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The Art and Science of Innovation

By Michael S. Slocum

“There are many practical applications for the brain dominance concept, including problem solving, strategic business planning and interpersonal relationships.”
– David Tanner, Director, Creativity Centre, DuPont

Innovation is both an art and a science. It has to be – or it will cease to serve those who need it most. Systematic innovation is the competency that allows organizations to keep pace with the ever-evolving needs of society. Innovation must be observed and classified as have the Production, Manufacturing and Quality arenas. If innovation can’t be reduced to a set of teachable and practical truths then it can’t be harnessed to serve business needs as “innovation on demand.” The Theory of Inventive Problem Solving (TRIZ) provides a classical scientific structure for the innovative process. TRIZ provides a system, algorithms and heuristics that amplify the repeatability and reproducibility if the innovative process. TRIZ does for innovation what Lean and Six Sigma have done for Production and Quality.

Only recently has attention been focused on the scientific components of innovation. (The artistic components have been discussed at length for many decades.) Parity needs to be reached and a balance between the dual aspects (art and science) of innovation be found.

The Art: Right-Brain Innovation (Psychological and Emotional)

Traditionally, creativity is described as a right-brained activity. This is because creativity was confined to the mysterious ruminations of the geniuses in the organization. Their process was a “black box” operation – no one knew what happened after the inputs were supplied, except that occasionally something useful was produced. This activity was certainly creative, but not repeatable, predictable or reliable. Innovation happened by chance. Therefore, innovation has been aligned with characteristics that have been associated with right-brain activity: intuition, integrating, interpersonal, feeling-based and emotional.

Psychological and emotional ideation techniques are based on these right-brain characteristics. Brainstorming and Brainwriting are two common methods that are founded on these principles as are the majority of the other predominant methods and techniques used for divergent ideation. But we need to leverage the properties of left-brain activity as well.

The Science: Left-Brain Innovation (Systematic and Analytical)

Professor Nam Suh of MIT worked diligently to create a scientific component of design that could be coupled to the historical reliance on artistic elements and was successful with the formation of Axiomatic Design. The same approach was necessary for innovation. The effort to create Axiomatic Innovation will reduce innovation to an exact science. Axiomatic Innovation is the integration of principles and competencies from Axiomatic Design into TRIZ and forms the interrelationship between the two competencies for revenue generation. Left-brain characteristics have been integrated with innovation and many international organizations are benefiting from this scientific revolution. Companies like Samsung are thriving with the advent of innovation deployment. Samsung has trained thousands of staff in the TRIZ methodology and is using it to solve problems and generate new ideas, saving more than one hundred million dollars. Other companies are benefiting as well: BMW, Boeing, Bordon, Clorox, Dial, DuPont, Eli Lilly, HP, J&J, Sanyo, Siemens and Toyota to name but a few. The traditional left-brain characteristics are now part of innovation just as they are part of Lean and Six Sigma: holistic, analytical, quantitative, organized, detailed, sequential, fact-based and planned.

This approach to innovation is an open-source methodology – anyone can see the process steps. Given the same set of inputs, a practitioner may now expect repeatability while convergence on a solution set becomes possible and practically achievable. Everyone in an organization can benefit from exposure to the principles and practices of scientific innovation. Those with the traditional right-brained approach to innovation also have their capabilities enhanced and expanded.

Composite Innovation (The Integration of Art and Science)

Composite Innovation leverages both right- and left-brain attributes. Composite Innovation is the practice of using both emotional and analytical skills. If you need divergent and open innovation, use a Brainstorming process with an eclectic set of subject matter experts. If you need to converge on a specific solution with static constraints, use TRIZ or TILMAG. The modern organization must be competent across the total innovation landscape. This demands an understanding of the different innovation vectors and how the science of innovation intersects with the art of innovation. It is the intersection of these competencies that will provide the appropriate methodological response given a specific need.

About the Author:

Michael S. Slocum, Ph.D., is the principal and chief executive officer of The Inventioneering Company. Contact Michael S. Slocum at michael (at) or visit