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Innovate UK

The art of the possible

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If you don’t have a market, you don’t have an innovation.

This was something learnt through experience in industry. It doesn’t matter how clever your technology or idea is, without someone willing to pay for it you just have a nice bit of science.

How does the ‘market’ know it even wants your great idea?

Customers with problems don’t always understand them well enough to articulate the real need. As Einstein reportedly once said,

If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on it, I’d spend the first 55 minutes to formulate the right question. Once I’ve identified the right question, I can solve the problem in less than five minutes.

The art of the possible, Einstein

There’s always a danger that those with great technology start to reinterpret other people’s problems to ones they can solve with that technology. This cognitive dissonance is how so many solutions reach the market that no one wants – they don’t solve the problem that actually existed and people were prepared to pay money to solve.

Having said that, an informed, intelligent customer can be fundamental to growing and evolving a market. A problem owner who understands what is possible can drive solutions in innovative new directions. I manage two areas where this is very much the case.

Improving the performance of buildings and infrastructure

In our Built Environment programme we have focused on innovations that improve the performance of buildings and infrastructure. A major issue here is energy and our Building Performance Evaluation programme revealed that most buildings use between two and four times more energy than they were designed to.

The ‘market’ is now better able to measure energy performance and is demanding better buildings as a result. This is extending into other forms of buildings ‘performance’, for example health providers are now asking for hospitals where patients recover more quickly.

Connecting better city services to citizens

Future cities glasgow

Our Urban Living programme has one of the more complex markets – that of cities and the services they provide to citizens. As city authorities look to provide those services to growing, aging populations with lower resource levels, knowing how technology can enable new approaches changes what they might procure. Cities of the future might increasingly become enablers and regulators of services, which means a deeper understanding of their challenges and outcome driven solutions.

Innovate UK has collaborated with all seven Research Councils to establish the Urban Living Partnership to fund interdisciplinary research pilots to help urban areas understand their challenges in a more actionable way.

Brokering conversations between the problem owner and solution provider stimulates innovation

Brokering the conversations around the art of the possible can be a powerful way to stimulate innovation. The problem owner and solution provider typically don’t know each other exist.

For example, why would a local authority (seeking to work out where to move its bus stops) know it would be cheaper and more accurate to map passenger movement using low cost sensors collecting mobile phone location data? And why would the provider of such technology think that council bus stops would be an opportunity?

Together with the Future Cities Catapult we are helping cities work with the best innovators to develop innovative new solutions just like this.

Follow me on Twitter: @pittso

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