Innovation Is Combination

Combinatory play seems to be the essential feature in productive thought.


The story of Fleming’s discovery of innovation is particularly compelling because it aligns so well with the common conception of how discoveries happen: a chance observation, a flash of insight, and Eureka!—the world is transformed. We’ve already seen that the process is far more complex than that, but if we look a little closer, we’ll see that even the discovery itself owes a lot to combining ideas.

To understand how, consider the case of Ignaz Semmelweis,1 a young doctor working in a maternity ward in Vienna General Hospital in the 1840s, who noticed a much higher mortality rate from childbed fever in one clinic ...

Get Mapping Innovation: A Playbook for Navigating a Disruptive Age now with the O’Reilly learning platform.

O’Reilly members experience books, live events, courses curated by job role, and more from O’Reilly and nearly 200 top publishers.