematically created [11, p. 33]. Even Einstein with his special theory of relativity ‘merely’ took up known theory fragments and reunited them in a meta-theory. He recognized this himself and wrote in a letter to his friend and biographer Carl Seelig in 1955: “It is doubtless that the special theory of relativity, if we look back at its development, was ripe for discovery in 1905” [5, p. 193].
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