The Overlap

Ideas, observations, experiments, and musings

Lenses of Discovery

July 29, 2020

How to find innovation opportunities.

A fertile ground for fresh ideas - the center of a venn diagram

Are you inventing or innovating and what’s the difference anyway?

To me, the major difference is that invention creates a new method of accomplishing an old task or creates an entirely new category. On the other hand innovation is the result of combining two (or more) existing domains (technology, subjects, disciplines, objects, methods, etc) in a way that improves an aspect of our collective experience and progresses humankind (solving a problem, generating new knowledge, etc).

My model for understanding innovations takes the form of a Venn Diagram, I like to view each circle as a lens that represents a distinct area. However what is critical is the space where the lenses overlap. Just as a pair of binoculars uses two lenses to create a single image, the overlap is a mental place to explore how the impact of one area interacts with another.

Retroactively using this approach we can identify areas that are ripe for innovation. For example using the lenses of entertainment (movies, music, etc) and the internet (streaming, location) we can look at how companies like Netflix and Spotify emerged at the overlap. The first companies to spot these connections open the door and pioneer a model that competitors (Disney+, Apple Music) can then use later to create their own offerings leveraging their unique strengths.

Perhaps most interestingly is when the lenses are combined with companies that are in dire need of developing innovative products or services to stay competitive or take the lead. If that’s the position you are in, try using these mental binoculars to identify new areas for your business to head toward.


However these are just paper exercises and without action and delivery, ideas are almost worthless. In order to deliver it becomes paramount to answer the practical minded questions (how does it work, how does it arrive in the hands of the end user, etc) and that’s when the real fun begins, although to be fair I do love generating ideas.

Previous thoughts:

Visions for a Sustainable Future
Design Principles of Play 

Let's put the fun in functional!

Legends of Design: John E. Arnold

Issue #1

Lenses of Discovery

How to find innovation opportunities.

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