We hear about innovation all the time, it features regularly in adverts for familiar products such as shampoos, razors, cars and even yogurts. Our Government wants to see more innovation in education and healthcare and innovation in all parts of the UK economy. The use of the word “innovation” to describe so many apparently disparate things contributes to the mystery. Business school luminaries say wise things such as “get innovative or get dead” Tom Peters (1990). Advertisers plaster the word on almost everything. So how on earth should we make sense of innovation in the bioscience sector where we are genuinely seeking to apply recent scientific developments to world problems.

In these occasional short articles, I will attempt to distil over 30 years of experience in R&D and the commercialization of inventions into some thoughts about the process of innovation that might save you time having to puzzle them out for yourself and perhaps save you some money by avoiding unproductive strategy options – especially if it means missing out on the productive ones.

I think there are 3 dimensions to innovation.

  • One which describes the sort of things that get innovated – products, services, processes, brand etc (the Object of innovation)
  • One which describes the degree of innovation – from really very modest tweaks and improvements through to colossal changes that reshape the world (the Magnitude of innovation)
  • And finally a dimension which describes the market impact of the innovation – from marginal swings in market share, through to the creation of entirely new industries that over time displace the old ones (the Impact of innovation)

Most business texts at least agree with the first two.

In my experience ALL innovations fit this 3D landscape somewhere. Some innovations may best left to the existing competitors in a market yet others may be the highly sought after candidates that investors seek as the basis for market entry. Unless you can describe it properly, it will be hard to get others to understand the vision and probably very hard to get the green light or the funding to be able to pursue its development.

This perspective has formed the basis of many presentations to aspiring entrepreneurs studying or involved in research at UK universities and research institutes. In future contributions I will discuss in turn the Object, Magnitude and Impact of innovation.

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