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Thursday, June 14, 2007

Innovation = Synergy of existing ideas

Innovation is about the creation of a new idea based on existing concepts.

  1. This applies to Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry, where medical researchers look through NCBI, the National Center for Biotechnology Information, to browse connections among proteins to look for clues to fight diseases and human health crisis.

  2. It applies to Internet culture, where users mash-up existing services together to create new products and services where 1+1>2.

  3. It applies to human relationships, where human beings unite through common interests, via six degress of separation: Friendster, MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn.

  4. It applies to agriculture, where farmers combine different species of vegetables through genetic mutations to produce seedless watermelons, tomatoes that do not bruise during shipping, high-starch potatoes and cataloups that resist viruses.

  5. In the business world, innovation is about connecting existing ideas into new concepts. The idea behind Social Retailing (SM) is made possible by connecting shopping and community, a concept which seems odd at first but once you find the key to connect the two, it makes sense.

The challenge in linking these nodes lies in finding the chain of links (the key) connecting these concepts. However, I have found a very powerful tool today on the Web that may very well be used as a successful formula generator. It's called Six degrees of Wikipedia.

Here are some interesting searches I conducted on the site and their resulting degrees of separation:

  1. Social - Community - Internet - Shopping

  2. Social - Community - Public space - Retailing

  3. Retailing - Online shop - Web browser - Wii (a)

  4. Retailing - Department Store - Hercules - Playstation

  5. Retailing - Consumerism - Mass media - Xbox

Bottom line: brainstorming is made much easier when the path of connections is clear.


a. Adam S. Kirschner.


  1. Why do you need to look for "a path of connection" when you already have the overarching concept of "innovation"? Are you looking for a new concept or theory? But given the interconnectedness of ideas and people as described by the six degrees of separation, there are probably many equally acceptable possibilities of paths of connection, which may or may not enlighten our understanding of a particular idea or set of ideas. LL

  2. LL,

    What I meant is that you can innovate on anything and everything by connecting random—i.e. previously unassociated—existing ideas into new ideas.

    Let's say that the customer wants X, Y and Z (the business objective), and you need to provide a solution which hits all these ideas. What are you to do?

    You brainstorm. Technically speaking, you can utilize the methodology called mindmapping (Wikipedia: Mind map) as a means to connect ideas together.

    Your ultimate solution is something which connects ideas together, a form of innovation.

    Having a path of connection is not the same as a solution.

    A solution is something which fulfills the objective of all three players in business: design (i.e. usability), technology (i.e. longevity) and strategy (i.e. commercial value). You will still have to find the balance (i.e. equilibrium state) of all three, but having a sketch of a possible path makes the problem a whole lot more easier to tackle—and quite possibly allow for even better solutions—then thinking out of thin air where objectives may never be meet.

    Aside from Six degrees of Wikipedia, I also use Visual Thesaurus as a tool to connect ideas. Words can have multiple meanings, and our interpretation of these meanings is the ultimate venue to spark out ideas.