If you think innovation is expensive, try complacency

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From linear drags into exponential leaps

A question crest at the entrance of a lab at MIT

Innovation is one of the key competencies in the New National Pre-tertiary Education Curriculum Framework. It is defined as “the ability to think of new ways of solving problems and developing technologies for addressing the problem at hand. It requires ingenuity of ideas, art, technology and enterprise.’’ The competence supports people to think independently and creatively.

Another competency is “Personal development and leadership”. It involves “Improving self-awareness, self-knowledge, skills, health; building and renewing self-esteem; identifying and developing talents, fulfilling dreams and aspirations and developing other people or meeting other people’s needs.” 

It involves “recognising the importance of values such as honesty and empathy; seeking the well-being of others; distinguishing between right and wrong; fostering perseverance, resilience and self-confidence; exploring leadership, self-regulation and responsibility, and developing a love for lifelong learning.”

Yet another competency is “Digital literacy” to upgrade learners to discover, acquire skills in and communicate through ICT to support their learning and make use of digital media responsibly.”

Linear growth vs exponential growth

Back in the day, chairing an interview in Tamale for promotion of teachers into district and regional heads, I suggested to the interviewees to take some three to six months course in ICT to help advance their careers.

The recommendation was based on the premise that we do better when we yearn to know more, excel in different ways and grow more in the process. True experience happens when the three competencies – outlined above – are acquired in such a consistent fashion that results are exponential in that progress for upward mobility is clearly visible all around. Exponential growth is the progress in leaps. 

On the other hand, I let it be known quite clearly to the applicants that doing the same things the same way, every year, over and over again, even for 10 or more years, does not necessarily count as an experience. The moment we stop learning new things, the quicker the brain neurons atrophy, and a person declines into dormancy.


As they say, everything knowable is not yet already known! Progress involves learning how to reject passivity since the unknown is not revealed from docility, but from a series of open ended inquiries and discoveries. For radical ideas to evolve to make things yet unseen real, it takes stepping out of the ordinary into another space.

Imagine how the ribbon typewriter evolved into the word processor; from kodak print photo machine into digital format; from the post office into the instant email; etc.

For innovation to happen, one must  adventure first into the yet unknown terrains where rich thoughts which lay latent in our core may now be projected through examining possibilities. 

In stepping out into an adventure – into the unknown – a good starting point from which to launch one’s creative powers is to be out and about exploring the environment with keen observing eyes and ears.

Innovators’ mindset

There are typically 3 types of people; one, those who make things happen; two, those who watch things happen; and three, those who ask, “What happened?” On that note one may defer to Eleanor Roosevelt (1884 – 1962) who observed that “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.”

Innovators belong to the pioneering group of people who make things happen, who search for solutions. They create the future. According to Peter Drucker, innovators tend to ask, “what must I do to be prepared for danger, for opportunities and above all for change? And accordingly, they set goals for productivity improvement in mind.” 

People with such mindsets “think through the work needed to turn an idea into a product, a business, or a technology.” They tend to “pursue the best ideas or if none is practical, start again,” according to Drucker.

Trail blazers instinctively avoid conventional wisdom, old ideas, and antiquated  methods. They break out of systems and challenge conditioned reflexes; they rub against the normal grain. Academic degrees and titles may not necessarily be substitutes for future sense.

Enabling physical, psychological space

Intentional physical and psychological architecture provides the space to help moor people out of docility. As said succinctly by James Clear in his book, Atomic Habits, “habits change depending on the room you are in and the cues in front of you”. Tagged “Tiny Changes, Remarkable Habits”, the thought reminded me of a science lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), in the Boston area. 

On top of the main entrance to one of the many labs is a huge sign, an enormous question mark -? Before you enter the lab, that bold sign alerts you by instigating questions: What do you have in mind? What solutions are you looking for to solve a societal problem? In other words, what concerns ail you? 

Are you intent on being innovative to design a product, a process, or a particular service to mankind, to make another person’s life easier? Where’s that fire in the belly to spark you to birth answers? Are you an entrepreneur buoyed with a purpose? The questions are the answers!

Critical thinking

Though flowing with juicy degrees and succulent titles, many people tend to ignore the powerful role of innovative thinking in their lives. So, many are reactionary and often passive victims of their own boxed-in restrictive thinking or lack of critical thinking. That is to say, they are hurt rather than uplifted through how inertly they see the world they live in. Put another way, If you are not progressing, you are regressing. The unwanted outcome is the poverty in the midst of plenty.

Email: anishaffar@gmail.com

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