All posts by Jean-Louis

Bibliography and Innovation

Bibliography and Innovation

The concept of bibliography seems reserved for academic work or literary essays. Yet it plays a key role in innovation. Here’s why.


The bibliography, an ancient art


A bibliography is a list that references the relevant documentation in a given field. Building a bibliography is an essential act in any action aimed at advancing knowledge.

A bibliography is based on two requirements:

  • Identify prior knowledge to avoid reinventing: nanos gigantum humeris insidentes (“dwarfs on the shoulders of giants”) it is by relying on previous knowledge that we advance it. The bibliography is both a demonstration of strength and humility: to flaunt a knowledge base, but also recognize and attribute authorship;
  • Justify that new knowledge is produced, such as in the case of a doctoral thesis or a patent that need to clearly identify in the bibliography pre-existing knowledge to highlight the originality of the thesis, or the novelty or inventive nature of the patent.

We will not comment using the bibliography for other uses such as measuring the academic performance: it would require a separate development.

Many tools exist to make it easier for students and researchers in establishing a bibliography. Called ‘reference management tools’, they can facilitate the establishment of a bibliography – under certain codified rules for example in the citations -. EndNote, Mendeley or Zotero are such examples that can facilitate this work of collecting, organizing, saving and sharing the bibliography thus established.

Open Innovation, a recent practice


In an innovation activity, the bibliography is also essential: to identify the knowledge, e.g. from publications or patents, which allow the emergence of new ideas on a solid and well-documented basis. The production of new ideas – or questioning preconceived ideas – are obviously key in innovation. This approach must be based on good understanding of the pre-existing knowledge. It is well represented for example by the C-K theory, which explains how innovative design relies on and oscillates between Concepts (C) and Knowledge (K). The bibliography is a key contribution to the “K-space” the knowledge space; concepts (C), which generate the need for new knowledge or are derived from pre-existing knowledge, help identify innovation opportunities.

More informations about CK theory :

In recent years, the rise of Open Innovation, made possible by the development of information and communication technologies, further highlighted the need to integrate existing knowledge – the bibliography – in any innovation flow. It has also stimulated the emergence of new tools. These new tools should both integrate the need for rapid establishment of a bibliography along with quick execution steps. This execution often results in a linking with experts outside the company, who have expertise that the company does not have.

New uses, new tools


Given this new context, platforms specialized in Open Innovation have emerged. They target innovators audiences, at the crossroads between bibliography creation tools and matchmaking, brokerage tools between e.g. innovative enterprises and experts, they have to adapt to these new needs.

To allow to quickly establishing a bibliography with sources of relevant and reliable information (the state-of-the art), to collect and organize information, to save it and to share it, but also to fit in a process of innovative design, these are some of the challenges facing these platforms to enable companies to take advantage of Open Innovation.

Bibliography circle

It is this challenge that ideXlab’s platform addresses : to facilitate access to knowledge, to stimulate innovation and accelerate the execution. Available to all innovators audiences: students, passionate individuals, small and large innovative companies. Try it, contact us, your feedback is precious.

More informations :


Science and music learning

Science and music learning

I never tire of this video of Bobby McFerrin during his time at TEDx. In less than three minutes, we see the singer teaching, with humor, hundreds of people to sing together a complex piece of music … The video is going to allow us to illustrate an original case of link between music and science


This video amazes me and makes me laugh every time!

The means used by Bobby McFerrin to teach the music are very reduced. He does not speak to the crowd, nor uses words. He just sings and moves on the stage and the appropriation of the music is immediate. A first jump puts the song in movement; a side jump allows people to sing a tone above; a jump on the other side to sing a tone below. Not content with communicating the pleasure to make some music together to his public, Bobby McFerrin makes it with humor and kindness.


The absence of words in his teaching is one of the reasons explaining that this music learning works with crowds worldwide. Another reason is probably due to the fact that the music scale used by Bobby McFerrin to get the crowd to sing along is an almost universal scale of five notes called the pentatonic scale. This scale is indeed used, with nuances, in numerous oriental and western music cultures.


But Bobby McFerrin is not the only one to be interested in the pentatonic scale. The applications of that exceed music. Science is also interested in it for surprising applications. It is what we discovered by using the ideXlab search engine. The search engine quickly allows to get an idea of the state of the knowledge – what science tells us – in highly varied fields, including those related with music, as for example the last discoveries concerning the pentatonic scales.


Let us see an example of what science tells us.


