These now immortal words of the neo-bard Donald Rumsfeld, though often lampooned, actually provide a helpful insight into the nature of innovation and landscapes on which it occurs. Innovation, like navigating the high seas, is as much a matter of not steering a wrong course as it is steering the right one. This is particularly so for those whose resources are limited, and where the risk of failure courts disaster. In innovation thinking – itself almost an oxymoron – talking about how to make right choices and fostering sparks of creativity seems the dominant discourse. But the realities of innovation are that most of the innovation process is grueling hard work, and the hard yakka is in avoiding stuff ups: endeavouring mightily not to ‘run aground, or crash into continents’.
“As we know,
There are known knowns.
There are things we know we know.
We also know
There are known unknowns.
That is to say
We know there are some things
We do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns,
The ones we don’t know We don’t know.”
—Feb. 12, 2002, Department of Defense news briefing, Donald Rumsfeld
So what are these continents, the reefs, the shoals and the currents that could take our ship of creative product and service delivery down to Davy Jones?
In those sectors driven by science-and technology-enabled innovation (SEI), much of the uncertainty, the obscurity, the buried bommies are in the world of intellectual property, and most of this in the patent literature.
Curiously however – much of the excitement and opportunity of future and futuristic problem solving also lies in this same byzantine, obscure, clergy-ridden literature.
So what is it and how do we navigate it?