Innovation and the InnovatorBooks Logodown

By John Stephen Veitch

Innovation doesn't just happen, an innovation is the result of daring to live and work within a new paradigm.  Contrary to the television programme "Made in New Zealand", our firms are not good innovators.  The qualities of innovators are not appreciated.  Innovators prove hard to work with, they ask too many questions, they are too independent.  Innovators disturb the status quo, they are capable of changing things.  Many of our best innovators are among the unemployed, trapped outside the work force.  The experience of unemployment is developing a group of angry people who have been disadvantaged by circumstances beyond their control.  This anger generates energy which needs to be directed into becoming knowledgeable, innovative and productive.  The alternatively that energy will be directed to violence and anti-social activity. 

Innovation is a personal activity.  Groups don't have ideas, people do.  Other people can help, contact with like minded peers is essential and the support of a mentor can be vital.  There is a silly notion that everyone can be instantly creative, so "let's do it" now.  A brainstorming session is held, over a hundred ideas are produced, lots of original or creative suggestions are made, but no progress is likely.  Innovative ideas need to be integrated with real events and adapted to the availability of resources and skills.  Innovation is not the result of 100,000 monkeys randomly typing.  Innovation happens when one prepared person gets an insight that produces a workable proposal.  Innovation is not the result of 50 or 100 unprepared people blindly making suggestions.  That is merely an entertainment that pretends to be a productive activity.  In contrast, the suggestions of 5 well prepared people might be very valuable.  The problem is always to find one well prepared person let alone five.  In regards to unemployment, the real issue is how do we improve the skills and innovative capacity of every member of the community?  How do we make every person a learning person outside of schools and learning institutions?  How do we make every firm a learning organisation?  How do we up-grade the skills of a whole nation? 

You can attend as many courses as you wish.  You can be taught by the best teachers, you can learn the material so that you can pass the exam, but only a tiny fraction of that work will become part of you.  This is why the training of the work force cannot be done in the schools and universities.  You can get a head start in class, but the best training is integrated with your life and is discovered in daily activity.  The hidden message of schools and universities is that you can only get your training in a class as an educational consumer.  Where in our society do we teach people to become continuous learners outside the classroom?  We hope life-long learning will happen, and for everyone to some extent it does.  There is that haphazard and random activity most people call the school of life, where you take the test first and if you fail you try to learn the lesson.  Too many people get all their adult education that way.  Continuous learning from life experience cannot be effective without recording, measuring and re-organising one's own data.  Who has their own data?  Sadly, not very many. Experienced continuous learners find data at work, in community activities, on television, in books and in nature.  The environment is your laboratory, but without the systematic collection of data it is not the source of growth it might be.  Who has the confidence to begin collecting their own data at age 20 knowing that the value of this work may not be evident for ten years or more?  When is anyone told that such an activity might be useful, let alone essential to future success? 

The essential power-house of any community is what people do as volunteers. It's in the ability of people to raise their hands and say I'll do that, to make suggestions and then volunteer to lead the project.  The willingness of people to volunteer for activities that they are not paid for is critical. Much of the best work of any community is unpaid work.  Those who study, those who lead or coach in sports clubs, those who work in cultural clubs, those who care for children, those who undertake private research and those who are active members of political parties.  That doesn't count all the voluntary work most of us do inside our families, the daily round of caring for each other.  When that work is done nobody counts it, but when it's neglected look at the cost; the misery, the broken lives, the crime, the addiction cost, the loss of educational opportunity, the social welfare cost, and the loss of productivity. 

Every innovator begins as a volunteer.  To make progress he/she must become an advocate, a team builder, a mentor and a finder of resources.  Modern innovations are likely to be team events.  The ability to build and sustain that team is critical.  The champions inability to talk to people about the idea is often a problem preventing progress.

John Veitch