A team of neuroscientists at the University of Chengdu and Shanghai Academy of Sciences in China “listen” to the activity of the brain by translating it in the form of music. To do it, they measure the electroencephalogram (EEG) and translate it into musical notes among which the height, the duration and the intensity are calculated by a mathematical processing of the EEG. In recent works, they applied this music production method separately to the right hemisphere and to the left hemisphere of the brain, and then they stacked the melodic lines of both hemispheres. They used successively a heptatonic scale (scale with 7 tones, the most used in western music: do re mi fa sol la si) and a pentatonic sale. Their results demonstrate, by applying this technique to sleeping patients, that the pentatonic scale leads to better differentiation of sleep cycle phases. It also produces music – generated brain waves -which is more harmonious than the heptatonic scale! They don’t comment on whether science so demonstrates that the pentatonic scale is more harmonious or universal than the heptatonic one.


Of course, this work does not explain the effectiveness of learning proposed by Bobby McFerrin. But they illustrate the growing links between music and science, be they cognitive, medical, physical, etc.

bobby mc ferrin music science  pentatonic scale idexlab

One wonders who benefits from these links: artistic practice, by injection of new knowledge as we have seen in this example about the music, or rather the science which is enriched by poetry and humanity?

Open Source VS Open Innovation

Open Source and Open Innovation

We are often asked the difference between Open Innovation and Open Source. And many people confound the two. Let us try to clarify the links between these notions. We will take the opportunity to introduce others (Open Hardware, Open Data, Open Access etc.)

Open Source

Let’s start with the Open Source movement, since it precedes the Open Innovation. This movement was born in the ‘80s around MIT in the United States. It is a reaction to the rise of software vendors emerging in the ’70s. They develop software irrespective of hardware manufacturers and sell it against licenses. So they protect their software and it is often impossible to change what they have developed. Richard Stallman, then a researcher at MIT, reacts against what is a trend opposite to the ‘supporting and sharing’ philosophy of the community of developers and creates a project called GNU, aiming to develop a “free” operating system. He creates a foundation (Free Software Foundation) and writes a manifesto to encourage other developers to join. The first visible success of this initiative will be the Linux operating system which is used today, for example, in all smartphones based on Android.



A few years later, in 1998, the Open Source Initiative (OSI) was born in California. This initiative is especially designed to remove the ambiguity of the English term “free”, which means “libre” (freedom) but also “gratis” (zero price). Open Source promoters don’t deny the economy around the software. Instead, it will rely on paid services (maintenance, improvements, adaptations, etc.) provided together with the software whose licenses are free. OSI clarifies the definition of Open Source and codifies the requirements for a license to be considered compatible. For example, it must allow

modifications and derived works, and must allow them to be distributed under the same terms as the license of the original software.


Open Innovation

The term Open Innovation appeared in 2003 in a book published by Henry Chesbrough. The Open Innovation combines the practice of innovation relying deliberately outside the company in order to improve efficiency or to better promote innovation efforts internally. Chesbrough in his book makes a synthesis of practices which are not new. For example, the use of external knowledge via “gatekeepers” is already identified by Thomas Allen in the ‘60s. Von Hippel in the ‘80 identifies the advanced users (“lead users”) as a key resource to develop disruptive innovations. Overall, Open Innovation promotes the development of flow of knowledge and ideas during the innovation process:


  • between the company and its environment, in order to allow better sharing of risks and rewards with external partners;
  • within the company itself, in order to allow greater involvement of all company employees.


We believe that the real novelties related to Open Innovation were not yet fully in action when the term was coined: we should rather focus on the most recent developments of information and communication technologies to find new tools and practices. They rely on social networks, e-commerce, semantic web technologies, free access data (Open Access, Open Data), etc.


From the preceding introductions, it is clear that Open Source and Open Innovation are very different concepts. Let’s mention four important differences.

  1. First of all, regarding the objects involved: software for the Open Source; any type of product or service for the Open Innovation. This difference could partially fade away in the coming years since the production of physical objects is now tackled by derivatives of the Open Source movement such as the Open Source Appropriate Technologies (OSTA) or, more recently, by the Open Source Hardware.
  2. Next, regarding the economic and legal framework proposed. The Open Source provides a framework for economic exchange and an intellectual property policy. Open Innovation leaves these questions totally open. Nothing, for example, defines the conditions for participation of a “lead-user” or of an expert to an Open Innovation challenge.
  3. The weight of the actors. In Open Innovation, the terms of exchange above are often dictated by a large company or defined though a specialized intermediary. These intermediaries don’t really exist in the Open Source since the production and provision of the code may be done via computer servers (forges, repositories).
  4. Finally, the diversity of Open Innovation contexts is huge whereas Open Source covers software development or improvement. Companies use Open Innovation for very upstream projects (ideation, ideas competition), as well as problem solving, improving existing products, mounting research projects, etc.

