From half baked ideas to half-knife crimes
15/08/2008 - "From half baked ideas to half-knife crimes" by Donal Carroll
Innovation's easy innit!

In a recent discussion, my neighbour claimed her shopping bag with a logo 'will you carry me?' was an innovation, rather than a (good) pun. At Clapham Junction railway station the other day, leaflets publicising a free service from local councils were handed out. These offered free AIRtext alerts to those with heart or breathing problems on days of 'elevated air pollution', direct to mobile, home phone or email.

Even if innovation seems unusual, the process works in 3 fairly standard stages: (i) ideation: having a new idea; (ii) entrepreneurship: getting it pumped up with money; and (iii) 'entering' the market place as a service or product –the noisier the better.

But is this changing? According Michael Schrage in 'ideas can overachieve' (Strategy + Business Autumn 2007) there no shortage of 'good ideas', the challenge to companies is lowering the cost of putting the 'best ones' (context determined) into practice.

And why do most companies find it so difficult? Apart from obvious mistakes like having a destructive company climate that feeds new ideas weed killer there are also some not-so-obvious mistakes like: the half knife' crime: this separates ideas from testing. It is like using only one blade of a pair of scissors (ok, half cocked would be a better metaphor) and the early snooze –closing, or getting too comfortable, too early: forgetting that barriers apply all the time and there is a need to stay open to new possibilities at every stage, even having virtually reached a market.

Corning Incorporation, world leaders in materials sciences for instance. Seemingly 'traditional' innovators - funding projects that can take as long as 15 years to yield results, one of their high yield products initially designed for car windscreens, eventually became the ultra-thin, highly pure glass used in flatscreen televisions. Looks like they learned from the history of 3M's 'Post-it' notes!

And for more evidence that the hard work only really begins after the 'good idea' -however much based on real customer need, see which won an award for reducing bike theft in Portsmouth, using a motion-sensitive bike lock which triggers a CCTV camera into action when it is moved.

And now there is even help available with the process of innovation. Check out for 'invention buddy help'.

As for innovation getting more common... picture this scene: a busy bar, attractive women ignoring testiculating men, who as a result, call them lesbians... Now most women have very developed responses to this kind of harassment. However these women then pondered on setting up a website with a menu of witty putdowns for every situation. Let's call it 'Putting up putdowns'. Sounds like a half-baked idea? What next if they wanted to take the idea further? How could they present this to make entrepreneurs' wallets itchy?

And why is 'Dragons Den' the worse possible forum for promising ideas?

Visitors' Comments on this Post

24/03/2009 Comment posted by A Misanthropist
As you and I were discussing the other day (claim-to-fame-name dropper, moi?), I reckon duh internetz in reality homogenises actual "stuff" - the only innovation is in new delivery systems (ie. additional waste pipes). With it's transatlantic noun-verbing (see what I did there?) as a way of making the obvious seem new and shiny, fawning teenspeak and the acceptance of the typically talentless plagiarism enabled by new technology (ie. slapdash digital slicing, montage, pastiche etc. - since when did shuffling jigsaw pieces into random jumbles become "urban-grime-culture-art-mash"?). More democretinisation than democratising, at least that's how it looks from my ivory tower.

I posit a contradiction for arguments' sake ... surely innovation has to be, is, should be, will be, can only be - elitist, exclusive, sometimes arbitrary, perhaps magical, and whether collective or individual, essentially human - and inequitable. Not "empowered" (er, if it depends on existing or created structures, it ain't innovation is it?) , not "facilitated" (it thrives on rebellion/resistance/contrast, not pat-on-the-head encouragement ... name one musical innovation that hasn't self-seeded in disaffection/isolation), and not predictable (if everyone can and does innovate, then we won't notice it anymore).

My (disagreeable) position is that it is the qualitative rather than the quantative that matters - not how many, not how often, but how good.

By the way, in case my half-cooked (eg. medium rare) arguments are rebutted too successfully, please note I happily accept the devil's advocate role (as you said, at times we all need advocates) ... but even weasel words can have gnaw-sharp incision. Your thoughtful and energised interactions here and elsewhere can indeed deliver the potential for individual catalysis and innovation, but in spite of the internet rather than because of it. Truth, insight and personal development are dishes best served and eaten face to face (or alone with a book, or one or a few long nights of the soul ) - the idea that the web fosters innovation is my dinner for the dog. Although, naturally, I am more of a cat person.
Yours misanthropically ...
12/12/2008 Comment posted by Chris Paul
Dragon's Den
From what I saw, I thought Dragon's Den a real "close your thoughts early" epic. It also featured ritual humiliation, a lot of "me" sell from the dragons, and not much good advice. Reminded me of many an idea or project presented to senior managers without the time or inclination to understand where something was coming from. These were not potential customers, these were potential gamblers making TV.

Not much room for learning...

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