'Creative', 'critical', and 'strategic' approaches to tech discovery

This article draws on an idea from a LinkedIn course taught by Becky Saltzman ("Critical thinking for better judgment and decision-making"). The course distinguishes three modes of thinking: creative, critical, and strategic.

These three modes of thinking are useful for tech discovery as well. Below is a description of each mode, when best to use it, how it works in practice, and some examples.

A longer-form article with additional background is available in our blog.

Creative tech discovery

Creative tech discovery aims to unearth new ideas, solutions, and perspectives.

When to use it

Creative tech discovery is best for addressing questions such as:

  • What could be a game-changing or breakthrough innovation in my field of interest?
  • How are similar problems solved in other industries?
  • Might there be a completely different technological approach to solving my problem?

How it works

In terms of data sets, 'Venture Capital', 'Funded Research Projects', and 'Markets' (context markets in particular) are good places to start.

You could also use Mergeflow's Emerging Technology topics for inspiration. 


Here are some examples that use creative tech discovery:

Critical tech discovery

The goal of critical tech discovery is to validate assumptions, or to check the plausibility of new findings. These new findings could be results of creative tech discovery, for example.

When to use it

Critical tech discovery is best for addressing questions such as:

  • How plausible is this market size estimate that I found?
  • Is this technology really "early stage" or "mature"?
  • Could this technology be a hype?

How it works

Critical tech discovery often uses back-of-the-envelope calculations. For example, in order to verify a market size estimate, you can use population or revenue data from Wikipedia to make educated guesses. We describe in detail how to do this in one of our tech discovery guides.

You can also use distributional data from Mergeflow, for example for estimating technology maturity.


The following articles from our blog are examples of critical tech discovery:

Strategic tech discovery

Strategic tech discovery aims to develop plausible future scenarios.

When to use it

Strategic tech discovery is useful to address questions such as:

  • If I used this new tech in my product, what would it enable me to do that I couldn't do otherwise?
  • How likely is it that this emerging technology will be commercially available in two years from now?
  • What could be the innovation strategies of companies in a certain tech field? 

How it works

For developing plausible future scenarios, a core question is, What needs to change in order for something else to happen? For example, you could ask what still needs to happen for a given technology to be commercially available. For instance, if this technology only shows up in R&D, a lot more still needs to happen than if it also shows up in venture investments or market estimates. You can see this distribution across data sets when you do a 360° search in Mergeflow.

In order to infer possible innovation strategies of companies in a certain tech field, you can use Mergeflow's Grid Search. With Grid Search, you can see, for example, areas of innovation where there are patents but no published R&D. Such a pattern could hint at strategic intentions of companies holding the patents in these areas. After all, if a company holds patents in an area where nobody else seems to be doing anything, this might give them a particularly great advantage.


Here are examples that talk about strategic tech discovery:

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