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“We are idea rich, selection baffled and adoption poor.”

You might have heard me say that design and academic research overstates the importance of ideas for innovation, that ideas are in fact cheap and easy to produce, and that the real challenges lie in the execution.

Perhaps I have even told you about the workshops I tend to run on ideation techniques in introductory-level undergraduate design theory classes — last year, for example, I guided the group of (non-designer) students to producing over 450 generally passable ideas on urban service design in two hours.

This post was prompted by a column in the latest issue of Communications of the ACM, where computer science professor Peter Denning makes a similar observation:

“We are idea rich, selection baffled and adoption poor.”

Denning moves on to argue for attention to the practices of communities and how innovation could more fruitfully be seen as change of practice. The full column is online at

For me, the main point is this: Innovation does not follow automatically from invention. But neither is it a pure question of entrepreneurship. Researchers and designers need to combine their invention strengths with the execution strengths of entrepreneurs and business actors in long-term, strategical relationships. Co-production seems to me like a relatively reliable approach to balanced innovation.

Related articles
Documentary exploring the role of design in business (and vice versa)
On design research and co-production

Image credit: Flickr user anna_t CC:BY-NC-SA

2 thoughts on ““We are idea rich, selection baffled and adoption poor.””

  1. Like. Also I think we tend to rule out the inventors themselves in favor of ideation processes with people that not are in the situation to produce relevant ideas. So whay do it?

  2. Jonas M: Agree completely. My personal view is that there is a general tendency to favor methods over personal abilities (ideation processes rather than inventors, as you put it). I am, in turn, strongly influenced by Donald Schön’s account of how formalized, rational knowledge takes precedence over practical, non-articulated knowing.

    Methods and formalized knowledge are seductive since they offer the promise of repeatable results, recipes for action, and a means for coordination. Cf. the recent Design Thinking fad. However, my personal opinion is that in any creative process, practical knowing determines the quality of the result more than the method used.

    This is not to say that methods are useless, only that they are not sufficient in themselves.

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