We all know that necessity is the mother of invention. Equally, creativity is the mother of innovation. Easier said than done. We tend to associate creativity only with the arts, not realizing that there is a creative side in each one of us waiting to be tapped. The question is how? How do we activate the creative side of our brain? There are some character traits that help us do so.
This is the biggest block; we are comfortable the way we are. We don’t want to change or do anything different. Change makes us uncomfortable. The mind is accustomed to the routine.
As a result, both we, as individuals, and organizations we are part of, stagnate. Just as our muscles lose power if we don’t exercise them, or our body weakens as a result of a sedentary lifestyle. In similar fashion, staying within our comfort zone makes us mental couch potatoes. The great discoveries and inventions have come about when people have stepped out of their comfort zones.
Nature teaches us to be flexible. Try blocking a plant from growing in a certain direction and you will see how it starts extending itself in another direction. Likewise, a river. It will change course and keep going. Likewise, we have to stretch our body and mind to be flexible. Flexibility helps us adapt to unexpected and diverse situations. We are programmed to look for answers and find innovative ways to get them. We only need to try enough.
Conflict, I believe is the father of creativity. Conflict motivates us to apply ourselves to its resolution. Conflict pushed Gandhi to come up with non-violence as the answer to the might of the British Empire. Brute force would simply have been crushed.
Even in automated manufacturing processes, people are always looking for better efficiencies to release time for workers to attend to tasks that require human intervention. Machines do the routine work and we teach the machines to do it.
A major stumbling block. We have all heard of the adage once bitten twice shy. Every bold initiative faces questions such as: Are you crazy? Haven’t you burnt your fingers before? An inventor or an innovator is never discouraged by failure. Thomas Alva Edison failed over a thousand times before he was successful in giving the world the electric bulb. Failure is the stepping stone to success provided one has the tenacity to keep going.
The power of observation
As they say, always keep your eyes and ears open, and the mouth shut. Many of us tend to do the exact opposite. We miss out on opportunities by not paying attention to things around us.
While setting off on a vacation, the Scottish biologist Alexander Fleming left some unwashed sample culture dishes in his lab. On return, he noticed that a strange fungus had developed on the dishes which had destroyed the bacteria in it. This observation leads to the discovery of penicillin which has since saved millions of lives.
Getting bored is human nature. Often, failure, the repetitive nature of certain tasks or the sheer tediousness leads to a loss of interest and boredom. The innovator must guard against it by constantly pushing himself to break the status quo.
Inventor vs Innovator vs Entrepreneur
There’s a thin line between an inventor and an innovator. An inventor is essentially an adventurer. His is more of an Alice-in-Wonderland kind of life. He is free of responsibilities, peer pressure and perhaps, a bit absent-minded. He is closer to nature and so a discoverer.
An innovator on the other hand is a bit more down-to-earth. He doesn’t want to invent the wheel all over again, choosing to use what’s already been invented to create something new. He will research and develop.
An entrepreneur goes beyond that. He not only innovates but also applies productively what has been innovated. One of the best examples of this character trait is the invention and the evolution of the telephone. Until 1995 we only used landlines. At the turn of the millennium we had mobile phones. Fifteen years down the line we see mobile phones evolving into pocket-size computers. Today we have mobiles phones which are as good as, and even better than personal computers. It’s like having the world in your pocket.
The entrepreneur uses these paths to unlock the creativity in him for it leads to innovation that can be converted into a business opportunity.