Eureka effect— Innovation and the process of “insight”

Original article was published by Renato Azevedo Sant’Anna on Artificial Intelligence on Medium


Eureka effect— Innovation and the process of “insight”

The “Aha! moment”

Insight, that flash of thought that makes our eyes shine, moment of discovery and/or invention of something that gets to thrill, that we can understand as a watershed in the understanding of a process or phenomenon, and that, as a result, occurs a change in its performance when it ceases to be incremental, the famous “fine-tuning”, and there is a qualitative leap in form and substance, so that we can clearly distinguish the “before” and the “after”, vide when they invented engines of combustion that were later adopted in automobiles and if we asked someone at the time what they would like as a solution for urban transport, they would probably answer “a faster horse”.

We can notice that in the mentioned example the invention of this new “something” induces the creation of applications that may not necessarily have an obvious use, and a new behavior is established in the use of that application and “norms” are created to regulate its use.

New advances in Science and Technology

Technologies that are considered to be at the forefront today, such as VR (Virtual Reality) and AR (Augmented Reality) originated during the Cold War era and much of their development was due to investments in the space race that provided us with many of the technologies we have today. day-to-day. It is interesting to note that a new space race is taking place among non-state actors at this almost threshold of the third decade of the 21st century.

Artificial Intelligence is a field of knowledge that also has more than half a century of development and that thanks to the great processing capacity of GPUs (graphics processors of video cards) and new techniques that were developed in the area of ​​neural networks (Deep Learning ), it became common to hear in the news that a new record was set by a new supercomputer when solving problems previously considered to be virtually “impossible” to be reached, by a series of methodologies and heuristics that enable a computer to “understand” the language human and its nuances and be able to do its simultaneous translation, something that until recently required people specially trained to perform such functions.

Paradigm shift

The link I want to try to make is that insight is not something that usually comes out of “nothing”. It is often the result of the incremental work of many people and usually from several different areas that in their efforts contribute to increase the disruptive “potential” of other people, who, being able to gather the “pieces” of information scattered in the infinite of possibilities, end up glimpsing new applications and new ways of doing “something” that ultimately generate derivative applications that end up generating behavioral changes in society and having positive or negative externalities depending on the intentions and incentives that are established for their use.

When I refer to incentives, I try to bring a concept of Behavioral Economics called “nudge”, in which we can establish incentives that encourage the “positive” use of something, so that a new behavior does not bring negative consequences for its user and people around.

There is an interesting phrase from the English physicist Isaac Newton who once said “If I saw further, it was because I was on the shoulders of giants.”

Sometimes a technology, methodology or invention only has its use o contemplated by most people, once its applications are “clear” to its users and bring a perception of its “value” and benefits superior to the technologies adopted until then to solve a problem.

When I refer to a problem, I speak in the broadest sense, grouping from business models that no longer respond to the challenges imposed by current times, methodologies and established processes that generate negative externalities, as well as behaviors and conventions that have expired due to paradigm shifts, ways of looking at the world and “sense” in terms of meaning and context, which can be represented in the German expression “Zeitgeist” which means “spirit of time” or of the “epoch” and which, in my view, involves the “ethics” and “culture” of an era, which, thinking from the point of view of Philosophy would say even more, involves the “praxis” of a society, the way “ethics” is practiced in daily life and in the environment.

The Innovation Process

The processes that order information flows in companies are often ordered in such a way as to produce “deliverables” that can be measured qualitatively and quantitatively. Innovation in the corporate context is generally divided into “incremental” and “disruptive”.

Incremental innovation, also called “kaizen” is carried out almost on a daily basis, when trying to continuously improve a process over a long period of time, in which the accumulated gains generate great differences in the results.

Disruptive innovation occurs with changes in mentality, changes in business models and technologies that change the way of fulfilling a need of the consumer, for example, the emergence of smartphones, with the introduction of the Iphone in 2007. Constant innovation in an organization today can be understood as a mandatory condition for its continuity and profitability.

Thus, investment in innovation can be understood as in Research & Development, but it should not only be restricted to the Department of Engineering and/or Product Design.

Professionals who want to stand out and find their space should also always look for their own plan for developing skills and potential.

I understand that in difficult times, we end up discovering skills that we didn’t know before and from trying and experimenting so much, we ended up formulating new ways of producing and / or doing “something”.

Lateral Thinking

Many of the “innovations” and “inventions” occur “unintentionally” when we try to do something and we end up discovering “something” as a “side effect” of the process, at which point the “spark” of an idea appears, an insight of a new applicability for that.

Necessity, I have heard countless times, is the mother of invention, but an open mind is necessary to be able to “capture” what the “universe” ends up communicating to us, even if unintentionally.

I understand that this process called “lateral thinking”, arises precisely from the brain, in the process of identifying a pattern that it recognizes, and when trying to translate it, it ends up adapting the solution of a known problem to another reality in another context.

Consequently, I understand that there is a mapping and translation of problems and solutions in some similar way, from one area of knowledge to another.

Innovation Mindset

I see the innovation process also linked to the Knowledge Management, involving the selection, processing, analysis and synthesis of data, with the establishment of hypotheses, tests and measurement of results, in order to map the universe of problems and solutions.

Experimentation is the key to many of the methodologies in vogue today, from Scrum to Design Thinking and Service Design. The “mindset” that has become the norm in the most competitive companies in the world is the focus on the user experience and the so-called “User-centered design”.

Linked to experimentation, there must be the measurement in the form of indicators and data, with the feedback in an iterative loop that continuously improves the process, so that the analysis and synthesis of the discoveries and the generation of “knowledge” can occur as a result to the company.

Much has been said about open innovation, co-creation and new ways of organizing teams in “squads” in order to enhance the flow of collaboration and information, in order to improve and to leverage results.

Continuous Innovation

All of this is very valid and relevant, but I am also concerned with generating a culture focused on continuous innovation, in the style of the “Lean Startup” culture that led to the creation of what is now “The Silicon Valley” in California.

The creation of a culture that supports the innovation process, includes the support of the Board and shareholders of the company and the “empowerment” of those who are on the front line and who know the operation well, being able to lead initiatives in this area together, and what has been very common in some companies, the leader of an innovation project often ends up being the one who had the initial idea and teams are formed from different areas of the company to support the project.

I believe that co-creation must be stimulated and enhanced with strategies that allow it to become a gear in the end that will perpetuate itself over time, thus guaranteeing new cycles of collaboration and innovation.

The creation of a culture focused on innovation, one of the pillars of the Digital Transformation process, in my view should also be centered on data, which will be the “inputs” that will give life and nurture collaborative processes.

The collaborative process must adopt a Data Governance strategy, in order to avoid the formation of “silos” and “variations” in the truth of the data and which must make use of a process of validation (veracity) and authentication of them, with the continuous feeding of information flows in the company, when possible using a central repository (Data Lake) that avoids rework of data entry and automates what is possible, thus ensuring the best use of employees’ time to focus on activities with greater added value.

The use of Artificial Intelligence in companies will occur for repetitive activities that require a “human” robot to perform.

We live in times where the greatest human cognitive skills will be more valued, paying attention to the ability to solve complex problems, the skill of thinking in an abstract way with the use of creativity and imagination, to collaborate and work as a team, and the capacity for empathy to each other, with the society and with the consumer.