Friday, October 19, 2012

Innovation – Greater Than The Sum Of Parts

A photo that could accompany the definition of “synergy”.

This Friday we bring you a post on another view on innovation, invention, and creativity.  The book list will be back next Friday.
Synergy, noun,
the interaction of elements that when combined produce a total effect that is greater than the sum of the individual elements, contributions, etc.
“Synergy is the creation of a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.”
—Ray French, Charlotte Rayner, Gary Rees, Sally Rumbles, et al., Organizational Behaviour (2008)
The definition serves as a useful way to frame and ponder inventions that are awarded patents. In the current US patent system, according to the US Patent Office,
A patent is a property right granted by the Government of the United States of America to an inventor “to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling the invention throughout the United States or importing the invention into the United States” for a limited time in exchange for public disclosure of the invention when the patent is granted.
The USPTO further defines what can and cannot be patented:
What can be patented – utility patents are provided for a new, nonobvious and useful:
  • Process
  • Machine
  • Article of manufacture
  • Composition of matter
  • Improvement of any of the above
  • Note: In addition to utility patents, encompassing one of the categories above, patent protection is available for (1) ornamental design of an article of manufacture or (2) asexually reproduced plant varieties by design and plant patents.
What cannot be patented:
  • Laws of nature
  • Physical phenomena
  • Abstract ideas
  • Literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works (these can be Copyright protected)
  • Inventions which are:
    • Not useful (such as perpetual motion machines); or
    • Offensive to public morality
And finally, inventions must also be:
  • Novel
  • Nonobvious
  • Adequately described or enabled (for one of ordinary skill in the art to make and use the invention)
  • Claimed by the inventor in clear and definite terms.
What are some of the characteristics of successful innovators? Inventor’s Digest lists 10 qualities identified by Lodestar:
  1. Persistence
  2. Passion and intellectual curiosity
  3. Independent minded, willingness to go against the grain
  4. Ability to recognize and combine patterns into new ideas
  5. Intuitive yet analytical with an ability to understand and interpret business data
  6. Ability to “sell” ideas and concepts
  7. Focused on the future
  8. Ability to draw on wide networks for perspective, advice and accomplishing tasks
  9. Tolerance for risk and ambiguity
  10. Willingness to fail and learn from failure
Artists, writers, and musicians share these traits. An excellent visual example of synergy, and the results of innovative qualities in a person is found in a video describing the re-creation of the poster that inspired John Lennon to write “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” from The Beatles Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album released in 1967. This is a fascinating look at the intellectual curiosity, persistence, passion, and interpretive abilities common among innovators.
Enjoy the video, at Lennon’s Poster | Cool Material or Gizmodo.
Another tune from Sergeant Pepper was featured in a previous Inkling post.