Ideas, biomimicry, TRIZ and loonshots

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“Evolutionary Ideas: Unlocking ancient innovation to solve tomorrow’s challenges” got me when they mentioned biomimicry and TRIZ. Evolution is nature’s problem solver, and I do not think TRIZ receives the attention it deserves when we discuss and think about innovation. There are lots of existing patterns of problem-solving, and instead of focusing on the new shiny toys, we should at least be aware of the things that we already know (and work). 


Of the 30,000 new products introduced every year, an estimated 95% flop. Chasing revolutions is a high-risk business. In the pursuit of breakthrough innovations, many businesses adopt the strategy of funding a large selection of innovative projects hoping for a rare success to pay for the remaining failures. “The shots-on-goal” fallacy. We have an infatuation with human intentionality and are obsessed by this myth of a lone genius receiving a blinding flash of inspiration or wisdom. “The four most expensive words in the English language are, ‘this time it’s different.” —John Templeton, British investor.

True innovation is rare

The reality is that true revolutions are far rarer than you think. In a fascinating analysis, a team of engineers reviewed a staggering 200,000 of the world’s most successful technical patents. They found that 95% of the problems that engineers faced had already been solved within their industry. A mere 1% of the patents analysed were considered true innovations.

The myths

Innovation Myth 1: BIG problems need BIG solutions

Innovation Myth 2: NEW problems need NEW solutions

Why reinvent the wheel

By first exploring the application of evolved biological solutions (our first tool) and then evolved technical solutions (our second tool), we’ll see that, once we know what we’re looking for, there’s an abundance of untapped evolved psychological potential around us just waiting to be redeployed An idea is nothing more nor less than a new combination of old elements.


Study macroevolution, microevolution and convergent evolution. To survive in nature, organisms converge on winning solutions. There’s more than one route to the same good idea. That is how we invented the bullet train, painless injections and wind turbine blades. We are only getting started (combining AI with biomimicry).


Biomimicry connects human problems with evolved biological solutions. It helps us to accelerate innovation by escaping our normal frame of reference. Despite the appeal of new ideas, better solutions often exist in nature.

TRIZ: a theory of inventive problem solving

To innovate with evolutionary ideas, there are three important elements we need to learn from TRIZ: It’s been solved before. There are consistent patterns of solutions. Solving contradictions create breakthrough innovation. TRIZ works to formalise the belief that somebody, somewhere, has already solved your problem. There are consistent patterns of solutions Altshuller, the inventor of TRIZ, concluded that there were about 1,500 standard engineering contradictions which he then summarised into a contradiction matrix comprising 39 parameters.

Your programming

You could stop there, but you should also be aware of your own programming. Our perception is heavily influenced by expectations, our previous experiences and the way information is presented.

From 11,000,000 to 40

The evolved human brain is the most remarkable organ on earth. It’s estimated that the brain contains around 100 billion neurons (outnumbering the number of stars in the galaxy)40 and is home to more than 100,000 km of interconnections. Your mind can take in an astronomical 11,000,000 pieces of information at any given moment. We can only consciously process 40 of these pieces of information at any one time. Hence system one and system 2. The question is what filter you apply to get from 11,000,000 to 40.

System 1 and system 2

Although only 2% of our body weight, our brains slurp up about 20% of our glucose-derived energy. They’re incredibly greedy organs. Our brains are inherently lazy. In most cases, our System 2 is happy to go with the flow of the decisions and recommendations made by our System 1 Because constant interjection is simply too costly. As a result, solutions that work on low-effort mode of inertia or incite the desired behaviour without the need for conscious engagement – are ultimately more likely to shape a decision. World-leading neuroscientist Antonio Damasio says humans are “feeling machines that think”.

Short cuts

We use all kinds of shortcuts. Starting with the language you use. Language is framing. Language provides an efficient shortcut to reality. Language doesn’t just influence perception. It shapes behaviour. Having access to vocabulary opens new doors. What we say, we can see, and what we see, we can apply. Canadian Inuits have 53 words to describe snow,

Psychological TRIZ

“How can we change the perceived value of the product without changing the price?”. The book explains psychological principles and mental shortcuts like scarcity, social proof, quantity anchoring, the IKEA effect, triggering, clock time, brain time, reciprocity, engineering trust, signalling, operational transparency, wording, choice architecture, decoys, defaults, salience, concreteness, prompts, images, intuitive responses, word prediction, chunking, memory aid, chunking down, chunking up, blindsight, intention, attention, symmetry, feedback loops, reactance, loyalty, commitment, goal gradient, endowed progress, reinforcement, planned serendipity, predictability, memories, stories, agency, expectations management, occupied time, the peak-end effect, emotional efficiency and optimising endings.

Marketing and selling

It is an interesting book. It seems to be more for marketers than innovators. Reminds me of “Gastrophysics” and “Brandwashed”. There is something dark about the many levels we are manipulated before we combine these old tricks with AI, neuroscience, virtual reality, brain interfaces, voice analysis, etc. Time to re-read “The science of selling”.

For innovators

Come up with ideas, do not reinvent the wheel. Use biomimicry and TRIZ as instruments and use the psychological tricks to sell it to the gatekeepers (read “Pirates in the navy), funders and potential clients.


The book ends with the point that we should never forget that moonshots (the 1%) can change industries and create entirely new systems. So read “Loonshot as well. Loonshots shares the lessons and learning of managing innovation from a moonshot perspective.


Combine this book also with “Alchemy“.  A plea for more magic and less logic. Making a case for irrational solutions. If we allow the world to be run by logical people, we will only discover logical things. But in real life, most things aren’t logical – they are psycho-logical. The mythical ‘butterfly effect’ does exist, but we don’t spend enough time butterfly hunting. 

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