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Should We Be Looking At Innovation Or Discovery?

Often simply adapting an idea to a new setting is a better option

11May

Innovation is the concept of having a new idea and putting it into practice. Henry Ford had the idea of transporting people in a metal box on wheels, Steve Jobs believed that people could carry computers around in their pockets, and Elon Musk believed that electric cars could become as popular as fossil fuel cars. Each of them are genuine innovators that a fraction of a percent of people will be able to emulate, but some of the best ideas in the future will have nothing to do with this model.

Instead, the ideas that people will have, and indeed have had throughout history, come from discovering an idea and implementing it.

It may sound like this is promoting forgery, but it is far from it. Ideas come from a variety of places and one of the most important is seeing what others are doing and adapting it to your task. For instance, one of the most important strategies within web and app development is agile processes. It is so embedded within the culture that many believe that the web development community came up with the concept in the first place. However, the truth is that it is loosely based on manufacturing processes from the 19th century. Web developers simply took the basic idea and moulded it to their needs.

This concept of discovery is not only in processes either, but increasingly in products too. Going back to Steve Jobs, the idea of a computer in your pocket may have come from him, but he discovered several ideas that allowed this to work. Apple didn’t invent the touchscreen, the mobile phone, or the ability to browse the internet from a mobile device, but instead took these ideas and ran with them within their ground breaking product.

As we move into a technology-focused future, we are going to see more and more ideas being discovered and added to products, simply by virtue of us becoming increasingly connected. Given current patent laws, it is difficult to fully copy a product or idea, but it doesn’t mean that there aren’t things that can be adapted. For instance, when BMW wanted to make the navigation simpler on their cars, they didn’t look to see what other car companies were doing, they turned to video games and saw how people utilized them, before adapting the idea to their task. The idea for a foldable pram did not come from other manufacturers, it came from Owen Maclaren, who adapted the idea from the landing gear on airplanes.

Increasingly we are seeing companies not only discovering ideas from other industries, but re-discovering ideas that have previously been abandoned due to changes in circumstances. For instance, at present the way that cotton is grown is incredibly damaging to the environment, ruining the soil and water sources around the field due to the number of chemicals needed to continue growth at the rate needed. It makes it difficult for the increasing number of ethical clothing brands to maintain an ethical foundation when the fabric they’re using is destroying the environment. When faced with this, rather than trying to find new methods to grow cotton, companies like Patagonia, People Tree, and Nomads, have looked to history to see the conditions in which cotton was grown before pesticides and industrial farming techniques existed. This has allowed them to create their clothing in a genuinely ethical way, without destroying the soil or environment, keeping their USP intact through discovery.

We now have millions of products in use across the world and with the increased connection we have to every corner of the globe, the original innovation within these products will have impacts well beyond their intended use. 

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