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The eureka moment

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“In a recession, dare to invest aggressively in marketing, innovation and customer quality.”—The Profit Impact of Market Strategies (PIMS)

There’s a lot of discussion these days about whether AI is a threat to human jobs. Where do we fit it in the pantheon of technologies we already use? Where does AI fit with human innovation? Can we harness it to support thinking? How is it different from what humans do? In the long run, can we harness new technologies so that they support or extend how humans come up with new ideas? Can we experiment with AI as it begins to mimic some of human thought?

It turns out that human thought is badly in need of support. Faced with a welter of ideas, the brain has real problems making its way through the morass. Making sense of too many ideas and arriving at what makes sense is a skill. Can it be taught? We think so, providing you can set aside adequate time to think, and you don’t discard ideas. Happily, AI is beginning to develop some support for the thought process. As the technology improves, it’s possible that AI will eventually be able to offer relationships and connections that still seem far-fetched.

From what we know, supporting invention is something that we need help with. Usually, the thought process is somewhat ad hoc. Humans make connections. That’s what we do. We’re not always sure where leaps of faith come from, but when they do arrive, they act as a needed springboard to thinking, and the thinking process can be taught. Carol Kuhlthau’s book, Seeking Mean­ing (1993), is a good guide to learning how to structure the thought process. It turns out that there’s a process for gathering and sifting ideas in order to arrive at a new understanding of an information problem.

What is innovation?

Most people agree that innovation can come in the form of a new idea, practice, or object. It is recognizable because it is different, such as the change in the circuitry of electronic devices as we moved from vacuum tubes to transistors or coming up with a new business model such as online advertising. It requires a willingness to think hard and to involve others in the process.

What we do know is that innovation at any time is valuable, but even more vital in a depressed economy. There are several business cases to be made for innovation. Innovation can be slow and unpredictable, but it spurs employees’ imaginations and enthusiasm. Possible results from investing in innovation include the following:

♦ Increased revenue—by being first to market

♦ The ability to dominate or create a new market, e.g., Netscape, Viagra

♦ The ability to create new devices and business models, e.g., iPod/iTunes

♦ The ability to attract and keep customers, build customer loyalty, generate market buzz

♦ The ability to stay competitive and expand into new markets

♦ Creation of a fertile environment for R&D

♦ Creation of a pipeline of new ideas to avoid stagnation and the risk of being bypassed by competitors

♦ The ability to attract outstanding researchers

It’s possible you’ll have a eureka moment in the process. But thinking deeply about a problem is, in itself, rewarding. The process spurs collaboration and enthusiasm. Even if there is no immediate outcome, creating groups of people who want to work together may produce results eventually.

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