Innovation wormholes

I am a physicist by training, a manager by trade and an innovator by practice. A few days ago I was able to link together these aspects of my life when I was invited to participate as a speaker at the Innovation Day (www.eldiadelainnovacion.es) organised by Actitud Creativa in Madrid. My talk used the concept of wormholes in relation with Innovation and the idea was well received, so I thought it would be nice to post it here to reach more people that could be inspired by it. I have other such relations in mind, so this post can be the first of a series where I will try to link well known Physics concepts with innovation situations or challenges, the “Physics of Innovation” we may call it.

The idea developed in this post was nagging me since I was subject to a classic selective attention test (www.youtube.com/watch?v=vJG698U2Mvo) during a class of the Deusto Master in Business Innovation. I completely fell for it, which got me thinking that, sometimes, in our jobs, we focus deeply into solving the problem and following the established procedure without asking ourselves if there may be a shorter or easier way to do it.

This is where I bring the concept of wormhole (or Einstein-Rosen bridge), which most of you probably have heard about, at least in general terms. The idea (theoretical physicists, please allow me the simplification) is that space-time could be bent in another dimension creating a “tunnel” that would make possible a shorter route between two points in space, a shortcut. The picture heading this post is a nice artistic representation of a wormhole. For a better definition you can refer to the Wikipedia page (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wormhole) or other more advanced sources for further discovery of this very interesting concept.

Coming back to Earth, allow me to try to apply this idea to Innovation. The following picture presents a simplified representation of a process as a rail track in a one-dimensional reality, where you know your way, you just look forward and you have your stops along the track. But maybe, if you could rise above that track in other dimension, you may realise that it happens to be a curved track where the end is very close to the start and that a quick jump, a wormhole, could be possible…

Let me use a quick example to illustrate the idea with a simple math puzzle inspired in Edward de Bono’s works. Imagine a typical tennis tournament. In each round all players play in pairs. The winners advance to the next round and the losers are eliminated. This goes on until the final, where the last two play against each other and the winner takes the tournament. If I asked you how many games were played in the tournament, what would you do? Let’s imagine there are 64 players at the start. Most of us, would divide the 64 players by 2 players in each game to calculate the games in the first round (32), again to calculate the games in the second round (16), and so on until the final; we then add all together and we have our answer. Easy, isn’t it? But what if I had said that there were 4096 players? Well, the calculations are probably longer, but the procedure is still valid. However, we could propose a “process innovation”, an incremental improvement, if we realised that we are adding consecutive powers of two, so we could use the formula 2^0+2^1+…+2^(n-1)=2^n – 1, saving some time. But the real radical innovation comes when we are able to look at the problem differently realising that in each game there is always one loser, so taking into account that any player is eliminated when they lose, they can only lose once, so there can only be as many games as losers, that is, the number of players minus one. No calculations…we found our wormhole!

Of course, this is all just a simplification, but I am just trying to make a point, to bring the concept of wormhole into the innovation framework. Allow yourselves to look beyond, to take a different perspective. From there you could find the wormhole that could disrupt your sector, but first, you need to allow for that wider view.

We can go very far using our proven procedures but, through the wormhole, we could reach any point in the Universe…

 

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