top of page

Professor Alf Rehn is a thought-leader in innovation and creativity, as well as an au-thor, strategic advisor, and speaker. His latest book is Innovation for the Fatigued, and he can be found at or on social media as @alfrehn

Professor of innovation, design and management

Alf Rehn

Alf Rehn

Faculty of Engineering, University of Southern Denmark

What are the essential digital tools for innovation?

Before one starts discussing the specifics of digital tools, I believe it is important to discuss innovation tools more generally. Sure, digitalization can be a tremendous help, and our new tools can be nigh magical in their capabilities, but one shouldn’t imagine that innovation can-not be done in an analog fashion as well.
Consider what I believe to be one of the most essential tools for creativity and innovation – the humble notebook. Sure, today I have a wonderful digital notebook that never runs out of space, translates my scribbles to text, and works as a reading device as well. All that said, it is still the simple act of putting pen to paper that is the very beating heart of innovation work – the capture of ideas and the material act of starting to execute the same. Something similar could be said for the much-derided suggestion box for ideas, the black-/whiteboard, or the humble archive cabinet for storing documents about prior tests and experiments.
What I find is that companies far too often get over-excited about the potential and capabilities of digital tools, and miss out on the core fact of any tool: A tool in itself is nothing, and the proof is in the use. You can invest any amount of money in the fanciest idea management system, but unless people use it, it is worthless. You can get everyone on your team the most expensive tablet on the market, but if they only use them for email and Netflix, you’ve done nothing innovation-wise. Conversely, a culture where people are keen to capture and document ideas can do wonders with nothing fancier than cheap legal pads and pencils.
So, do invest in the best possible tools for your culture, but make sure your culture is up to scratch first. This also means that you should pay heed to the old adage “softly, softly, catchee monkey”. Too often I’ve seen companies thinking that they should build their stack of innovation tools in one fell swoop, without considering that this might in fact overload and overtax the organization. Every new tool – no matter the interface – is a new thing to learn, a new potential for cognitive overload. Thus it is important to choose one’s battles and pick new tools not only for their potential but also for their fit [ ... ]


Read the complete answer and 122 more responses from 60 leaders on 22 questions: download the free eBook


280+ pages of innovation wisdom.

Get your FREE copy now!

bottom of page