TED Conversations

Fengbin (Kathy) Zhao

learning designer, Beyondinno Design

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Can there be a science called innovation science?

Statistics is an independent subject, and it has been applied in other subjects.

Learning science is an independent science, and it is about learning every subject.

What about innovation? Are there abstracted patterns about generating innovations?

Can we discover the shared patterns of generating innovations? And integrate the transferable knowledge and skills with each field?

If we can develop such a science, I believe that learning science would be its twin-science.

Collective innovating is highly similiar to individual learning.
Analogy reasoning plays an important role in both innovating and learning.

The relationships between inspiration, creativity, innovation might hint some patterns.

Knowledge building emphasizes: today's best practice will not be tomorrow's best practice.

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  • Sep 27 2011: I'm an educator, so my thoughts on this immediately move to teaching innovation as a unique branch of science. I have some curiosity about how innovation would change if we attempted to teach it as a structured science in schools. It is interesting to consider what that sort of classroom would look like or operate as. Would it be similar to the Studio School or Big Picture models of education with an added edge?
    It's exciting to think of innovation as a discipline that everyone should be able to grasp, but would that spontaneous "eureka" experience that goes along with human ingenuity be lost to some degree? I would also wonder how students would feel in that position, to be taught the patterns to follow in order to innovate (from the experiences of all those great innovators who have come before)--and then find that it doesn't fit their particular habits or abilities. In teaching it as a discipline, there is the delicate implication that there would be little novelty in how one person or another arrives at an innovative idea. Would that lead to less innovation because thinkers are attempting to follow a template, rather than allowing their minds to work in their own unique ways?
    I'd be slightly concerned as an educator that innovation would become anything but.
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      Sep 28 2011: Isn't there a certain irony to entrenching "innovation" in a formula for teaching?

      Certainly there are parameters that are consistent, but the idea of having a teacher grade me - based on his or her own biases - on this topic in particular made my mind just flash through every nightmare teacher I ever had.

      From having to take a hit on my note-taking technique (I'm an aural learner and tend only to take down mnemonics) to being penalized for closing my eyes as I listened (which actually helps me focus), the idea of dealing with someone else' functional fixedness in this subject matter makes me shudder.
      • Sep 28 2011: It would basically relegate innovation to a left-brain activity (sequential, ordered, fixed), and make it fit nicely with the prevailing standards based pedagogy while entrenching this "formula" into the popular consciousness of our younger generations. It leaves out the whole-brain, or right-brain nature of innovation.
        It would become a subjective, difficult to assess subject...The irony is impossible to miss. It would be like an art teacher saying a student's work isn't artistic enough...by what right-brain checklist/subjective standard?
  • Sep 26 2011: I like Mr. Yee's comments and largely agree.

    There is also something called TRIZ. If you wiki TRIZ there is a neat explanation and many good websites.

    The patent office is a neat database where you can see many concepts that you might draw from towards solving a variety of problems.

    Use of nature as a model for problem solving and innovation has helped many designers.

    Study of engineering and physics can help lead to innovation.

    Going to broad industry conferences can help with innovation.

    Brainstorming with colleagues can lead to innovation.

    Even art can effect innovation.

    To innovate, you need to have opportunity, understanding of a problem or need, resources, critical thinking ability, knowledge, insight and vision. Creativity, experiences to draw from, and an open mind also help. The ability to take all these things and look at the problem at different levels, from different perspectives, and how your solution integrates with the rest of reality are desirable skills.

    You can teach these techniques, hone the skills, and increase the breadth of experience and opportunity, but the creative spark is not something that is easily taught or structured enough to be a science.
  • Sep 26 2011: Kathy,

    Check out Stephen Johnson's History of Innovtion (Where Good Ideas Come From). It shed a lot of light on my own ideas and delivers exactly what it promises. Well worth reading slowly..

    Hopefully that read will answer your question. His concepts are something I've been endeavouring to employ for as long as I can remember!

    M.
  • Sep 11 2011: I believe innovation science already exists, except that we do not often think of it as a structured science in terms of measuring inputs and results.

    There are certainly abstract patterns. Risk-taking and ‘play’ (akin to that espoused by Edison, Tom Peters), is probably a key one, common to many innovations.

    Taking ideas from other fields, disciplines, experiences, and repurposing their use, for example Steve Jobs looking at car material when designing the casing of the iMac, is another.

    Research by Jim Collins suggests that incremental change also compounds over time. Simply put, small innovations can also set up the preconditions for larger ones.

    The point is that there is a body of research that considers the nature of innovation. There are models that exist. Good consultants are supposedly attuned to the models and techniques to bring out new innovation, although of course that is debatable. The difficulty, of course, is measurement.

    I recommend Transforming the Twentieth Century: Technical Innovations and their Consequences by Vaclav Smil for an interesting look at the history of innovation.