Can Innovation Be Accelerated with Software?

Upon hearing the phrase “innovation software,” there are some who may look upon the term with skepticism. It could be viewed as a gimmick; innovation has generally been regarded as an innate ability of visionaries and exceptional teams of thinkers. Could there really be an algorithmic, software-driven approach to something as intangible as innovation?

The answer to that, according to researcher Tony McCaffery, is “Yes.” He provides a detailed description of the principles behind innovation software in the Harvard Business Review. It is still true that breakthrough ideas are usually within the domain of those who can find unexpected and useful connections between disparate realms of knowledge. However, even the most brilliant human beings are limited by the scope of what they can analyze. This is why McCaffery has developed Analogy Finder, a tool that identifies connections between search terms within the U.S. Patent Database.

McCaffery gives two vivid, real-world examples of how such a search can be effective:

  • A ski company adapted a vibration-reducing design feature from violins to the bodies of its products, giving skiers better control.
  • A company called Carbozyme Inc. mimicked the biological mechanism that removes carbon dioxide from the bloodstream in order to create an effective smokestack filter.

These types of product adaptations, taken from existing solutions and often from different fields, McCaffery calls analogous solutions. Innovation software has the promise of quickly identifying analogous solutions which may be applied to an existing product.

Innovation software appears to operate on the same principles of many modern data-driven solutions for business. The tools take advantage of powerful matching/language processing algorithms that are able to operate upon data sets exponentially larger than anything possible in the past. According to the GE Global Innovation Barometer, innovation is being explicitly regarded at the executive level as a major business concern for future growth. It is only fitting that organizations apply advanced data tools to this problem area as they have to accounting, logistics, marketing, and countless others.

To continue the discussion on accelerating innovation in your organization, contact us.

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