Innovation happens when you recognize it, not when people invent something. Innovation is a state of mind, not a process of will. Innovation cannot be switched on or off like a light. Innovation is not about making things anew, and then making the new as unchangeable as the old it replaced. Innovation is about looking behind you to measure the tide and the speed of flow. Innovation is knowing when to leap in and swim boldly, knowing that stopping swimming means sinking. Innovation has nothing at all to do with the concept I find described everyday in information companies: “we need some younger managers in here to innovate, then we will take the best of their ideas and go with them”. “We have set up a group to go away and do innovation and then we will see if they come up with anything”. “Our innovators are very smart but have no idea of how important the cash cow is to the company and how important it is that we do not compete with ourselves, so we have taken up the best of their ideas and used them to freshen up the existing services”.

After weeks of working with companies that can talk change but not implement it the spirits can flag. But then, like last week I have a space when every door I push open seems to exude innovation. And it is not the perk of the young or the monopoly of garage dwellers in Southern California. Innovation spreads right across the age and gender divides. It is a cast of mind, almost a type of intelligence. Last week I met two real innovators, both of whom were deeply dissatisfied by the difficulty our industry, both information marketplaces and enterprises at large, have in handling change. I would guess they were 30 years apart in age, and their ideas of innovation were radically different, but both were temperamentally discontented by the thought of leaving the status quo unruffled.

Rather than embarrass the innovators who gave me such a filip, let me describe the innovations. E-Qual ( is a competency environment. Created initially for the oil industry, it is a way of getting all the relevant information in one place in order to form judgements about whether employees have the background knowledge, the formal learning, the experience on the job, the continuing development activity and anything else they need to be judged as “competent”. In many ways, competency is the shoe that has not yet dropped in the compliance marketplace. Yet what is it about innovation that means that no one in forestry would look at what works in oil and gas, or no one in light engineering would look at how things are done in pharma. And the information players in vertical sectors are just as blinkered. Small wonder that innovation and scale are real problems.

The other innovation I encountered was, a child of the team that incubated Colwiz ( Here we. Are in a whole sector – academic research and scholarly communication – but this is one with an almost theological loathing for “not invented here a look at this Claim” continuously updating with billions of data points. Gain powerful insights about the past, present and future with the most comprehensive knowledge graph covering the entire universe of research.

50K organizations

235 countries

2.7B facts

700M citations

289M concept mappings

$700B research funding

78M publications

50M authors

28M affiliations

60K journals

150TB data

Using cutting edge machine learning algorithms, continuously generates analytics about the scientific developments that are the harbingers of our future world to progress research in the right direction, further and faster.”

A huge amount of data and some large claims, yet whatever happens here we should note that this is the first time someone has walked through the front door of the problem – finding what scholarship is best of breed, worth funding and most likely to have real impact – and said simply “let’s start by putting all the salient data in one place and then see what our best analytics can do”. While I am sure that in those analytics there is great innovation, the dramatic change here for me is a hallmark of innovation – simplicity of approach. The jury is out on whether, beyond its existing case studies and great graphics, this service will produce the insights claimed for it – but if it does it will comprehensively alter the field of vision of academics, funders, researchers in industry, publishers, and government. A big data solution in this sector at this point could be as influential as the foundation, by the truly innovative Eugene Garfield, of ISI and the impact factor. As I left their Oxford offices the most frequent thought in my head was “why hasn’t a publisher invested and acquired this yet!”

Which returns us to the beginning – no one recognises innovation until it has happened and is history – and too late.

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