Patterns That Predict Innovation Success

The New York Times published a list of “32 Innovations That Will Change Your Tomorrow,”  an eclectic mix of concepts that range from the wild and wacky like SpeechJammer (#14) to more practical ideas like a blood test for depression (#25).

I analyzed each of the 32 concepts to see which ones could be explained by the five patterns of Systematic Inventive Thinking.  These patterns are the “DNA” of products that can be extracted and applied to any product or service to create new-to-the-world innovations.  Dr. Jacob Goldenberg found in his research that the majority of successful innovations conform to one or more of these patterns.  Conversely, the majority of unsuccessful innovations (those that failed in the marketplace) do not conform to a pattern.

Based on my analysis, here is the breakdown of which pattern explains each innovation on the list:

  • Task Unification: 9
  • Attribute Dependency: 7
  • Division: 3
  • Subtraction: 3
  • Multiplication: 3
  • None of the above: 8

In other words, 24 of the 32 innovations in the New York Times list could be explained by the SIT patterns.  The eight concepts that were not pattern based were either process or performance enhancements. For example, the carbon fiber bicycle frame (#9) is one of the eight.  That does not mean these eight will not be successful.  But based on Dr. Goldenberg’s research, the odds are they are less likely to succeed than if they had one of the patterns embedded inside. The patterns, in essence, are predictive of success.

Pattern spotting is a great way to improve your mastery of the SIT method.  Here’s how to do it. Take note of new and interesting things that you see throughout the day and try to imagine how they were invented.  Look for one of the five SIT patterns that might explain the invention.  If you spot the pattern, try to mentally simulate using the pattern to create the novel object.  Make a mental list of the components, select the component that might lead to the invention, then apply the template.  Use Function Follows Form to work backwards to the new idea.

Another useful way to analyze concepts like the New York Times list is to group them into three buckets: Near, Far, and Sweet.  Ideas in the “Near” bucket are incremental improvements, while ideas in the “Far” bucket are exotic and wild.  It is those ideas in between that we find most interesting.  These “sweet spot” ideas tend to be just far enough away from the core business yet close enough to be achievable.  Investors and business leaders find these most attractive. Here is what I found in the New York Times list:

  • Near: 8
  • Sweet Spot: 16
  • Far: 8

This is a nice, balanced portfolio.  The people at the New York Times who created the list of 32 have a very good eye for innovation.

*Illustration by Chris Nosenzo