Thoughtforms: A Review of “Hidden Innovation”

I was making my rounds through Dexigner this week and read the caption “Hidden Innovation in the Creative Industries.” This is the title of a report released last month by the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts working with the Manchester Institute of Innovation Research.

One of the main reasons I left my job in product design was because of similar agendas to that of this paper. It’s been my experience that corporations are absolutely desperate to pin down “innovation”. They want to diagram every step of creativity so that it can be formalized and formulized. This is because of the weakened economies, the growing competition from independent designers and increasingly empowered consumers, and because they just don’t get it. I sat through endless meetings lead by this total clown so that we could collectively draw the “road map” of innovation. You wouldn’t believe some of the charts presented to us. The “Product Innovation Process” diagram looks like instructions for disabling the security of Gitmo. I wish I could share it, but it’s copyrighted. And it would melt your brain.
And there were endless other charts. While I cannot show you the specific ones that left blank stares of disbelief on my face, I can share with you these found in the public report on Hidden Innovation.


Above we have the “diamond of innovation” from page 16. According to this document:

“A good deal of innovation in the creative industries turns out to be hidden. Sometimes it is because innovation similar to activities measured by traditional indicators is excluded from measurement.” … (p 6)

“But many creative business struggle to formalise their innovation process. The firms we study find it difficult to manage their innovation process systematically.” (p 7)

There are people who cannot accept that perhaps “innovation” cannot be measured, put into an equation, distributed and executed by following directions. If so, you wouldn’t need people to innovate. Computers would do it for us, because that is what they do – execute by following directions. And if the “innovation process” could be managed systematically, why would you want to do that? My question is answered with the last paragraph on page 6:

“The developments are driving innovation in the creative industries, not least because competitors use innovation to gain market share and enter new markets.”

This is true; I don’t know that a week passed during which I did not hear my employer’s goal of becoming a “50 billion dollar company”.

While there was no way I was going to read all 85 pages, I did read the parts on Innovation in Product Design.

Apart from criticizing the motivation of this research, the actual research only seems enlightening to someone who does not live in this world, or perhaps, does not know what the internet is. Some of the observations uncovered include:

“There appears to be a major trend towards ‘networking’…”

“Furthermore, technology appears to be
assisting designers in overcoming barriers
associated with time and distance as drawings
and designs can be transmitted instantaneously
across the globe at any time of day or night.”
(p 32)

Getting back to the main focus of the paper, they aim to uncover the “Hidden Innovation”. So, for those who are looking, here is your chart.

If you work in any of those 15 sites located in the olympic rings of innovation, expect an invasion of highly paid, third-party business consultancies to ruin your fun.

The conclusion of this paper urges companies and governments to put forth the funds, time and energy into analyzing creative innovation. It also states:

“Most practitioners say that innovation is
rarely planned and deliberate, and many claim
that organisation is broadly ad hoc and often
‘organic’.” (p 53)


I hope my cynicism doesn’t come off as embittered. This is all just to let you know, not everyone thinks individual creativity is something to be encouraged and supported. To many, it’s something to be controlled for capital gain.

Your thoughts?

(I have no clue what that one’s getting at.)

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hmm, thought provoking.

David ten Have


Primo! You’re bang on. Innovation comes from people and even then it only emerges like a habit.

Coming from someone who has presumably had no prior dealings with NESTA, your comments are very interesting. A couple years ago, I applied to them for business start-up funding for an idea I had developed through my Master’s thesis. Having progressed to the final stage of the funding process, I found the whole experience to be painfully ‘corporate’. Each interview focused almost exclusively on the financial side of things and touched very little on the concept. It was like they expected you to have a concrete roadmap for the next 5 years. Whilst they claim to be looking for the most innovative and creative talent, they always need some metric by which to measure creativeness and innovation – that inevitably means profit. I realise this will no doubt sound like I am just bitter… getting rejected was actually the best thing that has happened to me because it forced me to think about the business world more critically. As a result, I am now a researcher in academia and I am much happier.

Thanks for your comment Andy. No, until I came across that paper I was unfamiliar with NESTA. But it immediately smacked of the kind of thing that drove me away from my job. As designers, we were always challenged with presenting data that would prove sales success of our future designs. While I understand that profit is what makes the world go round, I suggested that there be just one project a year with which the design team had carte blanche.

No proof of success, no guarantee that sales would meet plan. Just a little freedom and faith. And I said, “And if it bombs – it bombs. So what? That’s how you learn.” After that, everyone that was below Senior Design level was asked to leave the meeting.

Btw, congratulations on being happier.

Great post!

Innovation may be formulaic, but only in someone’s individual way, as in deep in their mind. Even if there was some kind of formula, it would be at a level that couldn’t be measured or vocabularised by the innovator. It just happens.

Innovation and business share a love hate relationship because innovation doesn’t translate into profits, markets do. Innovation can create a market, but not always. Business that wants to benefit from it needs to make sure it’s not innovation for innovation’s sake, but that it’s innovation that is solving a [customers’] problem.

The struggle goes on….

Well said, Indigo. I find the drive for forced innovation and entrepreneurship quite depressing, and its quite prevalent in businesses and agencies such as Nesta here. It does imply an incredible lack of faith in human endeavour, in my opinion.

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