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J R Soc Interface. 2015 Feb 6;12(103). pii: 20141183. doi: 10.1098/rsif.2014.1183.

The virtue of innovation: innovation through the lenses of biological evolution.

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School of Chemistry and Manchester Institute of Biotechnology, The University of Manchester, Princess St., Manchester M1 7DN, UK
Life Sciences Open Innovation, Procter and Gamble, Procter and Gamble Technical Centres Limited, Whitehall Lane, Egham TW20 9NW, UK.


We rehearse the processes of innovation and discovery in general terms, using as our main metaphor the biological concept of an evolutionary fitness landscape. Incremental and disruptive innovations are seen, respectively, as successful searches carried out locally or more widely. They may also be understood as reflecting evolution by mutation (incremental) versus recombination (disruptive). We also bring a platonic view, focusing on virtue and memory. We use 'virtue' as a measure of efforts, including the knowledge required to come up with disruptive and incremental innovations, and 'memory' as a measure of their lifespan, i.e. how long they are remembered. Fostering innovation, in the evolutionary metaphor, means providing the wherewithal to promote novelty, good objective functions that one is trying to optimize, and means to improve one's knowledge of, and ability to navigate, the landscape one is searching. Recombination necessarily implies multi- or inter-disciplinarity. These principles are generic to all kinds of creativity, novel ideas formation and the development of new products and technologies.


evolutionary computing; innovation; philosophy of science

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