Conjugating invention and imitation

N°313a – Synopsis (8p.) – Innovation Strategy
Conjugating invention and imitation
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Western cultures frequently contrast imitation and creativity. And yet, imitation can be an effective way to develop creative ideas. How can we leverage it to accelerate our innovations and make them more reliable?

“Think different.” Never has this injunction appeared so urgent. In the face of current upheavals and the growing complexity of challenges, companies are more than ever pressed to innovate. Between the fierceness of international competition, the digital and artificial intelligence revolutions, and the ecological transition, there is no shortage of themes. All hands are on deck: innovating in an incremental fashion is insufficient, we hear this more and more; the times call for radical innovation, for truly breaking with what already exists. But does that necessarily mean starting over from scratch?

In matters of innovation, radicality can be understood in different ways. It can indeed mean inventing totally new solutions. But in actual fact this is exceptional. It can also mean reusing or recombining pre-existing ideas, whether from nature, from elsewhere in one’s sector of activity, or from an entirely different field. The disruption then lies in the new way of looking at this idea and in the original application one makes of it. For instance, the Japanese inventors of the high-speed Shinkansen train were confronted with the need to reduce the shockwave and noise created when the train entered a tunnel, as Japan is a very mountainous country. They studied animal species that face this type of constraint. The front of the train thus reproduces the shape of a kingfisher’s beak, whose aerodynamic properties are of interest. BMW found its inspiration in a wholly different domain: in order to offer a sporty and ergonomic driving experience, the German firm adopted a design for its steering wheels that is very close to that of the PlayStation game console controller.

These examples underline that imitation and innovation are not mutually exclusive. On the contrary, the former can be a way to accelerate the latter and to reduce its chances of failing.

So where can we find these creative paths? How can we systematize the reflex to exploit the full potential of existing ideas before seeking to look further?

In this synopsis:
– “Not Invented Here”: fighting our propensity to dismiss ideas from the outside
– Drawing inspiration from proven solutions to accelerate innovation
– Looking for gems in our competitors’ failed innovations

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