Gone are the days where innovation was only described as ground-shattering inventions, concepts or ideas which revolutionised the world we live in. Instead, today, many more recognise innovation as those smaller, incremental steps which offer fresh thinking on an existing problem, which in time deliver measurable impact. So, while large innovations such as those associated with the likes of the Industrial Internet of Things can capture the headlines, it’s often ‘smaller’ innovations, which create a big impact.
A look back
Take, for example, the 1959 invention of a simple three-point seat belt thanks to the idea of a Volvo engineer. Just a piece of fabric and an anchor point, the seat belt remains, over 50 years later, the supreme solution when it comes to driver and passenger car safety. This is despite the computers, airbags and self-driving cars that have followed.
How about the genius thinking of Bernard Sadow. In 1950, he thought it would be a good idea to apply wheels to the bottom of a suitcase so it could be towed instead of carried. Twenty years later, pilot Bob Plath had two more seemingly simple ideas. Firstly, he turned the suitcase sidewise and put one wheel on either side of the wide end of the bag. Secondly, he put a retractable handle on the top. With these small modifications, even the largest suitcases could be manoeuvred with ease.
The (ultra) sound of innovation
Looking at illustrations of incremental innovation happening today, there are a huge number of examples to showcase; perhaps one of the most interesting can be seen at Oxford University. Here, researchers have developed fresh thinking on a long existing challenge to improve the effectiveness of cancer drugs in patients with liver tumours. The clinical trial used focused ultrasound technology from outside the body to selectively heat liver tumours to trigger drug release from a heat sensitive carrier. Whilst in very early stages, the initial trial proved positive and could see the technology hold additional applications within other areas of medicine within the future.
All of these changes, in their own way, have gone on to have a profound impact on society, ranging from the ultimate importance of car safety through to making the tourist travelling experience that bit more comfortable. Both are relatively small enablers for change that have had a positive long-term effect. They are key lessons that you don’t need to think big to innovate. Good ideas are not just the preserve of the high-profile innovators we all hear about. For every Elon Musk, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, there are thousands of others exploring everyday what is possible in order to devise a new idea, device or method. And it is this often smaller scale innovation which often results in the development of a solution that meets new requirements, unarticulated needs, or market demand.
MPA Group sees examples of this approach every day through our work with some of the UK’s most innovative businesses, from Mapmyhealth which is using mobile app technology to aid the management of type 2 diabetes, to Morgana Systems which is continually pushing boundaries when it comes to digital finishing technologies. While the government’s continued drive to support innovative businesses is set to remain for the foreseeable future, the introduction of new research and development schemes and incentives can sometimes mean the funding landscape is a hard one to navigate. At MPA Group, our industry experts hold a wealth of in-depth sector knowledge to help companies of all sizes transfer the value of their time and thinking into financial reward thanks to the compilation of a compelling R&D Tax Credit or Patent Box case.