The amazing journey of an innovation

Nieuws | de redactie
7 februari 2013 | How can innovations break through in the era of the Internet and Social media? Frans van der Reep analyzes how to win the “innovation jackpot” in this age of worldwide interconnectedness 24/7.

“Look for something, find something else and realize that what you’ve found is better suited to your needs that what you thought you were looking for“ L. Block

The paint tube and impressionism

There can be no doubt about that we may learn a lot from the past. For example, the paint tube. The introduction of the paint tube around 1850 has led to the rise and glory of the impressionism in the painting. Why? According to a sign behind the Crecy la Chapelle church in France, the paint tube has been invented in 1850.

The paint tube enabled the painters to work outside as well as inside. So, the painters went outside, searching for the most beautiful light. This resulted in the beginning of the famous school of Barbizon and later impressionism. This development was enabled by the paint tube in combination with the natural beauty of the area and the very special light in that valley.

A coincidental and lucky combination of factors can be understood only in hindsight. This cultural development was followed by the influx of money. And then the railway followed, which enabled the well-off people to travel to Paris.  The railway was followed by ordinary people and the industry. Looking back it could be concluded that paint tube was an accelerator of the cultural and social revolutions in the 19th century. 

These examples illustrate the way new discoveries, combinations and solutions in the Internet era work together. Where the technological, cultural and technological domains meet at the right time an increased synergy effect can take place due to lucky circumstances and right timing. This can result in a real wave of changes can. Let’s have a closer look at the paint tube story! Firstly, the new invention started out on a small scale.

Why certain new developments survive and others not cannot be foreseen in the beginning. Why this particular innovation turns into a huge success and another one, which looked at the beginning not less promising, failed? Why does the certain pianist or actor succeed and another, sometimes even more talented, not? This is the question of interferences from different circumstances whose impacts can be understood only afterwards. All the junctions need to be in a right position to enable the traffic flow.

How often does an end user make an invention trying to solve a very practical problem in an easy and creative way? Need an example? I think no single maker of cell phones could ever have foreseen that an integrated camera in the phones could help you to remember where you parked your car in a big city parking lot or that that picture you shot with the camera could present evidence that a parking ticket is unjustified. The inclusion of camera´s into mobile phones allowed a new form of the news collection: “civil journalism”. Like in the story with the paint tube the end user takes the decision on the usability of an innovation.

Innovation as a non-linear process

Sometimes a catchy name (or a nice headline for an article) can open a door to success. The term “Crowdsourcing’ will certainly be a success because the description delivered by the word is very clear. In 2005 I spoke about moneyskype but now we understand that the term ‘crowdfunding’ is a much better indication as to what is happening. This is a crucial ingredient of success.

New developments cannot be planned at the table of managers by management decision-making. Inventions and developments aren’t linear processes. Remember that innovation needs a right combination of entrepreneurship, science, and culture. Any successful innovation is therefore always an open innovation.

The success of an innovation can be compared with the coming across the one and only partner of your life. Many innovations fail because- and unfortunately you can only see and understand it afterwards- the window of the opportunity was not open wide enough. It is obviously not enough just to come across the most beautiful partner in your life. This also should happen at the right time and in the right setting.

The jackpot society

Many innovations turn into success coincidentally. If the window of the opportunity is open, the world is ready to accept the innovation. Then it usually ‘becomes reality” simultaneously in many places. The success and successful use of an innovation is often thus more luck than wisdom. Just compare is with the jackpot in the lottery.  You know for sure that somebody will win it, but whether it will be your luck…

The jackpot society. Nice wording? You know for sure someone will win the jackpot. You can also be quite sure it’s not you. Some of us win the innovation jackpot. Luck? Serendipity?

What can entrepreneurs learn from these views on the innovations? If an invention shows first signs of success, the chances on a bigger success in the future increase. This is a commercial and operational wisdom used by experienced (private) investors. For that reasons they prefer to invest in small scalable but already operational companies with a talented multidisciplinary team behind an idea and with a positive cash flow.

From the view of the paint tube this is a wise explanation. Obviously all junctions were in the right position, the timing was right, content and interferences from different domains did their work. Because the idea’s life cycle is getting shorter, the scalability, worldwide presence of sales, production etc. are what really matters. Many start-ups fail in succeeding in the last aspect. This creates opportunities for the fast follower innovation strategy as applied by many big corporations. This “lazy’ strategy of the corporations is actually based on this private investors logic and essentially fits into the purpose of the continuous profit increase.

What role does Social Media play in this innovation process? I think Social Media increase the chance of opening the window of opportunity. Or, to quote Bas van de Haterd: Social Media increase the serendipity. As an example he mentioned two very busy people, who have been trying for month to make an appointment and discovered through Twitter that they had been travelling on the same train. Social Media enable the hyper-connectivity and increase the chance that the junctions will be in the right position. They help us to look over our own fence. Social Media make sure that the puzzle pieces needed to make a picture complete will find each other easily.

The important question is: what are the paint tubes of today and what can be done to discover them as early as possible? I think it is something for….. I wish I knew.

Read more from Frans van der Reep, lector at Inholland University of Applied Science. Frans van der Reep will be speaking at the SURF Research and Innovation Event 2013 on February the 28th in The Hague. Register here, full program can be found her


Schrijf je in voor onze nieuwsbrief
ScienceGuide is bij wet verplicht je toestemming te vragen voor het gebruik van cookies.
Lees hier over ons cookiebeleid en klik op OK om akkoord te gaan