When you ask three people to give their ideas for a new car —you will get suggestions of three (hopefully) different makes and models. But if you ask them to imagine an entirely new way of moving around —you will likely get very different and perhaps more interesting responses. These replies may be related to how the people see the world, how they come up with ideas and how far outside the box they are willing to think. The latter could be an example of how focusing on a challenge opens you up to new possibilities.
According to Greg Satell – an author best known for his work on innovation – innovations can be divided into four types — basic, sustaining, disruptive and breakthrough.
The thing that sets them apart is how they relate to the problem and domain definition. And so —basic (research) happens when both the problem and domain are not well defined (understanding a scientific phenomenon could be used as an example). Sustaining innovation is when both the problem and domain are well defined —this could be the case when manufacturing a better functioning processor. Disruptive innovation occurs when you find a new way of using/doing things - e.g. sharing economy ‘disrupting’ conventional business. But one that is always difficult, yet very important for progress — is breakthrough innovation — a radical new way to address a known problem. With that definition in mind, when we take on a challenge-driven approach in our innovation strategy we ultimately aim for breakthroughs.
What a challenge focus means in practice?
By focusing on a defined, specific and actionable challenge, we can avoid many of the common pitfalls of innovation. This way, we can better understand the value we can create and adjust our ambitions and course to maximize impact. Since (like in the example in the beginning) there may be multiple possible solutions, we try to harness knowhow from different fields and tackle the challenge in a multidisciplinary way. This can result in unique and novel solutions and increase the speed of the innovation cycle (thanks to multiple perspectives that help eliminate obstacles).
For us, VTT iBEX is a strategic instrument aimed at developing early stage challenge-driven innovation. As a strategic programme, it is designed to help maximize the chances that these promising technological seeds grow into successful products and services in the future. How does it work?
Real-world challenges drive innovations that matter - VTT iBEX
Each year we open an internal call for applications aimed at tackling emerging grand challenges. We encourage the applicants to build multidisciplinary teams that could help deliver ambitious, meaningful and novel solutions. The ideas we get exemplify our researchers’ creativity and the broad span of their interests and activities. As a result, we get suggestions ranging from using 5G technology to accurately detect space debris to engineering solutions that produce proteins directly from CO2 and nitrogen captured from air and use this as a sustainable food source in the future. The possibilities are endless!
Selected finalists are invited to join a tailored programme where they get the necessary resources and space to focus and develop their ideas further. We guide and support the teams towards creating the best possible value and impact for society and facilitate through the early stage developments — from concept to prototype and validation — with mentoring and regular stakeholder feedback to address any emerging issues and re-iteration.
By tackling exponentially developing problems, we want to create solutions with a lasting and sustainable impact, create growth and new opportunities, and simultaneously develop our innovation capabilities and culture at VTT.
VTT iBEX – the runway of innovations
VTT iBEX is our annual early stage innovation instrument aimed at solving grand challenges with potential massive impact. This strategic, structured programme is designed to help the teams focus on developing their solution with simultaneous value creation and feedback from multiple stakeholders.
Follow our teams on social media with the hashtag #VTTiBEX.