Perhaps it is just a case of seeing what I want to, but I seem to be finding more and more evidence to support my long-term prediction that for the next few decades at least, we will find that one of the greatest sources of innovation, new ideas, and inspiration will be the developing regions of the world. This is due to:
- The benefit of starting with a a clean slate and having no pre-existing infrastructures, customs, and behaviors to overcome.
- The driving force of necessity, which, as the saying goes, is "the mother of invention".
- The fact that creativity and innovative thinking lies within all 6.6 billion of us on the planet!
Whatever the reasons though, I think we all have a great deal to learn and benefit from these often overlooked and unexpected sources.
Amazing Afrigadget (www.afrigadget.com)
I highly recommend you check out some of the fascinating postings on the AfriGadget site. Some recent ones that I think you might find particularly worthwhile and interesting include:
- An interview with Simon Mwacharo, an entrepreneur whose small business CraftSkills, is based in Nairobi, Kenya. His business focuses on designing and building self-sustaining renewable energy projects in places that do not have access to the electric grid.
- "Powering African Schools with Toys", which is the story of a young inventor, 23-year-old Daniel Sheridan, and his vision of how children playing on a school yard teeter-totter (seesaw) could supply significant amounts of electrical energy for the area.
- A fascinating online overview with lots of great links to mobile phone solutions from another great resource, Jan Chipchase, who works for Nokia. As AfriGadget says, Jan “can best be described as a design and usability ethnographer. He explores the way mobile phones are used worldwide, and reports back to Nokia’s design team. He’s a fascinating person to talk to, and I thought I might highlight some of the stories he’s come up with while exploring in Africa.”
- The Village Phone project (by Grameen Bank) happening in Uganda. Jan has taken an excellent picture and annotated it with the important facts about this project in a rural Uganda.
Well, you get the idea, this site is just full of inspiring stories of powerful, yet often very simple, solutions coming out of Africa. I highly recommend the AfriGadget site as a worthwhile place to spend some time during your next web surfing session.
Benefiting without Eliminating?
As I noted at the start of this posting, one of the key reasons why developing regions are such a rich source of ideas and innovation is that they lack the prior use, habits, and infrastructure that are present in the more developed parts of the world. As you check out the postings on AfriGadget , consider one of the ongoing questions I ponder about all this:
How we can find a way to reap the benefits of these new discoveries, inventions, and innovations, have them spread to everyone and everywhere who could benefit, and yet not interfere or negatively change or inhibit these sources?
The value is partly that people in these regions have not been affected by our thinking, models, assumptions, etc., and so what concerns me is how do we tap into these sources without affecting and changing them?
100 Days and it’s gone?
Perhaps we can't avoid affecting and changing them. Maybe we just want to be sure to maximize the benefits and innovation coming from these sources. This situation might benefit from a tactic I’ve long practiced with new employees, staff, or team members who join an organization that I am part of. I make it a point to meet with these new arrivals, not only to welcome them, but to tell them that for the next 100 days, they have a unique and special value to offer. Because they are new and not indoctrinated, they will see things differently than those who have been with the organization for some time. They will have different assumptions, and they will suggest different solutions to problems. My choice of 100 days is relatively random, but in the several decades I’ve been doing this, it seems to be the amount of time it takes before their newness is lost, and with it this unique and transitory value.
Of course, I am also quick to point out that this is hardly the end of their value (let’s hope!), but rather that this is the moment in time when they have a unique value to offer. My specific recommendations are to have them ask those '”dumb questions” quite loudly and proudly, since they often serve as the spark of new thinking that leads to a better solution. I recommend that those who are around these new arrivals tap into this special value and ask the newcomers for their opinions, their perspectives, and ideas.
More commonly, new people tend to be quiet, study the situation, and assume that they won’t have as much to offer until they get “up to speed” with the norms of the organization and thinking of others, but that approach misses out on a great opportunity.
Learning from the OLPC example?
A more direct example, that I’m still pondering, is the OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) project and similar efforts like:
- The Classmate PC, a low-cost laptop by Intel
- Digital Textbook, a South Korean project that intends to distribute tablet notebooks to elementary school students, and put computers in the hands of the masses in many developing regions.
More specifically, I wonder whether OLPC's decision to offer only the new equipment, but no teacher training, set curriculum, guidelines, and “how to” type of information, was a “bug” or a feature? In part, this was apparently a budget issue—no funds for such materials and programs—but as you might guess, I actually think that purposefully NOT providing this type of training and guidance will produce much more innovative uses and outcomes than if all the “experts” had provided their guidance, opinions, directions, and methods.
Les extremes se touche?
However, I believe there are ways to bridge these two extremes of providing no assistance and providing too much. There are LOTS of parallels here to what makes for great teaching and great learning, and I’ll explore some of these themes later. But for now, sparked by the brilliant light shining out of these often overlooked sources of creativity, I want to focus our collective attention on them to see what we can learn from them, and how we might all benefit more.
I am not suggesting that these developing regions are the only sources of inspiration, innovation, and ideas, nor am I suggesting that as they become more successful, they will lose this wellspring of inspiration. Certainly human history shows otherwise. No, I’m pondering this idea with you because I’m anxious that we pay attention to the characteristics of innovation and invention. I'd like to see us work to find more ways to increase exponentially the volume and diversity of inventions, innovation, and discovery to match this world of exponential change and its accompanying challenges that we are now living in.
I think about these questions ALOT, and so I’d like to develop them a bit further in a future post. For now, I leave you to enjoy and benefit (I hope) from checking out Afrigadget and stimulating you to both look for more and send along some of your favorite sources of innovation, creativity, and invention, wherever they may be.
And as always I’m VERY interested in your perspectives and views. Does this match examples that you are seeing? What are some of the best sources for innovation, invention, and ideas that you are aware of? Think about your last "Aha!" moment, streak of creativity, or invention. What were the conditions and the environment as this was happening? See any common elements in these? Or do you see any common elements that we want to avoid—those that stifle or reduce creativity? I'm anxious to hear your comments, and I’ll be back shortly with more of my thoughts on increasing the volume and diversity of creativity in the world.