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Is Combinatorial Innovation a Thing?



Combinatorial Innovation (CI) is the art and science of creating something new from existing knowledge and resources. Combining unconventional elements in new, creative ways leads to a multiplier effect, increases the potential of a breakthrough discovery or invention and ultimately, an innovation’s impact. It yields solutions to complex challenges and can augment current business capabilities for new insights in the digital world, satisfying customer and industry demands.


The business purpose of CI is to gain advantage using multiple emerging technologies and to integrate them to solve business problems in an agile way. Agile is one of the attributes which distinguish traditional invention from CI. Because the invention process is time-consuming, it’s not ideal to meet urgent market demands. It stands in stark contrast to the CI practice which employs a dramatically shortened timeframe.


In a 2015 article called “Are we nearly there yet”, sustainability and corporate social responsibility expert John Elkington wrote: “Instead of breakthrough innovations flowing from individual ‘Eureka!’ moments or single giant leaps, most important innovations are combinatorial, pulling together existing ideas.”


Many “inventions” we consider groundbreaking are combinatorial. The components of remixing — copy, transform and combine — are the basic elements of all creativity. People who make breakthrough discoveries tend to have broad fields of studies and interests. And some of the world’s most creative thinkers have mastered the art of “borrowing” ideas across domains.


Steve Jobs famously drew inspiration from buildings, vehicles, home appliances, calligraphy, arcade machines, polaroid, and Zen Buddhism for his product designs. The iPhone is a synthesis of previously invented technology components such as central processors, memory, communications, navigation, messaging, applications, transistors, Internet technologies, etc. In Google’s early days, when attempting to build a redundancy infrastructure for low-cost data centers, it did something outside of the norm. Instead of a networking expert, a neuroscientist was hired to model Google’s infrastructure after the brain’s ability to heal itself.


The difference between pure invention and CI is about the approach to the final product or service. In the invention process, novelty prevails which means the idea of the invention must be original. For example, the final product of an invention is a patent. The legal claims must be original and non-disclosed items. The patent can be considered as the first of a kind usable technology, tool, process, or method. Whereas with CI, the new product or service may consist of multiple old ideas. The result is combining these proven ideas in a creative, functional, practical, and agile way to address a predetermined need and/or use.


It's apparent that CI is essential to the digital strategy of products and services which leads to modernizing and transforming business organizations. Industry trends are optimistic about the growth of CI in the digital space. Gartner cites that combinatorial digital innovation is expected to play an important role in the optimization of digital technologies and processes in the next decade.

Tomestic is no stranger to CI. CEO and Founder, Poet De’Medici points out, “CI has been at the forefront since Tomestic’s origins. We’re an amalgamation of publishing, information technology, storytelling, and artistic content in one hub. Now that Tomestic is a part of Intel which includes heterogenous computing (systems that use more than one kind of processor or cores), everything rolls into one embedded system. All the parts work together to create a super medium.”


Utilizing CI, Tomestic is more than equipped to take on the challenges that exist in the education space and more broadly, disrupt the pursuit of knowledge. Visit the ‘Home’ page and sign up for our newsletter to stay current on how Tomestic's innovations will affect traditional learning methods.

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