Lessons from the bright eyes of innovation

It is my privilege to meet up with a wide variety of people and organisations that serve the broad entrepreneurial community. One of these is Quintin Burger.

Quintin is from Mecad Systems who are the resellers of engineering software technology namely Solidworks.

Quintin gets exposed to businesses that range from small start-ups building braais to larger manufacturers building filling machines and tanker trailers.

He has a passion for the entrepreneurship space and witnessing the bright eyes of great ideas and innovation.

Quintin heard a talk by Jason Wardle, the ex-head of innovation at Disney in the USA, and he will be sharing some of the inspiration he took from Jason in this article.

A question that he grapples with is how will artificial intelligence, machine learning… the power of the cloud… shape our future?

“I believe we as humans have a secret weapon and this is creativity and imagination”.

If you have kids you will relate to this story: you go to the mall, you find the limited edition BLiPPi play set that your daughter has been begging you for.

The big day arrives when you deliver the gift and it gets torn open with great joy, only to be played with for 10 minutes while she spends the rest of the day playing with the box that it came in. Why is that? Well it’s because it can be whatever they want it to be. A rocket, castle, Barbie house, sports car. At some point in your life somebody told you not to be childish or that you can’t use your imagination and you stopped.

Our education teaches us that there is only one answer to a problem, yet children are naturally curious and don’t necessarily look for the only answer.

● A little bit on your brain

Here is another question for you. Where were you when you had your greatest idea? In the bath? Having a run? Walking on the beach? Riding your bike? It’s funny that most people won’t say at work.

Okay, let’s play this game again, picture the last fight you had. You are mad pumping your hands in the air as your neighbour rides over your wheelie bin… what are you doing man! You then settle back down 20 minutes later, have a cup of coffee and then boom, that magic one-liner comeback comes to you.

Your brain is a funny thing and you operate on about 13% of it in auto mode.

This is called busy beta. Running around after kids planning school pick-ups, answering emails, checking the news… you just don’t have time to think.

Sometimes you just need to laugh and take a break from technology and you will be amazed how productive and creative you can become. Some people have their best ideas at 2am and therefore keep a pen and notepad next to their bed. (If it’s not on paper… it’s vapour!)

● Thinking outside the box

Switching gears to problemsolving, if you are a young entrepreneur and you just can’t seem to get past a problem, what can you do?

Ask someone to join your concept meeting who has no prior experience or knowledge, this is called a naïve expert.

They will ask the questions you haven’t thought of or are too embarrassed to ask. They can’t feel stupid because they have no idea anyway.

● We can also develop a new attitude towards mistakes

A mistake should be your teacher; not your attacker.

A mistake is a lesson; not a loss. It is a temporary, necessary detour, not a dead-end.

In South Africa, we have an aversion to making mistakes.

We often associate mistakes with failure.

Yet well-intentioned errors or failures can be valuable mistakes; not like those born of carelessness.

We should make mistakes as early in the development process as possible in order to explore as many options as possible.

And we should make them when it’s not costly. Short-term failure can yield long-term success.

Mistakes, failures and imperfections have created life-changing explorations and “happy accidents”.

Did you know that mistakes led to the discovery of DNA, penicillin, aspirin, X-rays, Teflon, Velcro, nylon, cornflakes, Coca-Cola and chocolate-chip cookies?

A business that makes mistakes is not only one that is trying jolly hard, but is also likely to end up with far more innovation at the end of the year.

The bottom line was summed up by author George Bernard Shaw when he said: “A life spent making mistakes is not only more honourable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.”

● Start small, think big

For most people, the transition from doing what is necessary and what is possible and then moving into impossible work is huge.

This creates all types of psychological challenges and unease, and makes giving up easier.

Begin with small steps into the zone of necessity and then into possibility.

When you score small victories, your belief system realises that it is possible.

Many little steps all add up to a huge step, so don’t become impatient with the small steps.

The results will come. Start small but aim and think big.

Author Zig Ziglar’s take on starting needs repeating. He says: “You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.”

● Steve Reid is the manager of the Centre for Entrepreneurship at False Bay College. Contact him on Steve.Reid@falsebay.org.za