Methodologies to Make Innovations

Innovations are the creation of new concepts. Some innovations are patentable, for example the creation of new products or methods. Those innovations can also be called inventions.

Four principle methodologies have led to innovations in the past: (1) exploration; (2) mathematical calculation; (3) the application of an technology or knowledge; and (4) abductive logic. Most innovations can be disquished on the bases of one or more of these four methodologies.

The case of making exploration was used in the discovery of DNA. After optical magnification techniques had advanced to the molecular level, scientists were able to see multiple protein molecules. DNA was discovered from these molecules by observing its four organic bases, its double helix structure, and its ability to duplicate itself. School teaches us how to make use of those advance in optical technology so that we can explore.

Other historical examples help to illustrate the methodology of mathematical calculation. Mathematical calculation played a pivotal role both in Albert Einstein's Theory of Relativity and his equation of E=mc². School teaches us mathematics.

The methodology of the application of an technology or knowledge to a new environment can be illustrated by many new digital gadgets. My old cellphone has buttons but my new cellphone has touch screen. This device, however, was 'new' only in the sense that it was the first time that a touch screen had been applied to the operation of a cellphone. As it turned out, any competitive edge that this invention might have given the West was offset by the fact that, researchers in the China, Japan and Korea had come up with pretty much the same idea at around the same time. Granted, it is not entirely fair to dismiss the importance of incremental technological improvements. After all, Chinese fire-crackers eventually evolved into rockets capable of reaching the moon through millions of incremental technological improvements. School teaches us scientific knowledge.

Abductive logic means coming up with something contradict to normal logic but it has the possibility to be turned out to be true. To achieve abductive logic result one requires going into “deep thinking” to come up with a highly imaginary idea. It takes long time practicing to acquire the "deep thinking" skill. Innovations made by using abductive logic methodology is called illogical innovations. Those innovative ideas are usually out of people's normal thinking sense. An early example involving abductive logic concerns an event that occurred over two thousand years ago in Greece. In 530 B.C., Pythagoras witnessed a lunar eclipse. On the basis of his observation, he conjectured that the dark portion of the eclipse was the shadow of the earth when lit by the sun. Noting that the shadow was round, he reasoned that the earth must also be a sphere. Unfortunately, the technology available to Pythagoras at that time did not allow him to confirm his hypothesis. Furthermore, although some Chinese, Indian, and Mayan astronomers had also witnessed this eclipse, only Pythagoras had come up with a logical explanation to account for the eclipse. Finally, it was only in 1522, the year in which Magellan sailed around the world, that Pythagoras' hypothesis that the earth was a sphere was proven to be correct. Abductive logic starts with a hypothesis. We cannot prove in advance that the hypothesis could turn out to be true but there is a possibility. School has not taught us abductive logic technique.

Another ancient example involves Galileo. Galileo hypothesized that heavier and lighter objects would fall at the same speed. Galileo went to the Leaning Tower of Pisa to carry out an experiment. He dropped two balls of different sizes. The balls felled at the same speed. The experiment verified his innovative idea was true.

A more recent example of this type involves Thomas Edison, who had made many careful studies of sound characteristics. He had hypothesized that every sound (e.g., the phrase "good morning"), had its own unique vibration waveform. On this basis, he set about reproducing sound by creating an identical sound vibration waveform. This ultimately led him to the invention of a 'talking machine' or phonograph. Only later, with the invention of the oscilloscope, did it become technologically feasible to prove that his theory had been correct.

The purpose of science is to solve problems. Science can be divided into two parts. The first is the uncovering of new scientific knowledge. The second is the recording of uncovered scientific knowledge and the practical application of this knowledge. School teaches us already known scientific knowledge and how to apply this science to practical use. This is using inductive and deductive logic to create innovations. School has not taught us abductive logic which we cannot prove in advance that the idea could turn out to be true but there is a possibility.(Please see chart below)


When we use abductive logic to uncover new scientific knowledge, we need to go into "deep thinking" to come up the most suitable hypothesis and verify this idea with experiments. This is contrary to what we are taught in school. Schools teach students that in science "what you say must be proven to be true". This statment is true when we are applying scientific knowledge to practical use. However, using abductive logic to uncover new knowledge, we need to come up with hypothesis and verify if that idea is true. Yet we cannot prove our idea is true before verification. This statment becomes an obstruction in our effort to use abductive logic to uncover new knowledge. Since we were taught in school not to say anything that had not been proven to be true, abductive logic has been neglected ever since the establishment of the modern education system. We need to re-introduce abductive logic back into our schools and into our research environments. We need to promote abductive logic and practice "deep thinking" skill.

There are three types of people who make inventions and innovations, namely scholars, mathematicians and abductive logic innovators. Each has their own kind of skill and the inventions and innovations they made are different. Their differences in skill is very like what we have the differences in sports. In sports we have weightlifters, runners and swimmers. Swimmers cannot be good at weightlifting and weightlifter cannot be good at running. This situation is the same in making inventions and innovations. The scholars' skill is applying knowledge, for example my old cell phone has buttons but my new cell phone has touch screen. They can also do exploring by learning a technical process, such as to learn biology to find a certain gene which responsible for a certain genetic disease. Mathematicians can come up with new mathematical equations. Albert Einstein came up with the equation of E=mc² through his Theory of Relativity. Professor Paul Marmet also came up with the same equation through Mass-Energy Conservation. They are mathematically skillful. The abductive logic innovators' skill is to be able to see possibilities. Thomas Edison's 'talking machine' had only a possibility that it would work. The principle of that invention had no prior knowledge. Therefore no one could be sure it would work. Edison was able to see the possibility while other people could not. Now our research field has ignored people with the ability to see possibilities. These people are not hired in our research field. Their inventions and innovations are rejected because scholars cannot see the possibilities. If Edison submitted this "talking machine" to a research lab, his talking machine would be rejected as well. History will tell how much damage this has done to our society. History shows many important inventions and innovations were made by people who could see possibilities. Now our Earth is moving to the direction of self-destruction because of pollution and depleted resources. We urgently need revolutionary inventions and innovations to save our Earth. Scholars and mathematicians do not seem to come up a solution. May be the abductive logic innovators can solve this problem. We have to give them a chance. We cannot ignore the abductive logic innovators any longer.

Now you can test your "deep thinking" skill. Try to solve the following puzzles:-

1. All animals have instincts; A German shepherd always barks at a stranger, while a small Peking dog always wags its tail. We call these behaviors animal instincts. However, humans are animals, too. Then should humans have behaviors from instincts just like animals do?

2. We have many energy forms, for example kinetic energy, potential energy, electric and magnetic energy, mechanical energy, chemical energy, heat energy, etc. Then is life also a kind of energy form? How to verify by experiment if this is true?

You can practice "deep thinking" skill by trying to solve the two puzzles. Do not give up until you have come up with a satisfy solution. Remember Edison said "persistence is 90% in the success of making an invention." He tried more than 1000 times to find a suitable material for the filament of his light bulb, lasting more than a year. It may take months to come up with the satisfy solution. Then you can compare your solution with mine which is posted in the later session.

For more information about abductive logic, visit Illogical Innovation by Professor Roger Martin from Innovations made by using abductive logic methodology is called illogical innovations because they are out of people's normal thinking sense.