300 year old theory challenges today’s innovators

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At The Ideas Machine, we love stuff like this… some Cambridge boffins have been looking into extreme innovation ( talking our language). They have explored some ideas by Francis Bacon C1600 and used his approach to think about how organisations innovate today.  This is what the Judge Institute, Cambridge University, Professor of Economics and Organisation, Jochen Runde,  had to say about this fascinating research;

We urge people to imagine possible influences that might lead to business scenarios that are radically different from the one they think is most likely,” says Runde. “But that is only part of the story. The other part is then to encourage them to go out, do some research, and attempt to confirm that those influences could actually become a reality that affects their business. Very often they will not be able to do so. But the point is that by being induced to look for information about extreme possibilities, they will be taken away from the familiar places they would normally be looking and thereby put themselves in a position of learning things that are truly new to them. Effectively, the method we are proposing provides a means to counteract the confirmation bias, as well as many other biases that have been identified by behavioural psychologists. And it can be done on either end of the spectrum – extremely good outcomes or extremely bad outcomes.”

Bacon’s theory was all about ‘unknown unknowns’, different ways of creating hypotheses and therefore ideas and hunches….. We at The Ideas Machine are totally on board with all of that……but the really cool bit of this is that Runde’s influence is a  bloke who lived several HUNDRED years ago! Born in 1561, Francis Bacon was what history celebrates as an influential ‘thinker’. Basically  he was someone who had ideas which have stood the test of time by being BOTH innovative in context, and useful and interesting posthumously.

Bacon’s ideas, (as Runde explains them in the innovation arena )were about, “testing a hypothesis by suggesting alternatives to that hypothesis, and then trying to disconfirm those alternatives,” explains Runde. “The more alternatives you disconfirm, the stronger your belief in the original hypothesis becomes. If an alternative hypothesis is confirmed, then you move to that one and continue with the process.” Bacon called this working with unknown unknowns. ( remember they had no running water and drank ale like we’d take a slurp from the water fountain!)

Interestingly the Cambridge Uni team have taken this out into the real world and asked their research company partners to push things to extremes, Runde states, “We urge people to imagine possible influences that might lead to business scenarios that are radically different from the one they think is most likely,” says Runde. “But that is only part of the story. The other part is then to encourage them to go out, do some research, and attempt to confirm that those influences could actually become a reality that affects their business. Very often they will not be able to do so. But the point is that by being induced to look for information about extreme possibilities, they will be taken away from the familiar places they would normally be looking and thereby put themselves in a position of learning things that are truly new to them. Effectively, the method we are proposing provides a means to counteract the confirmation bias, as well as many other biases that have been identified by behavioural psychologists. And it can be done on either end of the spectrum – extremely good outcomes or extremely bad outcomes.”

Innovation at the extreme is a core tenet of the way The Ideas Machine network approaches innovation,  so you will understand why we’d like to give these guys a proper round of applause :) Check out their research articles here

 


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