Inversion as a Technique for InnovationPosted: June 21, 2011
Innovation will make or break a startup like Sociable Labs: We have to keep up with what is going on in the Social world on the technological, psychological, social, and business fronts, and then quickly apply new capabilities and patterns to help our customers and move our platform forward.
Transforming knowledge into innovation is something we think about a lot, and not just at a subconscious level: We apply a number of techniques, one of the most powerful of which is inversion.
To understand the power of inversion, consider a few different examples: In the business space, consider the traditional auction in which users bid the price of a product up. The technique of inversion involves looking for vectors of action or design and inverting them. In this case, we see a clear and simple vector where prices are being bid up. What if we invert that and bid prices down? In that case, we get reverse auctions, which are a powerful and useful variant. Let’s find another opportunity for inversion: What if we inverted the role of the buyer into a seller, and set up a barter system where sellers could join together to exchange goods via an offer system?
Another interesting recent example in the education space is the inversion of homework and schooling – an experiment where students do their homework in school, and study at home. An approach that has, apparently, shown some promise.
In the technology world, there are great examples of powerful inversions: For example, the idea of inversion of control, where systems do not directly go and find other systems (e.g. a CRM system going out to find an email system to send notifications) but are wired together by an external agent. Another example is the idea of using the shape of the tables in a database to generate classes for an application. Inverting this would say that we should use the shape of classes to generate databases, and indeed both patterns are useful and present in the industry.
Sometimes though, one vector of approach does not work well, but its inversion does. For example, we have not seen immense success in bringing companies’ commerce systems to Facebook applications, but inverting that and bringing Facebook’s Open Graph to companies’ commerce sites has worked amazingly well.
As we experiment and develop new systems and solutions, we always try to look at a variety of inversions in order to see if we have covered possibility space in a thorough way. We hope this technique helps you generate new ideas.