The valley of life: On dots, shower routines and innovation

Innovation is so much more than that lightbulb moment Innovation is so much more than that lightbulb moment
March 6th, 2016 7:00 pm| by Søren Bregenholt

Innovation’ is one of the buzzwords often used to explain where future growth and prosperity will come from. It sounds plausible, but how do you define innovation: what is its nature, and how do you actively support it and harvest the outcomes that flow in an innovative society?

Subconscious shower work
In my world, innovation is the translation of discoveries into products or services that create value. To understand the nature of innovation, we need to answer the question: “Where do good ideas come from?”

The immediate answer might be that they seem to come from nowhere – and often so when we shower in the morning (!). I don´t believe this to be accurate. Good ideas often materialise when we combine our own thoughts and ideas with inputs, ideas and other snippets we pick up from others. We may not be standing on the shoulders of giants, as Newton famously put it, when showering, but we are subconsciously connecting the dots.

Embryo needs a home
Ideas often come from knowledge-sharing: when people share immature or embryonic ideas (dots) and these embryonic ideas combine, mature and hatch into new knowledge, ideas and hypothesis. When this happens, you should get out of the shower and start taking notes.

To support innovation in a structured way, we cannot solely rely on ‘shower-serendipity’. We need to build structures or ‘information market places’ to support structured knowledge-sharing in order to promote innovation. The 18th century coffee house as well as the internet are historical examples of such market places serving as effective breeding grounds for innovation!

Ignore at your peril
Unfortunately, getting a good idea and taking notes is not enough. Translating ideas into innovation is often expensive, a risky business and hard work. This is exactly the reason why I strongly encourage networking and a Danish-Swedish regional life science collaboration in order to pool resources and create critical mass in the knowledge-sharing dimension. Optimising the free regional movement of labour furthermore adds to both.

In a high-risk, capital and knowledge-intensive industry, which is one of the backbones of the region in terms of job and wealth generation, we cannot afford to ignore these facts about innovation.

Søren Bregenholt

As the chairman of the Medicon Valley Alliance – the gold-labelled Danish-Swedish life science cluster organisation – Søren will address current trends and challenges in the sector.  Away from the alliance, he is responsible for Novo Nordisk’s global R&D-based PhD and post doc programs, as well as research, innovation and educational policy.