I attended a conference recently on business innovation, hosted at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Wheaton, Illinois (USA). Accelper Consulting (www.accelper.com) sponsored this conference, and one of the primary organizers was Preveen Gupta (author of Business Innovation in the 21st Century). A member of my Linkedin connections gave me complimentary passes. During break, I discovered Preveen’s name in the IIT student newspaper, and asked him about his faculty position. As we chatted a bit, we discovered a common element. My black belt was from Motorola, and Preveen was one of the founders of the Motorola Six Sigma process. What an honor and a privilege!
Now what is The Morning of the Magicians, and what does it have to do, with a conference on innovation? Well, it’s a book by Louis Pauwels and Jacques Bergier, written in the early sixties, described at www.amazon.com. Many years ago, when I did book reviews for the Aurora University newspaper, this one was well received. You see, while the authors deal with topics sometimes considered “off the wall”, they do deal with innovation. They see it as “Reason … pushed to extreme limits … operating on a higher level, linking up with the mysteries of the mind and spirit, the secrets of energy and universal harmony.” This book may “stretch our imagination,” but it does provide us with visions of innovations – by ancient pioneers. Now we are in IIT, looking at innovation by these centuries’ pioneers. The early visionaries hoped that magic would lead to innovation. This century’s visionaries hope that innovation will lead to magic.
What is innovation?
If you listen to the conference talks, there are many different definitions of innovation, presented by the various speakers. Let’s look at a common, basic set of definitions, from www.dictionary.com:
- A creation (a new device or process) resulting from study and experimentation [syn: invention]
- The creation of something in the mind [syn: invention]
- The act of starting something for the first time; introducing something new; “she looked forward to her initiation as an adult”; “the foundation of a new scientific society” [syn: initiation]
There are a couple examples I can share, of innovation from an historical perspective:
- In India, they came up with an ingenious way to catch monkeys. Hunters would take a coconut, cut a small hole inside, and position a banana there. When the money places his hand inside the coconut, to obtain the banana, the monkey can’t get his closed fist outside the coconut. So the early hunters used innovation, coupled with the monkey’s greed, to trap him.
- I was chatting with an engineer, who graduated from MIT, on a cold, rainy morning, at the train station. Shippers shipping a product from China through the Panama Canal discovered something about cost and convenience. It’s cheaper and more convenient to ship the goods by ship to California, drive them by rail through the US, and continue the journey by ship from the Pacific.
Please note that these examples weren’t presented at this conference.
Some notable encounters
There was an interesting encounter with a PhD-US government worker. In case you aren’t aware, it takes about three years to obtain a full security clearance, according to this person. Now this person could have obtained a PhD from a pretentious school in India (or the US or Europe, for that matter), but decided to go to Japan. There were additional barriers with this decision, as he had to immense himself for six months in language training, before going to graduate school. But his father was an engineer, working for a Japanese company. And this person thought that Japan was a pioneer in innovation. I’m sure he obtained a more solid Japanese grounding, rather then a plain grounding in western culture.
While we are on the subject of universities, some notable pioneers are flashing across my mind. In the creative area, the University of Iowa has a well-known writing program. But it was established over 70 years ago. And today the rage in education is non-traditional approaches, such as online degree programs, regional programs, etc. These also amount to considerable cost savings, as they eliminate the need for brick and mortar facilities. Yet the University of London and the University of South Africa (UNISA) had remote programs – through the PhD level – well over 100 years ago.
Along came Thomas Edison
There were other interesting presentations. One was done by a longhaired chap, which could easily be mistaken for a rock star. But by utilizing his brilliant business innovation, he could thrust American Express into a noticeable, market share increase. But the most fascinating presentation was on Thomas Edison. A person, who has connections to Edison in the family tree, presented it. Now when it comes to tracing genealogy, the Latter Day Saint’s churches have the best facilities. But let’s get back to Thomas. Here was a person with little or no formal education, who amassed an amazing amount of accomplishments. In the famous self-help book, Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill, a good chunk is devoted to Thomas. I highly endorse this book, and this was my most enjoyable presentation.
Solitude and Innovation
Some folks might criticize me, for not being more detailed, on individual workshops and presenters. If I were to do that, I could write a book. But a key point made in the Edison presentation was the use of solitude, in coming up with innovate ideas. For the record, I spend two hours a day in solitude, and find it really fuels my creative side. Some folks have asked what I consider the best methods of meditation and contemplation, so I will outline four:
- From the Christian western side, there is the “centering prayer”, and the Quaker practice of sitting in silence.
- From the Buddhist side, there is the practice of “insight meditation” and Zen.
- From the Indian side, there is the practice of yoga.
- From the scientific side, there is a practice called the Relaxation Response by Herbert Benson.
Please note that I didn’t give any endorsements of “commercial” approaches to solitude and meditation/contemplation, such as TM. I think that the classical approaches I outlined, will work just as fine. Most commercial ones can be considered under the category of “constipation”.
Conclusions from Timbuktu
I asked my assistants from Timbuktu, named in my last blog entry on “bad movies”, what they had to contribute on the topic of innovation. I’m almost embarrassed to present it, but I will, for the sake of presenting their ideas. They mentioned to obtain the hottest pepper you could find, and place the following items besides the pepper:
- A glass of beer
- A glass of water
- A glass of milk
Then eat the hot pepper, and determine both the best and worst, of the three remedies. The goal is to cool down the hot pepper effects. I think I will pass on this experiment. If you feel like trying it, please comment on your experimental results.