Language and Innovation

Language and InnovationLanguage and innovation are inseparable. Language puts meaning to our ideas, be it spoken, written, or symbolic. We convey ideas to others which is essential in corporate innovation. Innovation would be nearly impossible if we did not have language.

If you want to improve your innovation effectiveness, improve your use of language. Structured innovation methods help regulate our thinking and channel the ideation process. At the moment immediately before we innovate, we hold in our minds a pre-inventive form or structure that has yet to be understood. It is at that exact moment we conjure up words and associations to attach to the pre-inventive form. It is this process of linking objective facts and judgments to the pre-inventive form that transforms it to an inventive form – an idea.

Here is a step-by-step approach how language is used in innovation:

  1. Generate Pre-Inventive Forms: Use a structured process such as S.I.T. or Geneplore to create novel, divergent, and ambiguous forms.
  2. Match Forms to Facts: Take the ambiguous forms inside your head and connect them to objective facts outside your head. This yields an idea. Better ideas are created when we strive for facts that are both clear and true. A bad idea stems from weak or assumed facts swimming around inside our head and not validated or developed. As D.Q. McInery notes, “No idea, even the most bizarre, can completely sever its ties with the objective world, but ideas can become so remote from that world that their relation to it is difficult, if not impossible, to see.” It is not “thinking outside the box,” but rather thinking outside your head that matters here.
  3. Match Ideas to Words: Take the ideas created in Step 2 and associate them with words or symbols. “As we have seen, first comes the thing, then the idea, then the word. If our ideas are sound to the extent that they faithfully represent the thing, they will be clearly communicable only if we clothe them in words that accurately signify them.” “Putting the right word to an idea is not an automatic process, and sometimes it can be quite challenging. We have all had the experience of knowing what we want to say but not being able to come up with any words for it.”
  4. Match Words to Value: Take the words and symbols that describe the idea and search for the value it creates. Identify the benefit it generates and for whom. If you have trouble at this step, go back and check the objective facts that sourced the idea to begin with. Or try different word and symbol descriptors to see if it triggers different insights about the value. Use a software program like Goldfire to search semantically for knowledge and information within the domain.
  5. Articulate Value With Demonstration: Take the insight around value creation and try it out. Build a prototype, drawing, model or other representation that you can test with the target audience. Demonstration enables evaluation. Testing discloses areas for improvement. Here again, the use of the right language in the form of words and symbols is essential. Using the wrong language may lead to the wrong conclusion.

Here is an example:

  1. This pre-inventive form is generated using the Task Unification template of the S.I.T. method: “A surgical instrument has the additional task of seeing through a small hole in the operating field.”
  2. This form is matched with facts: the only way to see through an object is to make it transparent or to bend light around it. An idea!
  3. The idea is matched to words: “Use mirrors like a toy periscope to see around the surgical device and into the small opening.”
  4. The value derived is in being able to do accurate surgery in small spaces. It saves time because the surgeon does not have to peak around or withdraw the instrument to see inside the opening.
  5. A prototype is built and tested, ultimately leading to a patentable product.

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Drew BoydDrew Boyd is Director of Marketing Mastery for Johnson & Johnson (Ethicon Endo-Surgery division). He is also Visiting Assistant Professor of Marketing and Innovation at the University of Cincinnati and Executive Director of the MS-Marketing program. Follow him at and at

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