“To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science.“
Creativity and innovation are key tools integral in growth of any business which has a long term strategy. In my consultancy roles for small, medium enterprises (SMEs) I quickly learned how cut-throat the business world is and how much creativity and innovation is needed for the businesses to thrive or even survive. The ability to create and innovate whilst integral to business is at the core of science and informs the everyday research and scientific developments we have observed through time.
In the UK, the government has identified innovation as an important factor in growth and sustainability and as a result has created several schemes to encourage creativity and innovation. These schemes are meant to link businesses with each other or with academic institutions to harness ideas and turn them into marketable products. Examples include the Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTP), Invention for Innovation (i4i) and from a global perspective, the Global Innovation Fund aimed at providing grants to transform the lives of people living in poverty. For anyone looking for innovative projects, I often recommend the KTP as it is a superb route to innovative funded postgraduate degrees which also gives experience working with an industrial partner.
What I find particularly odd and often worrying however, is that in the sciences we are always expected to create or innovate (in the eyes of the external “real” world) but more often than not, innovation or enterprise is not a core part of the curriculum. Even more mind boggling is the expectation that PhD candidates are expected to create something novel from their research or add something new to the body of existing knowledge. Going with the quote from ol’boy Einstein above, they are expected to be innovative without giving them the tools to be able to enrich or harness that creativity.
To my knowledge, Universities are now starting to take innovation a little more seriously (some better than others). In my own professional experience, I have met the “innovation” question a number of times, recently, in two of my last four academic interviews. In one I was asked the question “Can you describe one innovation you have brought in to the University since you joined?” and in the other, I was asked to describe anything I have done that I would consider an innovation. For anyone going to interview now, I would advise you give this some thought as good employers will ask you this question.
Thus, the purpose of this article is to help you begin your reflective process and where possible help you identify your creative and/or innovative side.
Any difference between creativity and innovation?
Creativity is the “ability to produce original and unusual ideas, or to make something new or imaginative” and “innovation” is defined as “(the use of) a new idea or method” (Cambridge English dictionary). These two are often used interchangeably however, according to Theodore Levitt, American economist and professor at Harvard Business School “Creativity is thinking up new things. Innovation is doing new things.”
So for every aspiring professional (young and otherwise); those going into University this year; those currently at University and those new to professional life, it is important to be creative and to seek opportunities to innovate. The University is the best place to find the right courses, training and funding to set up your business, develop your ideas and turn them into a product etc. For those not at University, if you are a University alumni, you can still utilise the University enterprise services (maybe not the funding)…You can also find free enterprise/advice sessions at business incubation centres and some people do it online for free.
An example of an innovation can be found in the article by APH contributor Nina Gizzie, who studied for a Biomedical Science degree but was also great at making jewellery as a hobby. As a result of her knowledge and interest in studying cells and bacteria, she created Just Plain Charming where she creates bespoke jewellery using the different shapes of cells, atoms and bacteria! See article here
Next, an APH article by Rob Sampays on his design DAWN (drug administration ward nurse) – a revised means of dispensing the right drug to the right patient, at the right dose, at the right time. This was designed for a final year project at University. See here
Thus, it is worth noting that “Innovation is a culture…not a person or process, can’t be bought…forced, but can be bred and given the right environment for it to happen” (businesnewsdaily)
Jacob Beckley, Vice President at Fusion92
What then makes an innovator?
Well according to Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, CEO of Hogan Assessment Systems and Professor of Business Psychology at University College London, the characteristics of successful innovators include;
- Having an opportunistic mindset
- Having formal education or training
- Proactivity and a high degree of persistence
- A healthy dose of prudence and
- Having social capital
Alongside this, he describes the importance of having a meaningful mission or clear long-term vision to the development of a successful innovation. This also applies to any business or enterprise.
Read more – Developing a Career in Creative Product Design
So, how can you find your creative or innovative spark?
- Be awash with ideas – I think the starting point to becoming innovative is to have ideas. Everyone has ideas but not everyone captures them or knows how to harness these ideas. To enable you start your journey to innovation, my advice is to start documenting your ideas. I have white boards at the office for work and white boards at home where I document my ideas and thoughts. It is worth noting that what is an idea today would not necessarily translate into anything tangible tomorrow. It could take a year, 5 years or even longer but you idea is only an idea until you do something with it.
- Recognising the place of/for your ideas – it is not enough to have ideas! What is important is knowing where your ideas connect with reality. For example, can the idea you have lead to increased sales of a product for a company? To be an innovator, you have to be able to see yourself as a problem solver or solutions creator. You can achieve this by (a) recognising opportunities and by
- Doing some research to test your ideas – my approach is to document my ideas and then hit the internet to see whether my ideas are things already existing or whether it is entirely new. You can also test it with people you trust to see what they think about it. There are so many examples I can draw from and I am happy to share if you are interested in discussing further. I am sure at this point, you’ll probably be wondering why i’d suggest you test your idea with someone else…perhaps you worry they’ll steal your idea?
Howard Aiken, American physicist and a pioneer in computing said “Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you’ll have to ram them down people’s throats.”
If you are truly innovative, I’ll say, don’t worry about people stealing your ideas, they’ll soon run back to you for the threads and connectors that have woven your thought processes.
- Look for an event on enterprise or setting up a business – as mentioned earlier, there are many funding schemes available for groups that are interested in developing innovations and as a result, at the University and in almost every city (UK and other). Business incubation centres are all over the UK and a quick search online would show you where you can find similar at a place near you. In my current location, Bristol (UK), the Engine Shed is one such example of a business incubation centre that encourages innovation be it creative or technological.
- Next, I’d say find a mentor – this is an important aspect for any creative, innovative thinker. You might need the help of someone who has either been through developing a business to help you crystallize your thinking or to tell you if your idea needs further developing.
- Finally if you are confident you have a solid idea that can be translated into a product then perhaps it’s time to find yourself a business engagement competition or somewhere you can bid for capital to develop your idea into a product. You can look up the Young Enterprise events or if you want to go big, why not go for the BBC dragons den?
If you are still reading and you still cannot see yourself as a creator or an innovator, then as yourself some questions.
- Is there any organisation, business, country, political group, religious association or even yourself that will be able to survive in the long-term without being creative or innovative?
- Have you ever done anything or helped someone with a piece of advice, an equation or a solution to a problem which has changed the way they have acted or done something for the better? If so then you have in some little way been innovative. It is not rocket science to be innovative.
So, when should you start your innovation?
“The innovation point is the pivotal moment when talented and motivated people seek the opportunity to act on their ideas and dreams.”
— W. Arthur Porter
About the writer – Emmanuel is an academic, scientist and regular blogger. He has a PhD in Microbiology and has written articles in the areas of bacterial pathogen survival and managing bacterial infections using natural and alternative treatments. He is also a regular blogger and For more about Emmanuel, visit the about us page here.
“Never be scared to be different, never wait for others before you innovate.” Emmanuel Adukwu.
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