Let's Call Innovation What It Is: A Science

The following article by Joseph Nadan is excerpted from the July/August issue of the Innovation Management Report, our bi-monthly newsletter. The article builds on a presentation that Nadan—who is a professor at New York University and Chief Innovation Scientist at the International Association of Innovation Professionals—delivered at the 2015 CIMS annual meeting last fall. Our two organizations have been partners since that time, sharing the belief that innovation should be treated as a science as well as a management practice.

Too many people, business entities and government organizations do not know of, or use, innovation science. Many thought leaders seem unaware that innovation science already exists and delivers significant benefits from its current use. For example, the eight-year old International Journal of Innovation Science recently published a series of three papers by Dennis Stauffer that first offered a theoretical foundation and defined innovation as Valuable Novelty, and innovativeness as the capacity to produce Valuable Novelty.

The author at the 2015 CIMS Annual Meeting.

The author at the 2015 CIMS Annual Meeting.

In the second paper, Stauffer created “Innovator-Mindset” as an evaluation instrument to apply to this theory and, in the third paper, tested the theory and provided significant empirical support for the Valuable Novelty Theory of innovation and external validity for the Innovator Mindset instrument as a predictor of entrepreneurial value creation.

How Organizations Perform

The Project Management Institute (PMI), in each of the past five years, reported that while an average of 64 percent of all organizations completed their projects on time, on budget and on goal, only 12 percent of all organizations are high-performing, a number unchanged since 2012. Projects in high-performing organizations meet original goals and business intent two-and-a-half times more often than those in low-performing organizations (90 percent vs. 36 percent). High-performing organizations also waste about 13 times less project-spend money than low-performing organizations ($20 vs. $250 million of every $1 billion).

Because most PMI-reported projects do not have high Valuable-Novelty, and only 20 percent of PMI companies self-report highly effective innovation programs, it is unlikely that they use innovation science methods. For these reasons, I believe that embedding an innovation science mindset in the culture of low-performing organizations will greatly improve their project success rates.

The Scientific Process of Innovation

Mathematicians work within a well defined framework starting with axioms to prove statements that are true within this framework. Scientists, working in the not-well-defined natural world, perform experiments and collect data to test hypotheses. That’s why scientists often describe their confidence in how accurately a hypothesis models behavior in the natural world.

The process of science is to perform research to obtain measurable principles and procedures for the systematic pursuit of knowledge involving the recognition and formulation of a problem, defining variables, collecting data and formulating and testing hypotheses.

Clearly defined variables are important for the establishment and adoption of a science because they support its use and allow it to be widely taught. Innovation, a comparatively new science, has relatively few clearly defined variables, and some are still in the stage of gaining acceptance. Newton’s Second Law of Motion and Ulwick’s Opportunity Algorithm are formulas that have created great value. The methods used in physics and innovation are scientific because they systematically pursue knowledge involving the recognition and formulation of a problem, the collection of data through observation and experiment, the formulation and testing of hypotheses, and the creation of laws., innovation may be thought of as the scientific process of creating a product or service that delivers significant new customer value.

Innovation Science Methods and Tools

The acceptance of a science is advanced when its tools deliver reliable a-priori predictions regarding the expected results of an experiment or intended project. All scientific disciplines (physics, innovation, psychology, etc.) have basic and applied aspects. Basic sciences seek to discover new knowledge without regard to its value. Applied sciences use one or more underlying basic sciences to create value. The following three innovation science tools illustrate why innovation is a science:

Outcome-Driven Innovation (ODI): ODI is a unique, highly effective opportunity selection methodology with an 86 percent success rate. With 12 U.S. patents starting in 2003, it has been extensively studied and widely published. It is based on the fact that companies need to figure out what “jobs” (i.e., tasks and activities) their customers want to do, and how customers will measure their performance getting those tasks and activities done before deciding which solutions to provide.

Advanced I.D.E.A.S! Brainstorming: The I.D.E.A.S! method of brainstorming, created by Dimis Michaelides in 2006, is a highly productive five-stage (10 step) applied science process for creatively confronting challenges by providing different structured processes for performing each of its 10 steps.
Each of the five stages is practiced separately, starting with a “divergence” step and ending with a “convergence” step that feeds into the next stage. Divergence steps use creative thinking to search for alternatives and generate lists; convergence steps use critical thinking to make choices before proceeding to the next step.
My colleague Alan Hyman and I developed a new method of multi-sensory electronic brainstorming that overcomes many of the major limitations of prior brainstorming methods. Based on the I.D.E.A.S! method, it enables managers to measure the contributions of each participant, reduces social loafing (free riding), and provides automatic attribution to encourage the participation of experts. A Google Hangouts alpha-test demonstrated the methodology and the creation of an audio/video log of the session.

Mind Genomics: Howard Moskowitz received the 2005 Charles Coolidge Parlin Marketing Research Award from the American Marketing Association for creating the science of Mind Genomics. With hundreds of documented cases from many industries (e.g., Allegen, Campbell’s, Chase, Citibank, Ford, GE, HP, McDonald’s, Microsoft, Prudential, P&G, etc.) and two U.S. patents, it combines approaches from statistics, consumer research and experimental psychology with new methods to create databases of ideas and their utility values, whose components can be compared, contrasted and combined into new things. The data from these studies create “facts of preference” that may be reused to understand the mind of a customer concerning future products and services.

Increased acceptance and use of the science of innovation should create a better balance with the art of innovation and improve the success rates of both innovation and non-innovation projects. “Emerging science” is an oxymoron that inhibits innovation’s full utilization. “Innovation Is Also a Science!” is my urgent call for people to recognize and start using innovation science to harvest its already-available considerable benefits.—Joseph Nadan

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