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The Riker Hourglass Model of Innovation™

Innovation is much talked of, but often not described. How does an inventive concept come about? At its heart inventive innovation is an individual event. In the preceding installment we listed a handful of luminaries of inventive innovation. Notwithstanding, and despite anecdote, many believe that invention is a team effort, or at least can be. That is to conflate the inventive insight with correlative events and post-inventive processes and methods. Let's examine the evidence in the "The Riker Hourglass Model of Innovation" meant to capture the act of inventive innovation or discovery.

This model is best described as two triangles one inverted on top of another.

Riker Hourglass Model of Innovation

The upper dark blue sections of the upper triangle represent the feedstock necessary for an individual to reformulate past experience into a novel vision. This reservoir comprises two databases: life experiences and knowledge. The more diverse and deep these reservoirs the more raw material for their recombination. It is self-evident that these databases are gained by individuals. The second component of invention, seen in the upper yellow section, is an awareness of opportunity, or unmet need. This signal encourages the inventor to reformulate his/her experience and knowledge to fashion a useful and novel invention to meet an unmet need, essentially funneling the known universe into a single unique solution. This event is governed by an individual's native ability to synthesize from his/her experiential reservoir a novel concept against a need (represented by the coefficient of inventiveness, or kinv). Thus, invention is predicated on two innate components: individual experience and knowledge and the native ability to formulate a novel solution from them. This process of inventive innovation comprises the "push" for novel concepts or inventions.

Once an invention is created the second step to commercial viability is market "pull" largely enabled by "process facilitators" (yellow section in the lower triangle). In the case of internal inventive innovation this process may include: marketers, product and business developers, patent attorneys, senior line managers, and possible licensees. During this process of commercialization these parties will determine the value of the invention to their enterprise and its appeal to consumers. Unless it is a one-person startup the post-inventive stage of invention is a group process, a process involving a variety of necessary functional disciplines.

In summary, the inventor is an individual who is able to reformulate his/her experience and knowledge into a novel concept. The probability of invention can be expressed by the Riker equation:

Riker Equation

This base equation suggests that the unit of observation for invention is the individual since both terms that determine the probability of invention are uniquely present in each individual. The outcome is determined therefore by an individual's facility to invent based on the store of experiences and knowledge he/she brings to it and their native inventiveness. The base equation can be refined further, for example, to add terms for the relevance of experiences and knowledge.

But can true invention, as defined here, arise from groups? Good question. Any group is composed of individuals so the unit of observation, or sampling, remains the same. Several contexts within the consumer products industry harness groups of consumers, users, employees, or others to judge, for example, product appeal and purchase intent, keys to determining market "pull". Can the same sampling methods be efficiently applied to "push" innovation when the outcome of such a process is only as good as each individual's depth of experience, knowledge and inventiveness? Oddly, rarely does sponsored, or facilitated, group innovation efforts rely on proven innovators who might increase the probability of success according to the Riker equation. This rational approach is consistent with Bayes Theorem, and an obvious force amplifier.

One exceptional example of enhanced inventiveness is SpencerHall's Transforum® which utilizes a panel of proven innovators assigned to a specific marketer's challenge to ideate against a specific tactical need, at first from any given individual inventor, and then expanded in real time by other willing inventors in a cascading sequence. This "iterative innovation" process harnesses the inventiveness of each individual inventor independent of one another at first and then taps into the integrated power of the group. Transforum® thus increases the probability of success by creating a shared experience around which that one individual's inventive concept allows real-time integration of other individual inventors' inventive additions to that initial concept. This is thus a highly efficient and rewarding process according to the base equation given below

Riker Equation 2

where an initial invention made by the index inventor is improved on by other inventors each building out the initial conception to increase the probability of finding a novel solution that has utility.

Group ideation, or inventiveness, is therefore optimized by summating the individual contributions of each member of the group, and second, by forcing inventor interaction that builds out versions of a seminal concept. Group sessions are best organized by pre-selecting participants with proven track records of invention. These panels may include either or both internal and external inventors with experience in the field of endeavor, or in unrelated, or adjacent, fields.

Process is the lifeblood of most organizations. Yet inventors do not often represent this Apollonian mindset and as a resource must be valued and protected. In high-risk small startups and investor-backed ventures, for example, internal inventors are often founders rewarded with equity exposure and other at-risk compensation. For large commercial enterprises their presence may be small and the seminal source of individual internal invention made known only if patents are published and inventorship has been properly established. One assumes that the credit for the product of invention is equally distributed across the organization as all inventions are assigned to the whole. Recognizing that success requires both invention and a facilitated development process to achieve commercial value this makes sense. Nevertheless, some organizations do in fact give internal credit, or reward, to commercially successful inventors within their employ through awards, promotions, or employee recognition, but more often as a part of a larger development team. Other companies have constructed dual-ladder hierarchies, or innovation groups, to protect and nurture inventors. Finally, outsourcing may provide immediate access to inventive minds; other resources offer proven proprietary methods to immediately focus and amplify inventiveness against specific company needs such as SpencerHall's Transforum™. These provide low variable cost resource options for innovation management and process-driven facilitation.

Next time:
"Acquisitive Innovation: Developing Assets in Consumer Healthcare"

Dr. Riker's Record


  • Wrote technical recommendation to acquire and switch naproxen OTC as the second NSAID to market (Richardson-Vicks soon acquires from Syntex; later branded Aleve, then sold to Bayer).
  • Oversaw the installation of the first in-house colds virology and clinical sedation testing facility installed within any OTC drug division (Richardson-Vicks/P&G); managed all common cold and allergy key opinion leaders and clinical trials. Proprietary data used to guide technology development and acquisition decisions.
  • Oversaw a 4-year in-house study of common cold symptoms leading to the publication of data supporting the rational use of multisymptom relief products in colds (Richardson-Vicks/P&G).
  • As Associate Director at Richardson-Vicks/P&G, prior to any category switch, managed all clinical evaluation of NSAIDS, non-sedating antihistamines, intranasal steroids and interferon as potential Rx switch opportunities in allergy and the common cold.
  • In a landmark New England Journal of Medicine article demonstrated that average common colds result in significant objective sinus involvement allowing support of multisymptom relief product claims.
  • At P&G wrote and presented technical recommendation for first-in-category OTC switch of an Rx PPI, omeprazole, to senior corporate management (P&G then acquires from Astra; soon branded as Prilosec; first PPI to launch in the mass market).
  • As Chattem's VP R&D & CSO rebuilt R&D and product development organizations to allow line extensions, acquisition of J&J brands, inherent Rx switch capability, and invention/extension of the Gold Bond Ultimate line.
  • The seminal visionary behind the emergence of TENS devices as an incremental segment within the OTC analgesic category.
    • Urged Chattem senior management to develop a TENS device for the OTC market [2004]. Chattem develops Icy Hot Smart Relief as the first branded TENS device to enter the mass analgesic market.
    • Co-founder, co-inventor and investor in Modular Therapeutx, LLC, a 2009 self-funded start-up devoted to bringing to the mass market an integrated, wireless and patented TENS unit to relieve low back pain (global rights licensed to Hollywog, LLC; Hollywog later sublicenses US retail channel rights to a major OTC analgesic brand; launched in mid-2016).
    • Co-inventor of US patent 9,764,133 [granted 9/19/17] claiming the configuration of integrated portable TENS devices controlled remotely by means of a wireless signal in order to allow for wireless activation and control of the device.

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