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Game Changing Innovations are Right in Front of You

Posted By Evan Shellshear, Thursday, December 15, 2016
Updated: Sunday, December 11, 2016

Game Changing Innovations are Right in Front of You

Your greatest innovation opportunity may be right in front of you. The problem is you don’t see it. Every day for the last decade of your life this problem has annoyed and frustrated you. Its solution is worth billions of dollars and would open up a totally new market. The problem is, like the millions of other people who have this problem, you don’t think of it as a problem anymore. You’ve been desensitized. You’ve lost your ability to innovate because of something called habituation.


In scientific terms, habituation is the process of becoming desensitized or unresponsive to non-threatening stimulus because of repeated exposure to it. That annoying mark on the wall that you stopped seeing; habituation. That annoying clock tick-tocking in the background that you don’t hear; habituation. That horrible odor your colleague left behind that you no longer notice; habituation. That billion dollar frustration which you could easily solve but no longer notice; habituation.

Habituation is an amazing form of learning. It has been shown in essentially every species of animal. So it must be essential to every species’ survival and have arrived early in the evolutionary game. It allows us to save energy and reduce stress by not wasting full-blooded survival antics in the face of a gust of wind. It also plays a role in less life threatening things such as when you’re eating, giving you the feeling of being full when you’re not.

For companies and individual it is a bane. It stops us from noticing those itches which are worth a fortune. If you could turn off this learning process, then all of a sudden you would notice all the things people tolerate because they have learned to ignore them. However, if you were to draw their attention to it, they would notice the annoyance and gladly pay for your solution. A lack of habituation is a catalyst for game-changing innovations.

One might object that in companies it’s usually not finding an idea that is a problem but the execution. However, for the real innovators in us, sometimes we’d like a way to find new disruptive ideas and not just incremental ones. It is the recognition of everyday frustrations that can lead to that. In fact, one of such inconvenience seems so obvious you could imagine the ancient Greeks using it, if they had noticed it.

Indeed, you use them every day to open almost every door you encounter which doesn’t open automatically; doorknobs. Such an obvious convenience should have been around forever, however, this is not the case. They first started assisting people’s door problems in the late 19th century when Osbourn Dorsey invented such a mechanism. He then filed and later received a patent for the first doorknob device which we now recognize. Up until that point, many people probably thought doors were a necessary challenge with the large heavy latches commonly seen on gates nowadays.


The upshot is we need a way to dishabituate us so that we can see the simple game-changing innovations such as doorknobs. We need a way for annoying things to become annoying again. But how do we do this?

Luckily researchers have been asking exactly this question for decades too. In the meantime they have discovered many practical ways to intensify your innovation itch. What’s more they’re extremely easy to do and some of them are even enjoyable!

The first and probably most well-known is to change the context. This means dramatically changing the way we look at our surroundings. Redecorate, refurnish, take away and add back things. By doing so, a situation becomes new to us and so we notice everything about it again. As you do this, try and notice all the frustrations.

The next one is something you have probably been told a thousand times. Be a good listener. Next time someone complains, listen and ask yourself what you can do about it. The visitor who is not used to your annoying way of opening doors (maybe because he/she doesn’t have any) may have a good point. In this context, complaints can be one of the greatest sources of innovation.

The final one I’ll address here is changing your point of view on life. Get out of your everyday rut and experience something totally different. Travel overseas and outside your time and comfort zone! When you come back, not only will everything be new to you again but you’ll hopefully have altered your perspective too.  Seeing how others live their life and cope with their problems can be an extremely powerful innovation kick.

Learn to notice serious innovation opportunities

Each of the suggestions presented here is relatively simple for most people to do but are three of hundreds of ways of exposing one to life’s endured frustrations. They won’t open your eyes to every frustration but should provide one with impetus to thinking about ways you can learn to notice serious innovation opportunities.

You may now rightfully ask, what was the doorknob inventor’s dishabituation trick? There must have been thousands of people who were annoyed by the cumbersome latch and similar devices. We can’t be sure but it could have been cultural and due to Osbourn Dorsey’s background as an African-American. This may have helped him not accept the status quo and notice the frustrating door opening mechanisms in place and decide there must be a better way.

Starting the desensitization cycle may make evolutionary sense but it may also be blocking you from seeing your next big opportunity. For some innovative ideas, saying it’s right in front of your eyes seems to be quite apt, it just may require you to look twice at what’s really there.


