1 The innovation process

We begin by asking you to read a very engaging article by Ernest Taylor that provides a historical perspective on how technology innovation happens called ‘Invention and Innovation.’ It covers a lot of historical ground and is rich in detail about invention and innovation, but most importantly, it provides working meanings of key concepts that compose a conceptual framework for our field of study;

  • invention
  • design
  • product champion
  • entrepreneur
  • innovation
  • radical innovation
  • incremental innovation
  • dominant design
  • progress innovation
  • diffusion
  • patent.

Activity 1

Please read Ernest Taylor, ‘Invention and innovation,’ (1996), pp. 4-38 (using the pages numbers at the bottom of the page).

Make notes on the definitions of the key concepts above and answer the SAQs 1-4 on p.39 of the reading. Please ignore references to other material in this reading which you are not being asked to read.

Question 1

Given the definitions at the start of this page, would you classify the following as an invention or an innovation?

  1. Bic ball-point pen.
  2. Flettner’s ‘rotor ship.’
  3. Carlson’s patented electro-static copier.
  4. Xerox’s 914 photocopier.

Answer

  1. BIC ball-point pen is an example of innovation.
  2. Flettner’s ‘rotor ship’ is an example of invention.
  3. Carlson’s patented electro-static copier is an example of invention.
  4. Xerox’s 914 photocopier is an example of innovation.

Question 2

Would you classify the following as examples of radical innovation or incremental innovation?

  1. Edison’s phonograph.
  2. The laser.
  3. The fibre-tip pen.
  4. The electric light.

Answer

  1. Edison’s phonograph is an example of incremental innovation.
  2. The laser is an example of incremental innovation.
  3. The fibre-tip pen is an example of radical innovation.
  4. The electric light is an example of incremental innovation.

Question 3

Do you think the following are inventors, entrepreneurs or product champions?

  1. Thomas Edison.
  2. Battelle Memorial Institute (photocopier).
  3. Bette Nesmigh Graham.
  4. Henry Villard (electric light).

Answer

  1. Entrepreneur, as it was necessary to back his innovative judgement with his own money, and also to persuade others to invest by becoming a product champion for his own inventions.
  2. Product champion, albeit at an institutional level. Without its support, Carlson might never have developed the photocopier beyond the prototype stage.
  3. Inventor-entrepreneur. Having failed to interest IBM in her ‘liquid paper’ she had to finance manufacture for herself.
  4. Product champion. Although not working within an organisation, by getting Edison to fit out the steamship Columbia for the first full-scale trial of the electric light, Villard helped to draw attention to the invention about which he felt so enthusiastic, thus contributing to its eventual success.

Question 4

What are the six key components of a successful innovation process identified above?

Answer

  1. the Need/Demand for a new or improved product or process.
  2. the inventive Idea for a new product or a new way to make something.
  3. the Technology to turn an inventive idea into an innovation on the market.
  4. the Money and Resources to help transform an invention into an innovation.
  5. the Determination to support the invention and overcome any obstacles.
  6. a Socio-economic context which encourages and rewards innovation.

The second reading, The Innovation Process, is also by Taylor and it is a good introduction to the general field of innovation and design studies. The Innovation Process is about understanding and analysing how invention and innovation arises. The reading begins with two simple and opposing views of how inventions arise, the evolutionary and the revolutionary, and makes the simple, but important point that the best explanation is usually to be found somewhere between the two. Taylor then goes on to use a stage model of invention based on four key steps by Usher; perception of the problem, setting the stage, act of insight and critical revision. Simple stage models like Usher’s are often used in innovation and design studies. They reflect an empirical approach to studying a subject, whereby linked processes are identified. They may be used to explain how an outcome arises or can be used as a tool to manage a desired outcome.

Taylor also explores other models for understanding the process of innovation, such as the technology push and market pull models, and again sees innovation as emerging from somewhere along a spectrum with Push/Pull at polar ends.

Activity 2

Work your way from the beginning (page 40, as numbered at the bottom of the page) of the reading ‘The Innovation Process’ to, and including, SAQ 13 on page 57.

Important: Miss out the section from SAQ5 on page 55 and start again at the final paragraph on page 56 (“Although it is true….”). This is because it refers to a reading you do not have.

Answer the following questions;

Question 5

Using Usher’s stage model as an organising device, demonstrate how Archimedes ‘Eureka’ discovery fits the model (you will have insufficient information to address the last stage).

Question 6

Which of the following innovations would you describe as predominantly arising from ‘technology push’ and which from ‘market pull’?

  • (i) Post it note
  • (ii) Motor vehicle
  • (iii) Car air bag
  • (iv) Sony Walkman

Question 7

  • Invention is the Mother of Necessity.
  • Necessity is the Mother of Invention.

Comment

Question 5

  • Perception of the problem-King Hiero II, the ruler of Syracuse, suspected that the goldsmith who had made his new crown had cheated him, substituting a gold-silver alloy for pure gold. But he had no way of proving it.
  • Setting the stage- Archimedes, a Syracusian mathematician, was asked to explore the problem. Archimedes knew that silver is less dense than gold, and therefore that were the crown to contain silver it would be bulkier than if made solely from gold.
  • Act of insight- Archimedes realised as he lowered himself into the bath that there is a relationship between his mass and the volume of water displaced. Achimedes had discovered a principle that allowed him to evaluate whether the crown contained silver. By dividing the mass of the crown by the volume of water displaced, the density of the crown could be calculated. Thus, if the crown contained silver it would be bulkier than if made of pure gold, and therefore would displace more water.

There is no critical revision stage for the purpose of this story. However, the story in the reading is incomplete from a narrative perspective as it doesn’t say whether King Hierro’s suspicions about his goldsmith were correct. The story is that they were, and that the dishonest goldsmith had indeed used some silver in making Hierro’s crown, keeping the gold for himself.

Question 6

  • (i) Post it note- technology push
  • (ii) Motor vehicle-technology push
  • (iii) Car air bag- market pull
  • (iv) Sony Walkman- technology push

Question 7

These are polarised statements and I don’t know how you have answered this question. But I would like you to reflect on whether you favoured one side of the argument over the other, and if so, what in your experience might have influenced you.

2 Successful industrial innovation