“What if we stopped thinking in discrete steps and started to think in never-ending journeys instead?”

Something I have been thinking about more and more recently are the implications of what seems to be a human condition and the preferred modus operandum of our brain: thinking in boxes.  Can I hear some of you groan, “Oh no, not another one asking us to ‘think outside the box’!”?  That is not what I suggest; what I suggest is much scarier than that. 

I suggest that in the 21st century we need to learn to think without boxes!  Boxes, linearity, discrete and separable steps are what we are used to, and yet I believe that the context of the 21st century is such that we have to move beyond that.  I used to call this phenomenon ‘convergence’ and it started by the realisation that products no longer fit into neat boxes - think about smart phones and all their different meanings and functions!  Think about the blurring of boundaries between products and services. Think about the blurring of boundaries between professional and private lives –(while I am aware that many Germans have 2 phones, one ‘professional’ and one ‘personal’, I believe they are the exception. Think about the blurring of industry boundaries. Think about the shifting and blurring boundaries of consumer profiles - the days of using demographics and socio-economic groupings are well and truly over. And think about the way we used to think about our lives: childhood, education, work, retirement—does it really still work like that?  Once you start looking, you see dissolving boxes everywhere…  Good bye to either/or. Hello to and!

Either/or worked in the past when things were changing slowly…when there was time to focus on one thing at a time. Looking around to see whether it is just me or others have been thinking along these same lines,  I found some supporting evidence. The first is from the fields of Chaos Theory and Complexity Theory.  Both invite us to re-think our assumption of linearity and predictability. 

This reminds me to share the second in a series of articles that link concepts of physics to innovation by Ålvaro Urech, member of the ILF Wider Community.  This time, he proposes that innovation is neither a random nor a deterministic process, but a chaotic one! Have a read.  A second source of support are Quantum Physics and Schrödingers Cat, which confront us with the fact that there is no certainty, only probabilities—and that something can be in more than one state. In the case of Schrödinger’s Cat, the cat can be both dead and alive (well, until we actually observe it…).  Curious? Watch Schrödingers Cat Explained.


Another article I would like to share in this context is Networking Your Way to Innovation by Judith Perle, a friend and member of the ILF Wider Community, in which she explains why and how networking is vital to innovation. I would also argue that, if we are to stay alert to all the changes going on around us, there is nothing like a good network to help!


Letting go of boxes requires a willingness to live with uncertainty and give up the illusion of control. It builds on awareness and understanding, rather than knowing. It means constantly monitoring and observing, in order to be able to embrace what changes and opportunities may emerge. Letting go of boxes also means that endpoints are imaginary and that all becomes part of a journey.

I think this is enough musings for one mailout . Here are a few things we have come across recently that might be useful on that endless journey.


UK-based NESTA. Nesta is an innovation charity with a mission to help people and organisations bring great ideas to life. Read Nesta’s article on 10 Trends, Social Movements and Technological Breakthroughs that they believe will impact our lives. Might you be intrigued by another NESTA article, New Ways to Grow, ways that are rooted in social innovation? 

Beautiful Biomimicry. And finally, an innovation that seems particularly relevant here in the UK, where we have been plagued with a lot of flooding recently: Student Develops An Ingenious Building Material That Shapeshifts In Response To Rain.

Some Things You Can Get Involved In

As you may have noticed, we spot the odd gold nugget in The Guardian’s Sustainability section. While there are only a few days left—submission deadline is Friday, 12th February—you may want to think about entering The Guardian Sustainable Business Awards 2016, which this year is under the theme One Planet for a Sustainable Future—seeking insights for organisations and individuals on how businesses and communities prosper when we make it easy, attractive and affordable for people everywhere to lead whole sustainable lifestyles

Would like to get involved even more? 

How about a PhD! The Manchester Institute of Innovation Research has just announced a new PhD programme on Science, Technology and Innovation Policy and is looking for candidates who are interested in studying  the role and effects of public policy for science, technology and innovation in its broadest sense. Application deadline is 30th June 2016 and the programme starts in September this year. 


More To Read ...

We never cease to be amazed at how prolific our community is when it comes to publishing books! We have three this time. The first book is on the activities of design management network DESMA. Some of you may remember that Eva Kirchberger, ILF’s former Student in Residence, is part of this consortium of PhD students, universities and consultancies. DESMA Avenues: Reflecting on Design + Management presents reflections of the thirteen members of the DESMA Design + Management Network from their respective research projects, with the additional bonus of input from several of DESMA’s Advisory Board members.  Great news!  Uou can read it online for free!

The second book is by Eunika Mercier-Laurent. Her book, The Innovation Biosphere: Planet and Brains in the Digital Era, available in hardcover or digital, was published by Wiley last June. In the context of natural and digital ecosystems powered by intelligent assistants (technology), Eunika contemplates the principles of eco-innovation and the importance of the impact of their activity. Wiley is offering the ILF Wider Community a discount of 20% - Promo Code: VBG91.

The third book, The Changing Shape of Practice: Integrating Research and Design in Architectural Practice by Michael U. Hensel and Frederik Nilsson, will be coming out this May. As the physical work environment is actually one of the 5 (organisation-internal) elements of Bettina’s Innovation Framework Great news: we have managed to negotiate a 20% discount—promo code: DC365. Needless to say, we would love to hear what you think!

And Finally Some Innovation-Relevant Events

There is a lot happening innovation-wise in 2016. For example:
Qatalyst Global’s Industrial IoT USA is happening in Chicago the 14th-15th April 2016. Industrial IoT USA is rolling out the red carpet and will help pave the way for the Industrial IoT Revolution. We’ve secured a 15% discount for Innovators Anonymous members and our ILF Wider Community. Please use discount code: ilf15. 
PD+I 2016 for industrial designers will be held in London, 18th-19th May 2016. Plastics News Europe, who is organising PD+I 2016 (Product Design Innovation 2016), is offering the ILF Wider Community a 15% discount—Promo Code: JJW50288. A 20% discount is available for Innovator's Anonymous members, please contact us for the relevant code.

ISPIM's XXVII Innovation Conference, Blending Tomorrow's Innovation Vintage, will take place in Porto, Portugal, the 19th-22nd June 2016. This 3-day conference will be brimming with hot topic discussions, workshops, and special interest groups; visits to local innovation clusters; multiple tracks of thought-provoking innovation management content; and outstanding opportunities to connect with delegates from over 40 countries.  We are afraid no discount here - they sell out every year!
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