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 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 can help one to come up with highly imaginative ideas. 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.

A second 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. This is why we are taught not to say anything that has not been proven to be true. 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 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.

For more information about abductive logic, visit Illogical Innovation by Professor Roger Martin from