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Greg Satell, speaker and author of several books on innovation, says that one of the best stories he has ever heard on innovation has to do with clams.

A technology firm, he explains in his article in HBR.org on different types of innovation, won a competition to design a powerful sensor that could detect water pollution.

almejasClams, an innovative mollusk in the digital era.

For the job, they recruited a team made up of experts in several fields. In the first meeting, one of the members–a biologist–showed up with a bag full of clams, much to the surprise of his IT colleagues, telling them they open their shells when they detect contaminated particles in the water.

It was no longer necessary to design a high-tech sensor to solve the problem. Clams had already done it. So, the company saved hours of work and the team members went out for dinner that night. What did they have for dinner? Clams!

The story is a textbook example of open innovation and how the solution to a problem can come from specialists in different fields or through out of the box thinking, not only through a solution advanced as the only possible one (presuming the need for a sensor to detect contaminated water).

With this story, the author asks us to conceive innovation as a set of diverse tools, always ready to be re-thought under two basic questions: a) How can we define the problem? and b) What do we need to solve it?

And, based on these two points, he speaks of four basic innovation models.

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  1. Continuous and/or evolutionary innovation,defined as the most common type of innovation. Since it is based on the iterative improvement of what you already have, it tends to apply the same innovation model throughout the entire process.
  2. Groundbreaking innovation.Innovation that, as in the case of our friendly clams, is based on solving a clearly defined problem with a complex solution, by using knowledge that is apparently unrelated to the field in question, and that would initially seem to have little correlation with it. Open innovation models are a clear example.
  3. Disruptive innovation,which is innovation that understands and anticipates a change of cycle in the market and completely varies its business model to adapt to new times (for example, Netflix went from distributing physical films via the postal service, to marketing content through streaming). This type of innovation is clearly differential, and capable of creating leading companies in their market niche… or in that of others.
  4. Basic and continuous research over time,executed in the background, but normally largely responsible for big innovations. Most large companies have a team behind them dedicated to researching every day, or have agreements with universities and research centers who help in this task.

Which is your company’s innovation model?
Is it permeable and can it be transmitted to all company members?
bullet Find out how to promote a culture of transformative innovation.