What’s in Your Toolbox?

“Innovation is seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought” – Albert Szent-Györgyi

In my first book, I wrote about how innovation is not necessarily the invention of something new and original but how it can often result from the repurposing of existing technologies and existing ideas to create value in new ways.

Two examples I gave were the creation of the modern printing press by repurposing the principle behind the humble olive press by Johannes Gutenberg, and, much more recently, the realisation by James Dyson that industrial cyclones could be repurposed to improve the performance of vacuum cleaners.

Both illustrate how things that are already in our toolbox, existing capabilities that we have, can be used to create new forms of value. This is the basis of the innovation value chain, also described in detail in my first book, whereby value is created by combining the needs of customers stakeholders with those existing capabilities.

Sometimes it’s just a question of understanding capabilities and seeing where they can meet a new and previously unmet need, and a great example of this was in the news this week.

The 2022 MacRobert Award from the Royal Academy of Engineering was won by the SC+ machine from Quanta Dialysis Technologies. This revolutionary device reduces the size of equipment required to deliver dialysis so that it can readily be done in the home environment. It takes the complex plumbing required for a conventional dialysis machine and compresses it into a small, flat two-dimensional cartridge. The idea was inspired by a simple machine used for reconstituting orange juice from concentrate.

The capability that was already in our toolbox was the ability to build the compact plumbing used to cheaply reconstitute orange juice. The need was primarily a social one: the requirement of many patients to have more flexibility and comfort in their dialysis schedules. The innovation was the realisation that this particular capability met this particular need, together with the work done to develop the new product and bring it to market.

Sometimes the solutions we need can be right in front of our eyes, but often it takes genius to realise that, and then hard work to create the products or services that meet those needs.

As William Gibson wrote, “the future is already here”.

References and Further Reading

(2018, March 26). Dyson: James Dyson. https://www.npr.org/2018/03/26/584331881/dyson-james-dyson

Clegg, J. 2021. The Innovation Value Chain. https://www.johnmclegg.com/blog/innovation/the-innovation-value-chain/

Clegg, J. 2021. Strategy and Innovation for a Changing World Part One: Sustainability Through Value Creation. Kibworth: Troubador.

Newman, S. (2019, June 19). So, Gutenberg Didn’t Actually Invent the Printing Press. https://lithub.com/so-gutenberg-didnt-actually-invent-the-printing-press/

Royal Academy of Engineering. 2022. Quanta Dialysis Technologies – Winner of the 2022 MacRobert Award. https://youtu.be/TfW7-Ov7ivU

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