Tags:  disruption  Innovation 

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INNOVATION in current territorial economic development models: the case of smart specialisation and territorial strategies. Some reflections

Posted By Evan Shellshear, Wednesday, November 23, 2016
Updated: Tuesday, November 22, 2016

INNOVATION in current territorial economic development models

Nowadays, the crisis has accelerated a process were competitiveness merged with globalization. This led us to witness a context were not only business, but territories as well, compete for achieving a differential competitive advantage that position themselves as more attractive players in the global playground.

As a result, current economic models seek for new recipes for maintaining a sustained growth, were innovation has emerged as the way to discover new paths and opportunities to ensure that “differential competitive advantage”.

Among the different perspectives on economic growth and competitiveness, smart specialisation has arisen as a model that seems to tackled the linkage between micro competitiveness and territorial dimension of economic growth. Although it is not a complete new thesis, smart specialisation seems to combine recent trends in business and territorial fields1 to propose an integrated “way” to competitiveness and development.

Regional Innovation Strategies for Smart Specialisation

The “smart specialisation” trend consolidated when European Commission incorporated the concept in the logic of its Cohesion Policy for the new period until 2020. More concretely, the Commission has stabilised an ex ante conditionality for accessing European regional funds for R&D and innovation in the shape of Regional Innovation Strategies for Smart Specialisation (the so called RIS3). To a certain extent, this ex ante condition resulted in a hurried process to obtain a formal document with the most elements possible to “pass” the European requirement.

As the long experience shown in territorial economic development, and more concretely the European experience in regional strategies during the 90s and 00s, the difference between the success and failure in a strategic process may lay in the level of alignment between the “theoretical model” and the specific “territorial reality”. Obviously, the level of alignment is positively correlated to the time required by a process like this.

At this moment, and once most of the RIS3 experiences were finished, it is necessary to raise two issues on the strategic process of the RIS3:

  • Does the RIS3 born with the basic idea of being an instrument for economic development or rather as “ex ante" conditionality to be fulfilled?
  • Are being defined and developed the most appropriate processes for each specific regional context in order to reach a contribution to economic development or rather as requirement of a set of conditions?

While in the short term it is true that the requirements are and will be the key, it must not forget the opportunity for economic development behind the RIS3. They must be finally instrumental elements linked to the main objective of economic development of the region. In this regard, it must not be limited with the obsession of only developing a generic RIS3 able to respond to European requirements. And many of these requirements must be considered as well as changing formulas (over the future) that facilitate the contribution of economic development pursued over time.

Back to innovation issues, the way RIS3 can be considered aligned to territorial reality depend on how innovation is tacked in the concrete regional innovation system. (Radical) innovation arises, simplifying the concept, from the combination of different ideas, experiences, and capacities to generate new solutions which meet market trends (determined nowadays at international level). So, if the systematization and generalization of innovation phenomenon at regional level is possible, a continuous process of economic renewal may occur. This process has been called entrepreneurial discovery by the fathers of smart specialisation concept. In this context, entrepreneurial processes contribute to a more dynamic and, therefore, more competitive territorial economy.

Leaving aside all the theoretical developments that have enriched exceedingly the smart specialization approach and RIS3, and taking as premises all those items mentioned, what is really important to know is how to extend and systematize these processes of entrepreneurial discovery based on innovation in each territory.

Generating Wealth and Employment

The radical innovations mentioned (commercialised through entrepreneurial processes in existing organizations or newly created ones), that generate wealth and employment
contributing to the economic development of the region, should be the core of any RIS3 from a threefold approach:

1. to generate the elements of the regional context that facilitate and promote them,
2. to discover/ identify over time, and
3. to define and implement the policy instruments able to support, consolidate and anchorage them in the territory.

Besides, the experiences until led us to consider a view of RIS3 that inevitably raises two important implications:
a) the key to RIS3 do not reside in the choices/priorities in a certain moment but in the (participatory) process to reach them, and
b) a RIS3 must be an endless process, not just a document or a list of optimal choices at a particular time.

In practice, a RIS3 process is about how to generate the methodological foundations to a good analysis of regional competitiveness based on innovation (both internally and externally), to identify entrepreneurial discovery initiatives, to reach consensus about actions and instruments to support these initiatives, and to establish commitments among all agents involved around territorial possibilities in the field of innovation. And what is more important, to ensure that these channels are not punctual elements linked to the development of a strategic document, but part of a wider innovation process that also includes the implementation and monitoring.

By Jaime del Castillo, Jonatan Paton

1 That is for example, the theoretical approaches based on economic geography, clusters, regional
innovation systems, open innovation, creative classes, regional policy and territorial development, etc.

Tags:  Europe  Innovation  RIS3  Smart Specialisation 

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