Why radical innovation starts with purpose and from within

Emergent innovation uses the future as its origin and is based on a deep knowledge of the subject of innovation. A profound understanding of the innermost core of the innovation subject (and its potentials) helps us to see what seeks to evolve or emerge from it. This approach of “learning from the future as it emerges” is based on a number of fundamental premises of innovation: most importantly, innovation must emerge “from the inside out;” it must have a paramount purpose (“why”) and meaning (“what”); and anyone involved must “embrace” reality and be open to personal change.

Innovation from the inside out

Emergent innovation, or, as we call it, leap, is based on the core of the innovation subject and its potentials (for details, see our blog post on “Innovation Strategies”). This “core” of the innovation subject is its deepest, innermost meaning and essence. And yet most innovation approaches are based on a change of external, material factors. More often than not, the resulting innovations are mere adaptations to the existing functionality or improvements thereof. If, by contrast, innovation comes from the core, it can reveal or cause to emerge a new-found, as yet unrealized, forward-looking potential and can thus yield completely new results. The resulting innovation may essentially be related to something that already exists, but is far from a blatant extrapolation.

Take, for example, the car industry: at first glance, it is all about cars, faster and stronger engines, more safety, etc. But if you take a closer look, the key issue of the car industry is mobility (e.g. alternative mobility concepts). And if you dig even deeper, the core question turns out to be: How to provide access to someone or something? If innovation is based on this question of how to provide access, automobile manufacturers might gain an entirely new understanding of the subject. They could try to grasp and develop “from the inside out” a whole range of new potentials for providing access that haven’t been used yet but seek to emerge. They could identify new niches, develop new business models, and proactively produce for needs that haven’t even been thought of. They would basically still be providing mobility and accessibility, but in completely new shapes, formats, services, technologies and forms of realization.

Priority of purpose (“why”) and meaning (“what”)

The key question here is: How can organizations create new (spaces of) meaning, goals and purposes? In contrast to traditional approaches of innovation, emergent innovation – or leap – is not about improving existing functionalities or material features. It is about spaces of meaning (“what”) conceived from the future, from the core, from the innermost potential, which enable new purposes (“why”). This process also works vice versa, but it is important to note that the meaning as well as the goal or purpose “seek to emerge”.

The question of “how” refers to the function, effects, and outward appearance of the subject of innovation. The figure illustrates that the “how” only comes at the very end – as opposed to traditional approaches, most of which take the “how” as a point of departure.

Immersing oneself and embracing reality

Unlike most traditional innovation approaches and creative techniques like design thinking or brainstorming, the process of emergent innovation is strongly based on reality and the subject of innovation. The focus is not primarily on “imposing” a creative idea on reality but on embracing potentials that seek to emerge. Only if these potentials are identified, cultivated and developed will the resulting innovation be sustainable and thriving. For details, see our blog post on “Innovation Strategies”.

Innovation requires personal change

There’s no abstract formula for how to “create” emergent innovation. In order for the new and innovative to be conceived and to emerge, it always takes personal engagement and change of individual attitudes, mindsets, and patterns of thought and perception. For details, see our blog post on “Innovation Challenges”. Find more information on innovation in general here: “Innovation Strategies”.

Image: © Frank Eiffert on Unsplash


Design thinking is based on the idea that problems can be solved better if people from different disciplines collaborate in an environment that promotes creativity, identify the key problem together, discuss the needs and motivations of people, and then develop concepts that are checked and rechecked over and over again. The aim is to find solutions that convince users. Unlike other methods of innovation, design thinking is partly seen not so much as a method or process, but as an approach based on the three equivalent principles of teamwork, space and process. See also: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Design_thinking

Here is how the HPI Academy defines design thinking:

“Design Thinking is a systematic, human-centered approach to solving complex problems within all aspects of life. The approach goes far beyond traditional concerns such as shape and design. And unlike traditional scientific and engineering approaches, which address a task from the view of technical solvability, user needs and requirements as well as user-oriented invention are central to the process. (…) Design Thinkers step into the end users’ shoes – not only interviewing them, but also carefully observing their behaviors.”

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Image: Nuno Antunes at Unsplash