Carl asks: what exactly is innovation?

Carl asks: what exactly is innovation?

innovation lightbulbs

I am a great fan of innovation. I mentioned this fact to our editor Anthony, and he responded by asking me to expand on the subject. So, I have.

What better place to start than with Google? Type in 'innovation' and you end up with 'About 1,930,000,000 results (0.80 seconds)'. Refine that to a dictionary definition and the first one that appears is 'noun: the action or process of innovation', 'a new method, idea, product etc.'

I then discovered that there are four different types of innovation: Incremental, Disruptive, Architectural and Radical. And there are five different innovation methods: Employee, Customer, Partner/Supplier, Competitor and Public. A further click of the mouse led me to an article titled 'The eight essentials of innovation' which cited NASA's Ames Research Centre and what they considered the essence of innovation: Aspire, Choose, Discover, Evolve, Accelerate, Scale, Extend and Mobilise.

nasa research

I'm guessing that, like me, about now your eyes are glazing over, and you are seriously wondering if there are any biscuits left in the tin. So instead of flying off into the heady heights of academia I decided to look back on moments of 'innovation' in the security fogging world.

Fogging innovation

Back in the 1960s fog was produced by heating oil in a pan over a propane burner. Sounds a bit dodgy. It certainly was and on one occasion the BBC managed to destroy a film studio using this technique. It was at this time that Mike Hope decided to sit down and design a 'safe' way to produce fog. The work was funded by the BBC and resulted in what we all recognise, nowadays, as a fogging device.

In the next thirty years there was a slow progression in the basic design of a fogger. In 1990 we started to see the very first security fogging systems. They tended to be large, cumbersome beasts that were screwed to a wall or simply dumped on the ground. Then one of the Concept technicians asked, 'How can we make this machine small enough to install above a suspended ceiling?'

engineering blueprints

The answer was actually quite simple and involved turning the heat exchanger through 90 degrees and this allowed the size of the device to be reduced by two thirds. That small innovation kicked off a line of development that would carry on for the next thirty years and also provide a template for other manufacturers to copy.

Disruptive potential

Nowadays the scale of innovation is amazing. It's hard to find a sector where development isn't proceeding at a pace. Things get better, faster, smaller, more effective and sometimes, but not always, cheaper. But the scale and pace can have derogatory effects, especially when impacted by global factors such as Covid-19. We only have to look at the current state of manufacture and supply of semi-conductors to see how quickly the fast and effective supply of components can turn into an international train wreck.

innovation quote

Being a 'glass half full' sort of person I am not unduly daunted by the issues facing us today. Why? Because I know that there is an army of people out there devoting themselves to innovation in every industry sector. Enhancing and improving, inventing and imagining.

In my lifetime I have witnessed astounding developments. The Spitfire was just retiring from service when I was born. Now the RAF uses aircraft so technologically advanced that computers are required to keep it in the air. Man landed on the moon when I passed my Eleven Plus, now we are sending tourists into space. A mainframe computer from the 1950s would now be eclipsed in power by a wrist-worn smart watch.

Carl Gibbard

Carl Gibbard was co-founder of Concept Smoke Screen Ltd and a pioneer in the use of smoke and fog in a security role. Currently chair of the BSIA Export Council and Vice Chair of the Security Equipment Manufacturer’s Section.


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