“Forpoon” : An encounter with innovation.

Few years ago, after a shoot and spending overnight at the editing studio, on a drizzling Bombay morning, on my way to the airport, I passed through a construction site; I saw state of the art machinery, the tower cranes, caterpillars, bulldozers, excavators and many more. Not an unusual sight. But a sudden thought struck me and I started wondering how these impressive machines were designed, how they were transformed from few lines on the drawing boards to diesel guzzling mammoth engineering marvels.

I had the usual encounter with security personnel at the airport gate, where they asked for the ticket printout and checked my id (Way back in 2012 they insisted on hard copies). While looking at the extra serious and overtly unfriendly face of the CISF jawan, I realized that Indian Railway has scored one point over our airlines. They have done away with the paper ticket. This is actually an internationally accepted environment friendly innovation .You can imagine the count of trees that are being saved.

Most of us at the airport have the usual pattern after checking in the luggage and going through the security, we either go to the shops at the airport and do some impulse buying or go to the food counters and do some impulse eating. I decided to do the latter. Picked up my dosa and coffee, and then went on to pick up the fork and spoon in reflex, but didn’t find any. I found this unique looking object, spoon and fork together, didn’t know what to call it. Do I call it Forpoon or Spork? I wondered. Sipping my coffee I marvelled at this innovative creation.  Saves the trouble of managing two separate inventories. There is always an imbalance in the number of forks and spoons, as some times more spoons are utilized and at other times, more forks. INNOVATION!!! Ting!!!. This is the word, chasing me since morning. The engineering marvels at the construction site, the ticket story at the security gate and now this forpoon. (I will chose this name because it rhymes with harpoon and sounds like a real gadget, later I discovered that this article does have a name and they call it Spork, my second option).

What triggers innovation? When and in what circumstances a falling apple triggers the thought of a fundamental concept of physics? When a Walter Hunt, a farmer, holding a degree in masonry folds a wire innovatively and invents a safety pin. Can innovation be taught or one should just wait for it to occur. But to answer this one has to decide what innovation is, is it a skill, an art which is teachable, inculcatable? Or is it like something unique happening to a particular person at some time and space, decided by the unknown. I googled and found the definition – “Innovation is the creation of better or more effective products, processes, services, technologies, or ideas that are readily available to markets, governments, and society.”

Well, “creation of better or more effective products, services, technologies or ideas”, Don’t we hire professionals for this purpose? Professionals as we try to make at our management schools, engineering colleges, medical colleges or law colleges. If we just evaluate the process of education and training, in our schools, colleges and even in organizations, we find it is conditioned, it is very strictly modelled, formated, because it is always easy to follow the beaten path, because it is “Safe”, “Tried and tested”. But this affinity to “Tried and tested” is the killer, it murders innovation. It also challenges us to always be on our toes. It also causes insecurity, when you find your student or your junior coming up with an idea which you could not think of despite your experience or degrees.

Innovation is as natural to humans and other animals as is breathing. Innovation is what a chimpanzee does to take out ants from the burrows, innovation is what Red-breasted Nuthatches does when it applies pine tree sap below the nest hole to restrict predator access, its what Great Crested Flycatches does when it displays a shed snakeskin at the entrance of the nest to ward off predators.

But seeds of innovation can grow only on fertile ground, prepared through encouragement, acceptance of failure, and by not being too measurement centric. Innovation is nurtured by asking questions and searching for answers, but unfortunately in our lecture centric education system, most questions are asked by teachers not by students. Since school days, somehow in our verve for cluttering brains with information rather than wisdom, we end up suffocating their questioning ability. By the time a student reaches professional college, very few manage to preserve curiosity, and courage to ask questions.

Innovation is also result of an attitude. Attitude of creating better or more effective products, processes, services, technologies, or ideas that are readily available to markets, governments, and society. An attitude can always be mended, modified, corrected, positioned rightly through awareness, and sharing in non-offensive way. So, it is a good news!!. Innovation can be taught, though only through an innovative process of training!!!

Out of curiosity I looked up Indian inventions and discoveries, ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Indian_inventions_and_discoveries) and was surprised there were so many. But was also disappointed to find that most of them were in the era BC or by Indians working in foreign lands. This suggests two points – One we have the best of brains and secondly that we are structurally and methodically killing the ability to innovate. Academicians and policymakers need to bring their heads together, because the situation is pretty grim. But hey we still have hope: “Forpoons”.

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