Trying to innovate turns out to be stressful at times. Especially being a Designer, I am usually challenged to bring out creative and new ideas. Most often, we come up with beautiful and innovative ideas, only to find (with a Google search) that the idea was already thought of and developed by someone.
I try to explain here a simple rule for innovation (more like a rule of thumb) which could be used by innovators, people looking for fresh ideas, PHD candidates, entrepreneurs looking for fresh startup ideas, people thinking of what projects to do, and of course people who want to publish or patent something new.
Let’s call it the Simple Innovation Rule. The rule is stated as follows:
n * u * d is inversely proportional to c
where, n is the number of words required to define an idea fully in its most concise fashion, u(mu) is the newness index of the words, d is the diversity index of the words and c is the probability or chance that the idea is already discovered.
Lets detail the parameters:
N is the minimum number of words that could define the idea you thought of concisely. Lets take an example:
1. I have an idea for “an app to take photos”
2. I have an idea for “an app to take photos while moving”
3. I have an idea for “an app to take photos while moving under water”
Here, the chances that the 3rd idea has been discovered is far less than the 1st idea. What we see here is that the number of words to define the idea concisely and fully increases as we move from 1 to 3. We observe that the specificity of the idea or its focus also increases from 1 to 3. Every time we increase the specificity, the number of people working in that specific domain decreases. i.e. There might be a million people working on apps to take photos, but the number of people working on an app to take photos while moving under water would be far far lesser. Hence the probability that the idea is already discovered is less.
Many times people think of ideas which can be expressed by small number of words. This is so as to cover a wider target audience who will consume the idea. This temptation usually makes it hard for the idea to be new. Unless we use an alternate and new method to do something, the idea can be considered old and would have been discovered already. This is where the next parameter comes in.
U is the newness index. This refers to how new the words are as a concept or technology or development to mankind. For example:
1. I want to “make a computer which can book air-tickets”
2. I want to “make an AI code which can book air- tickets”
3. I want to “make an organic-AI which can book air- tickets”
All 3 statements have more or less the same number of words. But what changes here is the newness of the concept. Computers are now a cliche, but computers with AI is the new revolution. On the other hand, organic-AI is a concept for the future. What we can see here is that, the number of people thinking and working on computers are far more than those working with organic-AI. Hence chances are that the “organic-AI to book air- tickets” is a concept which is not discovered or thought of so far.
“D” is the diversity index. This index is a measure of the diversity of the words used. This would also measure how less obvious the combinations of the words used is. As an example:
1. I would like to “make an office chair which looks like a sofa”
2. I would like to “make an office chair which looks like a boat”
3. I would like to “make an office chair which looks like a magazine”
As seen here, the imaginative/creative/weird factor increases from 1 to 3 for different combinations of the chair and what it looks like. A chair that looks like a sofa is pretty obvious. But a chair which looks like a boat would not be that common, especially for an office, but certainly boat like elements could be used in the design of the product. But how about one which looks like a magazine?(can it be folded and carried in your bag?) This is where the creative factor kicks in. The more distinct the combinations of words are, the better the chances are that it has not been discovered. This distinctiveness is what the third parameter D is all about.
As a fun exercise you can check out some idea combinations from the table to get a hang of the rule.
You could think of anything from “A printer for printing” to “a brain-computer interface for cooking chicken manchurian for monkeys”
Illustrations by the awesome Saee Vaze. Check out her works at and
This article is written out of my personal experiences and has no or limited scientific backing.
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