I am a physicist and the Chief Scientist at the Strategic Innovation Lab (sLab) in the Faculty of Design at the Ontario College of Art and Design, Canada’s oldest art and design university. At the sLab we believe that the introduction of a technology is not sufficient to enable new possibilities. What’s necessary is our readiness to perceive that technology’s value and meaning within our lives. We believe that true innovation occurs by matching breakthroughs in science and technology with the needs, desires, expectations, and latent behavior of potential users.
We make use of the concept of strategic foresight, which involves thinking about, debating, planning, shaping and ultimately designing the future. It requires understanding the available choices and then choosing among them while at the same time anticipating change. Strategic foresight begins by recognizing emerging signals from science and technology and aligning them with newly emerging behaviors in the socio-cultural domain as well as in the market place among potential competitors. It also requires an honest appraisal and evaluation of the capabilities of one’s organization so that one’s insights can be converted into opportunities for innovation and success.
Greg Van Alstyne and I discovered the surprising and counterintuitive truth that the design process, which leads to new products, services, methods and systems is not always, in and of itself, on the forefront of innovation. Design is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for the success of new products and services. We intuitively sense a connection between innovative design and emergence. Emergence refers to the process by which a higher level of organization arises through the aggregation and interaction of lower level components, revealing new behaviors or properties not associated with the lower level components as exemplified by the emergence of life and the process by which nature creates new organisms in the biosphere. In other words the process of the innovation of human artifacts parallels Darwinian evolution in nature.
Design, emergence and innovation are interrelated. We suggest that design must harness the process of emergence; for it is only through the bottom-up and massively iterative unfolding of emergence that new and improved products and services are successfully refined, introduced and diffused into the marketplace.
In our 2006 paper Designing for Emergence and Innovation: Redesigning Design published in Artifact 1: 120-29, Greg and I develop the notions that:
An innovative design is an emergent design.
A homeostatic relationship between design and emergence is a required condition for innovation.
Since design is a cultural activity and culture is an emergent phenomenon, it follows that design leading to innovation is also an emergent phenomenon.
To conclude we would suggest that the future of innovation lies in making use of strategic foresight and in the harnessing nature’s process of emergence and evolution through the bottom up process of understanding human needs and desires and then matching them with the appropriate technologies and scientific insights rather than starting with technological breakthroughs or scientific insights and trying to commercialize them.