What Makes Innovation Possible?

All of us today, individuals, organisations, academia, and governments are keen on the word innovation. We hear slogans and punchlines such as ‘we must innovate more’, ‘innovate or die’, ‘we are coming up with innovate ideas’ and so on and so forth. However, how does innovation happen? Today I will present the factors which must come together in a certain manner to make innovation possible. I will aim to address the ‘what’, the ‘how’ and the ‘why’.

The What:

There are two stages to answering this question. First is to understand the importance of science. To put it simply, science is the basic building block of innovation. Without science there is no innovation. Science is the foundation, for it helps us observe, interpret and enhance our understanding of our world and how it behaves. If we don’t actively pursue scientific exploration, we can’t innovate.

With science being the first stage, the second stage is technology. Technology is the next step down the line from science. It represents the application of scientific knowledge in a practical manner. Technological advancement is made possible by understanding the underlying scientific principles and applying them in different ways.

The How:

We have the technology, so what? Having technology alone won’t help. We must discover a way to apply this technology in a manner it which it finds practical application and use. This is where engineering comes in. Engineering is the practical application of technology in a contextual manner to achieve a tangible benefit over an existing state of affairs.

The Why:

This is by far the easiest part of innovation. Over the centuries the whys have never changed. It has been about one or more of the usual suspects as shown in the image below. Wanting to make better products, more products, serve more customers, be more productive, be more profitable, become more agile, be more responsive to customer needs, etc have not changed over time. But what has enabled these (the technology) and how these have been made possible (engineering) are changing.

The Why

Acceptance:

However, what, how and why alone won’t suffice. There has to be an observable and understandable benefit, which will lead to acceptance of the solutions. This observable benefit is often driven by cost. Cost not just in terms of money, but also in terms of energy, adoption, ease of use, human effort, to name a few.

To sum it up, driving and delivering innovation starts with the science, which drives technology, which is the applied in context by engineering, and delivers benefits measured in cost in many forms.

A small example below:

Observing, understanding and making inferences about the movement of fluids such as air around obstructions is the science. Taking the science of understanding how fluids behave, we have technologies such as aerodynamics. Aerodynamics can be used to make planes fly or to make race cars stick to the ground. This is made possible by engineering. Finally offering benefits to gain acceptance at scale are the airline industry and the automotive & motor sport industries. It is in the growth of these industries where the true impact of innovation is realised.

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