Breeding a creative society for driving innovations

If innovations have to be augmented, a creative process of doing things has to replace the mundane systems and activities currently being carried either in schools and colleges or at workplaces. No doubt, creativity is God gifted but a plethora of evidence suggests that it could be enhanced by proper nurturing, training and introducing processes and systems that breeds creativity.

The journey of a successful innovator, entrepreneur, or a startup usually begins with a creative idea (Thinking new things), progresses to innovations (Doing new things), and finally culminates at entrepreneurship by creating value in the market place. These three stages could also be described as opportunity recognization phase, opportunity development phase and finally the value creation phase. But important precursors to all these milestones are the curiosity, imagination, knowledge, skill and creativity which eventually help to give birth to a potential workable idea, driving an individual/s to become a successful entrepreneur. Creativity is the ability to develop new ideas and to discover new ways of looking at problems and opportunities in order to obtain solutions to confronting human problems.

Creativity and innovations are as old as mankind itself. Human beings, modern and ancient, have had the capacity to take existing elements of their environment and modify them to meet their needs. These vital creative acts are, in some ways, what set us apart from other animals. We take a cobble and turn it into a chopper; we take a set of words and create new sentences from them, pieces of straw converted into a fine mat and so forth. I won’t go into the evolution of creativity but Man is believed to be most creative during an early age, mostly during the age group of 5 to 9. A popular perception is that creativity and old age do not mix. Creativity is the domain of the young and to a certain extent this is true, yet not in the way that many of us would expect. At around about the age of five, we are using about 80% of our creative potential. We invent daily – no matter than our inventions have been invented before, the fact is that we are innovating at a remarkable rate. By the age of twelve, our creative output has declined to about 2% of our potential, and it further declines as we grow under the influence of various learning methods imposed on us which we may like or dislike. Our education system further declines our creativity as children hardly are given any creative tasks in their learning curve.  Our Schooling system drill conformity into us. We learn that there is one true way of thinking. We learn that there is one right answer for every problem and that this is the one in the teacher’s head.

Arts and creativity, which are altogether missing in our education system, are basically the two inevitable elements of a comprehensive education strategy. Success is based on knowing what is wanted, not what is interesting. Rather than just studying what is in the lesson through typical lectures and exams, bringing in some arts and skill development exercises can help students to be more creative in classrooms. Tinkering labs and problem-solving workshops can increase creativity. In fact, this way of learning is going to help children to grasp the lessons in a better way, memorize it for long and apply what is learnt in real life in a more tactical way. A creative classroom is a good platform for students to stimulate their extracurricular talents and grow up as creative persons. A good teacher can utilize different strategies to teach difficult subjects by integrating it with arts and amusement techniques. This is a better way of enhancing their interest for learning and makes them more alive in classrooms. Students love to learn with play and arts. This is the right phase to mould them into better creative persons and open them a world of artistry. Mosaics, Scriptwriting, Folk Art, Science labs,  Advertising,  Wire sculptures, Draw a topic,  Map Art, Documentaries, Math Journals, Tinkering labs etc are the educational tools and techniques which can help children to learn fast and enhance their creativity. New and creative learning methods need to be devised and visited. Learn with fun is an important element of imparting education to young minds followed by their Freedom of expression. Children need to be emotionally developed which will certainly enhance his thinking capability. The education system should be designed in such a way that it reduces stress and anxiety, boosts problem-solving skills, improves focus and attention and make him a better communicator. In western societies, schools that have tried experimenting arts with the curriculum are seeing a drastic improvement in the way students have received the learning. Learning through creativity and hands-on experience are good assistance for students to gain a deeper level of understanding of the lessons. A good classroom environment always has some elements of creativity which make the lessons more interesting and interactive. The right mix of creativity along with curriculum helps students to be innovative and also encourages them to learn new things. Students can grow up as good communicators in addition to improving their emotional and social skills. In fact, creative expression plays a key role in a student’s emotional development.

Now, after schools and educational institutions, let us come to the workplace where people spend most of their life. Let’s take a look at why creativity is necessary for optimal work, and how administrators and top officials can foster this spirit within the workplace and its people. In a traditional office life (or factory life), what many of us see as the 9-to-5 grind at a cubicle, or on a table, or on a machine, endlessly dreaming about hartals and weekends–don’t always leave a lot of space for creativity. After all, you generally have a set amount of tasks you need to accomplish, and you’d rather not try something new and innovative when it comes to completing them. In management theory, it is believed that the challenges present in work itself are the greatest source of motivating individuals rather than other benefits and emoluments offered. Such challenges in work can only be inculcated if the creative element of performing a job is kept alive. Being creative at work generally means taking risks, which might make you hesitate, because your boss might scold you to do things differently. Fear of the unknown is a powerful thing, especially when it means you might fail. If you can apply creative thinking to your everyday work life, you’ll find that not only will the day stop feeling like drudgery, but you’ll be unlocking more meaningful results. And this doesn’t just go for employees, but for managers as well–in fact, managers and top officials have the ability to be the conductors of creativity in their staff. Sometimes it has to start from the top. There are two main ways that creativity is absolutely needed in the workplace: creative thinking and creative problem-solving. Creative thinking is pretty simple to define, but a bit harder to implement. Basically, if you’re a creative thinker, it means that you come up with ideas that are entirely unique. But when you start thinking creatively and getting a little daring, you may be surprised at what your brain can come up with. It’s this “throw everything to the wall and see what sticks” method that creative thinkers truly shine at. An additional bonus to being a creative thinker is that you understand the success in failure. Creative thinkers know that one’s talents are best used to make results that might come from unordinary circumstances or out-of-the-box methods. To get these results, you may need to take a risk–something that can be frowned upon in the workplace. This can also be a bit scary because it means you might fail. Creative problem solving comes into play when trying to fix an issue that has many possible resolutions. While a lot of problems in the workplace have one or two clear solutions, creative people have the ability to look at all sides of the issues, and many times can come up with solutions that might be completely new and interesting. Employees and managers benefit from creative problem solving because it can take them–and sometimes the company itself–in a whole new direction. It pays to stray off the beaten path.

The second milestone after creativity is Innovations, doing new things. Innovation is a catalyst for the growth and success of a business. This phase is the successful exploitation of a new idea in the form of a useful product, service or a process. It is a deliberate application of information, imagination and initiative in deriving some value. Few important requirements and elements of this phase are incubation centres with right facilities and mentors to develop a prototype, testing facilities, IPR facilitation centres, identification and procurement procedures of right kind of materials and so forth. Once a prototype has been successfully developed and tested, then we move towards the third phase by creating value in the market place. Here we need to develop a business model and a business plan, identify investors who can invest in the project whether manufacturing (establishing a unit) or offering some useful service, building an organization, procurement of right technology, collaborations and commercialization of products or services. This gives birth to an entrepreneur who now needs support from all corners including government agencies and different stakeholders. The tactical and strategic decision making now become important for an entrepreneur and such decisions must be taken using scientific tools and industrial engineering techniques. An entrepreneur needs to be very passionate, should not give up and accept failures as a stepping stone towards success. He needs to be very passionate, hardworking and honest. The initial journey might be tough but later it is realised that the slope of the graph increases as he advances ahead.  To conclude, few important elements at this stage are: looking for the right timing, a cohesive team, right ideas, enough capital, source of raw materials, sales and exploring the market.  Hence most of the great innovations come from Science where creativity and research is a precursor followed by innovations (invention) and diffusion.

Author is the head of IIED Centre at NIT, Srinagar.