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The Innovation ‘Golden Triangle’

The Innovation ‘Golden Triangle’

| On 06, Oct 2019

Darrell Mann

98% of all innovation attempts end in failure. 98% of all TRIZ-originated innovation attempts end in failure. 98% of all Design-Thinking-originated innovation attempts end in failure. The same 98% figure applies to almost every problem-solving tool, method or strategy available to prospective innovators.

98% of innovation attempts fail because 100% of innovation problems are complex and 98% of the people tasked with conducting the work either didn’t understand that or weren’t using tools commensurate with the complexity.

So what did the 2% of successful attempts do? The clear answer is that they knowingly – or, sometimes, accidentally – found themselves in the right place at the right time with the right solution at the right price for the right customer. Getting all of these things right all together is a challenging task for which there is no ‘formula’, other than a recognition that the innovation project needs to be coordinated ac-cording to the demands of the ‘Golden Triangle’ region of our Complexity Landscape Model:

What this means is that, because the super-system environment is complex, the innovation team leadership need to coordinate the project with the requisite level of capability. The ‘system’ needs to be lead with appropriate understanding of how complex systems behave, and such that the tools, methods and strategies brought to bear over the course of the project are commensurate with the level of complexity of the task at hand.

The Golden Triangle is a relatively small area of the overall Complexity Landscape, but it is the portion where every innovation project will find itself.

That last sentence is a pretty big statement. And as such probably demands some justification and explanation. Two things are important to bring into the discussion. The first relating to how the various different tasks that need to be performed during the project are managed, and the second relating to a higher-level view of the typical trajectory of innovation projects as they relate to the ‘Hero’s Journey’.


Just because the innovation project leaders need to be capable of surviving (and thriving) in the Golden Triangle, doesn’t mean they can expect every member of the team to be there with them. At least not all of the time. A big part of – particularly – the early stages of an innovation project will be about managing the unknowns (see the lead article in the February 2019 ezine, Issue 203). Some of these will require the team to fully embrace the complexities of the outside world. Especially of the customer. But many will not demand this happens. Some will, for example, be able to be conducted as laboratory experiments where the ‘external environment’ can be heavily constrained. Some, to take another example, will be ‘classic’ TRIZ contradiction-solving tasks. Overall, the Project lead is likely to find themselves coordinating a constellation of tasks that will look something like this:

In this way, the project is better able to take due account of the level of capability of different members of the team and different parts of the organisation. The only critical factor, then, is that each of those tasks is managed with the requisite level of capability. i.e. they are placed above the Ashby Line and in the ‘Resilience Zone’ discussed in last month’s article of that name.

Hero’s (Complex) Journey

Life rarely goes to plan. Shit happens. Shit especially happens in the nebulous, turbulent netherworld between the s-curve we just left and the new one we’re trying to reach. If Joseph Campbell was right with his Hero’s Journey model, and if we’re right thinking it is totally relevant to the innovator’s journey, when we plot a typical Hero’s Journey trajectory onto the Complexity Landscape Model, it will look something like this:

More details can be found about why this trajectory looks the way it does can be found in the article ‘Hero’s (Complex) Journey’ on Darrell’s blog site. More relevant here is that a typical innovation project is going to inevitably find itself below the Ashby Line for much of the time, and, again by definition, during the most difficult parts of the Journey, both the ‘system’ and the surrounding environment will be in chaos. This is the reality. A reality that the innovation project leader is expected to navigate through. The best – only? – way that the leader can hope to do this in any kind of repeatable manner is to spend as much time as they possibly can looking at what’s going on from the perspective offered from the Golden Triangle.

If the leader does their job right, and the project ends up in the 2% of successful ones, like Campbell’s Journey, it is likely that the point the team ends up in will be closer to the Golden Triangle than they were at the beginning of the Journey. In both Campbell’s and the innovation project leader’s terms, this shift is all about the new knowledge acquired. As such, each successful innovation project should create an increase in the Innovation Capability Maturity of those that went on the journey.

So Far, So Good…

Ultimately, its all very well being able to plot how things are supposed to be on a hypothetical Landscape model, but its only really of any practical use to an innovation team, or team-leader, or organisation if its possible to actually measure where we are on the map. This is an issue we’ve been devoting quite a bit of research time to in the past few months. We’re now at the point where we know its definitely possible to make meaningful measurements of both a team’s level of complexity capability and that of the environment surrounding them. The plan is to call the relevant measurement, the ‘Ashby Margin’. Here’s how we see the measurement being performed:

The Ashby Margin covers a range from -1 to 1. A system that finds itself sitting on or below the Disintegration Line will have an Ashby Margin of -1; a system sitting on the Ashby Line will have an Ashby Margin of 0; a system with an Ashby Margin of +1 sits right at the top of the Resilience Zone, at a point where, taking the lead from NN Taleb, we might consider that system to be ‘AntiFragile’.

Next month, we’ll dig deeper into how we set about making the measurement. Spoiler alert: it will have something to do with PanSensic.




  1. Narges

    Really interesting, the articles of professor Darrell Mann always excite me, this subject is so interesting that I cannot wait until next month.
    Thank for useful articles