Innovators Can Draw Insights from the Past

By September 28, 2011
Keywords : Smart city, Europe
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Before rushing into a process of innovation, it's usually a good idea to draw inspiration from methods that have already been tried and tested. But this doesn't in any way deny the value of new ways of working.

In order to innovate successfully in the present, we can draw inspiration from past methods, says Arthur D. Little, in a new report. The management consultancy firm found that innovation cycles tend to follow pre-established patterns, in which the steps leading up to the breakthrough repeat themselves. So, aiming for the long term and drawing inspiration from our surroundings (e.g. in developing solar power), or finding new applications for existing products (such as fibreglass) are tried and tested methods, which scientists could benefit from applying now. François Romon, Professor at the Compiègne University of Technology (UTC) in France and author of the book  Le Management de l'innovation, (Innovation Management) shares this view.

Look to the past for relevant useful methods

He believes that, "before starting any research, you should decide which methodology is most likely to deliver successful results", he explained to L'Atelier. "And this is why it’s a good idea to draw inspiration from past innovations. Looking at them you can often pinpoint relevant research methods which can be reused in the context of the new research work." According to Professor Romon, a good number of research bodies would benefit from this advice. However, it’s not quite so clearcut. To be more precise: "it all depends on the sector and on the kind of innovation you’re trying for – i.e. incremental or disruptive. Whether it’s relevant to draw from past methods will depend on the situation.”

Don’t follow fashion

Should we draw the conclusion that we should be wary of embracing new methods? No, of course not, replies François Romon. Obviously they can be useful. But they should be chosen according to context, he insists. To take Open Innovation as an example. "These days, this approach is yielding impressive results". However, he believes it only works well provided that researchers are embarking on an area that is completely innovative, where there are no existing methodologies or technologies. If this is not the case, other proven processes may well be a better bet. "I’m convinced that if the Open Innovation method is poorly applied, it becomes the best way of stopping innovation in its tracks, rather than fostering it," warns Professor Romon. 


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