Common points

But there are also strong commonalities between the two. We will mention four.

  1. The displacement of company borders. Both approaches call into question the boundaries of the traditional business, emphasizing collaboration, sharing, decentralization. They lower the barriers of language and geography (although there is a strong dominance of English and the United States), thus allowing a global flow of ideas and information;
  2. Open Innovation and Open Source value what is today called collective intelligence, recognizing that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”, that diversity, independence and decentralization of opinions and ideas allowed by the internet provide access to a richness which was difficult to implement before;
  3. An important element of motivation is the desire to work for the common good. This concern is probably stronger in the Open Source movement (and especially in the Free Software), but we often find this motivation among participants in Open Innovation processes, whether experts, employees or individuals;
  4. Finally, the information and communication technologies play a key role in both the access to information and knowledge, in the production and proliferation of data, and in the circulation of ideas. The Open Access movement promotes unrestricted online access to peer-reviewed scholarly research. This enables a better flow of scientific ideas that need to be read and criticized in order to progress.

open source vs open innovation idexlab infography

Possible convergences?

Are the difference meant to disappear and could the two notions, Open Source and Open Innovation, converge? We’ve seen that Open Source initially focused on the software, but it inspires other movements around products/hardware. On the other hand, the total absence of a common reference framework in Open Innovation in the current state is a weakness. It is today compensated, for example, by intermediaries, but it would probably be appropriate to launch a reflection on some basic rules aiming for example to protect the interests of the contributors to ideas, information and knowledge.


We bet that the commonalities that unite the two practices and are expressed in many other emerging practices are a strong enough base to make the theory and practice of Open Innovation evolve. Open Innovation is still young and lacking guidelines.



The experts are essential to our businesses, particularly those wishing to innovate. Innovation often requires, starting from market and customers’ expectations, to answer new questions. Experts have knowledge related to their education, experience and practice. They can therefore propose relevant solutions to these issues as they fall within their area of expertise. They are the embodiment of state- of-the-art in their field. Companies seeking to innovate need them. Unable to control all areas internally, these companies must learn, in our connected world, to seek external experts who can enable them move forward. It is this need that is addressed by innovation and expert detection platforms such as ideXlab’s.

However, finding the right experts for a given domain doesn’t necessarily happen by itself. And besides, what exactly is a “good” expert? And how do we find one?

The “good” expert

We can illustrate our answer to the first question thanks to the Venn diagram in the figure below.


the good expert

Experts who can answer a question asked by a company must have three qualities: be competent, of course; be available to interact therewith; be open to adapt their competencies to the company’s issues.

Availability. It often happens to find an expert who seems ideal on paper, but not available: he/she doesn’t have time or simply doesn’t feel like getting involved. This crippling lack of availability reduces the expert to a phantasm for the seeker. Einstein in his time would certainly have brought joy to hundreds of companies but he was too busy to devote time to them. Nowadays, certain university professors, for example, who are authorities in their field, won’t have a minute to spend for companies searching for answers.

Openness. Certain experts also lack the openness needed for this type of exercise. It is really rare that the question asked to overlap exactly the areas mastered by the expert. The expert has to carefully examine the issue prior to tailoring its response to the context of the company, also to show empathy and listening. He/she may have to agree to add other competencies, for example to industrialize his/her solution. Otherwise, he/she will propose a dogmatic and theoretical answer which will be eventually difficult to integrate within the company. These qualities, which are often found in this population, however, are not systematic.

Competency. Finally, the proliferation of open platforms allows everyone – both experts and non- experts – to propose solutions to problems, thus making it possible for curious and available individuals to offer their services. Unfortunately, their proposals are often a waste of time for the company at the origin of the issue, as they don’t have the depth needed to provide real added value. Moreover, the competency is based on knowledge which is not absolute and may be controversial: a reputable real knowledge at a given time can, for example, be rebutted by the advance of science. It is therefore recommended not to engage with only one competent expert, but with several.

The “good” expert thus meets these three qualities: availability, openness and competency.

