How do you measure innovation?

Apparently, experts aren’t too sure. No one seemed to ask: why would we want a company to measure innovation? If you find out that one company is more ‘innovative’ than another, what then? I guess my view is that looking for innovation is like looking for a forest when you care about individual trees.

But on the innovation front, I think that this time Dean Kamen is onto a significant winner with this machine that will purify any liquid into drinkable water and generate electricity as an added extra; all for a fraction of the price of a Segway. It comes with a measuring cup so you can measure the innovation drop by drop.

3 thoughts on “How do you measure innovation?”

  1. The difficulty in measuring innovation (as opposed to profit) is that Innovation means (according to the Dept of Commerce ‘Measuring Innovation’ project – – basically “anything new that creates value”. So the challenge is to measure “VALUE” in the customer’s hands – hence my PhD thesis on Value Management –, and understanding innovation from a value perspective.


  2. Not sure of the date of the Dean Kamen clip but the water purifier was first displayed in 2003. It appears to be a pretty standard distillation unit and it uses 500W of continuous power to do the distillation. The energy referred to comes from a Stirling Engine which can run from low heat sources and heat sinks. The Stirling Engine has been around for 200 years. It is a good idea – but not a new idea – and the problems are not the theory but the implementation. It is the sort of engine that is used in some solar thermal systems.

    What is needed is not this particular innovation. Rather we need economic systems that gives investors money to invest in this type of system. We have the technologies to give us plenty of fresh water, clean green energy. We lack ways to efficiently direct finance to build these systems. The current economic tools based on putting a price on externalities such as emissions permits and water trading will not do the job. The reason is simple. They are based on existing markets and investment will find a way to go to existing technologies in those markets not to technologies that will destroy the markets. It is just investors being rational economic agents. Even good ideas in companies in the same business do not get the investment they need – see The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail By Clayton M. Christensen

    You need a circuit breaker to allow new innovations technologies to find investors. Rewards is a socially equitable way of directing investment efficiently to new innovations

    That is, we need the economic systems to enable good innovations to be tried out (and often fail) to solve the big problems. An economic tool we have is the free market. A simple way then to get innovative ideas into production is set up markets where innovation can be tried and tested and that is what Rewards type economic systems will do.


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