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18.1 Introduction to diffusion

Having managed to get an innovation manufactured and ready for the market, there are a number of factors that influence how well it will sell and how rapidly it is likely to diffuse:

  • characteristics of the innovation itself

  • nature of the market

  • relevant government regulations.


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13 Part 2: 4 Preparing for innovation

Many inventors have said that having the idea for an invention is the easy part. This is often demonstrated by the frequency of examples of simultaneous invention. At one exhibition of inventions I attended there were three separate portable ladders to escape from fires, two systems for using rainwater to flush toilets, two types of portable vehicle wheel clamp, and two methods of reducing red-eye in flash photography. In most cases of technological innovation only one of the competing techno
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12.1 Two models

So far you've seen that there are two general drivers of invention. One is the scientific and technological knowledge and skills that can be applied to invent a new product or process. The other is the recognition of a need or a potential market for an invention. But is one more important than the other? I'll consider briefly two simple models that explain how the innovation process starts.


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11.5.2 Transfer

Transfer is where a technology, manufacturing process or material is transferred to another field to provide the basis for an invention. Earlier we saw how laser technology, originally thought to have few practical uses, was transferred to a variety of different applications including surgery, welding and cutting metal, bar-code readers, and audio CDs.


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11.1 Five steps to invention

I've looked at what motivates people and organisations to invent. I'll look more closely now at what's actually involved in inventing something.

Wherever invention occurs, whether with a lone inventor or in a creative team within an organisation, there seem to be common factors involved. There have been many attempts over the past 100 years to explain the creative process that occurs while people are attempting to solve problems. I'm going to combine ideas from two such models of the st
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10.9 Opportunity offered by a new material, technology or manufacturing process

More often when new materials or technologies appear they are used to improve the performance of existing products. But in an increasing number of cases their appearance can make it possible to create new products.


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10.7.2 Follow the leader

Some companies have a defensive strategy and aim to follow the leader. Such companies hope to profit from the mistakes of the first-to-market company by devising incremental design and performance improvements and cost reductions compared with the original product. In addition they hope to exploit the new market that has started to grow, so timing is important. In the area of consumer electronics, for example, most of the inventions (radio, television, audio and video tape recording) w
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10.3.1 Cats eyes and road conditions

Sometimes the discontent comes from the fact that there isn't a product to satisfy a particular need. Percy Shaw was a road mender who was aware of the dangers of driving along unlit, often fog-bound, roads. One night in 1933 he was driving his car near his home in the north of England when his headlights were reflected in the eyes of a cat. This inspired him to invent the cat's-eye reflector that, when embedded at intervals in the centre of the road, reflected a vehicle's headlights and made
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10.3 Constructive discontent

Inventive ideas often arise because existing technology or design proves to be unsatisfactory in some way – perhaps too costly, too inefficient or too dangerous. Using a product or process for a while can reveal inadequacies in its performance and is often vital preparation for producing ideas for improvements. You may have become dissatisfied either with an existing product or process or with the fact that something doesn't exist to meet a need you've identified. But creative individuals g
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10.1 What motivates individuals to invent?

It seems clear from the number of new patents applied for each year, and the many inventions that are not patented, that the level of inventive activity around the world is high. It's possible to identify a number of starting points for invention and new product development. For the purposes of this analysis I'll consider first what motivates individuals to invent and then what drives invention in organisations.

While economic incentives are behind the development and commercialisation
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5.15 Intellectual property and patents

At any stage of the innovation process, from invention to diffusion, a bright idea with market potential can be a target for unscrupulous copying. Or, as you've seen with simultaneous invention, people might be working on similar ideas in parallel and the origins of inventive ideas might be difficult to identify with precision. So it is sensible for inventors to establish their claim to a particular invention and to protect it against unauthorised exploitation by others.

There are diffe
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4.7 Has telephone design changed over time?

As you can see from Figure 5 the design of the telephone has changed considerably over its lifetime, reflecting the improvements in technology, materials, components and manufacturing processes. Figures 1(a) to (f) show some of the early progress.
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4.3 Who invented the telephone?

The popular image of Bell inventing the telephone, while it has some truth, is by no means the whole story. The two most significant players in the invention of a practical working telephone were Bell and Elisha Gray.

Gray was the co-owner and chief scientist of a company that manufactured telegraphic equipment. Bell's patent description had sound transmission as a minor purpose. But Gray's caveat declared that the main purpose of his device was ‘to transmit the tones of the human voi
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4.1 An explanation

I will now elaborate on my answer from Exercise 1. I'm doing this because my internet search revealed more than I've written in the above answer, and to show that the invention of the telephone and its use by consumers is not as plain and simple as you may think. You were not expec
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3.4 Thinking through diagrams

One of the features that characterises complex situations is the interconnectedness of the components within them. Understanding such situations can defeat our descriptive abilities. Words alone either confuse still further or misrepresent the situation altogether. For this reason, diagrams are a characteristic feature of systems approaches to understanding complex situations. Diagrams allow the relationships between parts of the situation to be seen at the same time as the parts themselves.
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2.2 Features of diagrams

As there is variety in the types of diagrams we can see and use we need to think more broadly about what diagrams are trying to represent. One distinction which follows on from the discussion above is:

  • Analogue representations: these diagrams look similar to the object or objects they portray. At their simplest they are photographs of real objects and at their most complicated they are colourful, fully labelled drawings of the inner workings o
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1 How to use this course

This course is a learning resource. Like all resources, there are different ways to use it depending upon what you are trying to achieve. Whatever you are trying to achieve it is important that you not only read the text thoroughly but also undertake the Activities (there are no ‘set’ answers to these Activities as they are personal to you but I have provided my own, or other people's, responses). After all, this is a course that helps with systems thinking and practice, and
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Learning outcomes

After studying this course, you should be able to:

  • appreciate diagrams as a powerful aid to thinking and acting

  • distinguish between systems diagrams and diagrams helpful in systems work

  • demonstrate sufficient skills to ‘read’ and ‘draw’ a wide range of diagrams, following given conventions, that help improve an understanding of a situation

  • select diagrams suited to the needs of the situation being investigated and the purposes
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12.1.1 Survey questionnaires

Questionnaires are lists of questions that enable information to be gathered efficiently from a relatively large number of respondents. Most questionnaires require a fixed type of response, such as a choice between available answers, or along a scale of response. For example, a product design questionnaire might suggest, ‘I found the product easy to use’ and provide a five-point scale of response from ‘agree strongly’ to ‘disagree strongly’. Or a question might be, ‘how often do
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