How to find the ‘good’ experts?

On the ideXlab platform, we take into account the three qualities mentioned above.

Firstly, the competency is ensured by the analysis of digital footprints left by the experts we seek. These digital footprints, for example, are the fruit of scientific publications (reviewed by peers) or patents (reviewed by trained patent experts) that guarantee a high quality content. The competency of our experts is evaluated automatically by our algorithms and takes into account the bibliometric data and their social network environment.

Secondly, the availability: we contact simultaneously several experts who are carefully selected, but rarely solicited because of their overall number (we estimate we can contact more than 10 million experts worldwide) and the accuracy provided by the analysis of our algorithms. Too many platforms now contact too often the experts they have in their database. The quality of their responses deteriorates over time. The experts who meet the demands of ideXlab do so because they are interested in the question they are asked, and because they feel able to provide the resource for answering or contributing. Others – not interested, not available – don’t bother to answer and that’s fine as well!

Finally, the openness: we calibrate our expert engagement campaigns to systematically interact with several of them in order to ensure a diversity of responses or opinions. The interaction facilitated by the platform also allows to very quick understanding on the basis of simple questions, the degree of the expert’s openness of and his/her ability to adapt to the context of the company.

The “good” expert is the rare resource of the innovative and competitive company in the 21st century. Fortunately, current technology allows for easy identification and linking. This is a significant step forward towards a more rewarding and effective collaboration between industry, academia and the world of experts in general.


The Tricorder : becoming a reality thanks to Open Innovation ?

The Tricorder, an invention from Star Trek

The TV series Star Trek invented a device, the Tricorder, which was rather unnoticed until Qualcomm decided to create an Open Innovation challenge around it. One version of the Tricorder was helping human beings to make their own reliable health diagnoses in less than 30 seconds.

With the proliferation of watches, wristbands and smartphone applications for measuring physiological parameters, it is not surprising that the Tricorder has attracted the attention of Qualcomm, a leading company in mobile technologies.

Contained in a squared box of the size of a car radio, the main Tricorder features were sensing, computing and recording of data of various kinds. In the TV series, the standard Tricorder was a device used primarily to scout unfamiliar areas, make detailed examination of living souls, and record and review technical data. A special version of the Tricorder could be used by the doctors of the vessel to measure health parameters of the crew thanks to a detachable probe. This is the version of the Tricorder that inspired Qualcomm.

From science fiction to reality

Many health parameters are today easily measured by consumer electronics devices, such as blood pressure, heart rate and temperature.

Many technologies implicitly used by the Tricorder have also made ​​considerable progress: wireless sensors, data analytics, interactive data representation, artificial intelligence, diagnostic technologies based on the collection of physiological data. The combination of these technologies allows to consider making Tricorder a reality and to help detect conditions such as Anemia, Atrial Fibrillation, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, Diabetes, etc.

It is complex to integrate all these technologies in a device that is both functional and attractive to users. Current attempts with wristbands or watches are far less ambitious than the Tricorder. They already measure some physiological parameters but also highlight the need to combine sophisticated technologies in a friendly design. It is not wise to propose a Tricorder in his Star Trek Version if a broad adoption is envisaged ! It will therefore be necessary to be creative in the design as much as in the technology.

Open Innovation, a method and an accelerator

This is where Open Innovation can help. In order to make the Tricorder a reality soon, Qualcomm, supported by XPrize Foundation, offers a $ 10 million prize to the team that will offer the best realization. Much freedom is given to the teams: they can take their own approach to design and functionality. Some directions are provided, for example, a maximum weight (less than 5 pounds) and a list of health conditions to be diagnosed. But much freedom is given to the teams regarding the form factor or usage pattern of the future Tricorder : with or without display; for daily or occasional use; coupled or not to a smartphone; etc.

The timeline is very tight: the first tests with users and the effectiveness of diagnoses are expected in the second half of 2015 with an award ceremony by early 2016.

Of course, the $10 million price is a powerful incentive. But we can also bet that the teams that best integrate the spirit of Open Innovation will also be the most effective. They need to reach quickly various experts outside their familiar ecosystem to cover all the competencies required in so many engineering and medical fields. They will also need to get really close to users to get their inputs and feedback. Platforms and methodologies specialized in Open Innovation are therefore very recommended to win the challenge.

It is under these conditions that the best team will make the new version of the Tricorder a success … and the creators of Star Trek some real visionaries!