Sunday, 13 February 2011

The Freedom to Question and Innovation

Human had survived many challenges from the days time begun. It is this ability to anticipate and react to changing environment that differentiate the human species from the likes of dinosaurs. While we are relatively smaller than the dinosaurs, the ability to use our brain power enabled us to survive extreme challenges. In short, human has been innovating, doing something new that add value, from time in memory.


What drives innovation? I suppose it starts from having a view that status quo is not acceptable. By applying this broad definition, innovation applies to all facets of our life, not just related to scientific discoveries. It could cover the social system that we live in, ways of doing work or even the way we think. Therefore, innovation is everybody's business, not just to those wearing thick spectacles in laboratories.

To be innovative requires the human mind to be able to understand what is out there and to question and challenge whether they are acceptable or something need to be done for the better. Some people do not mind this process of understanding and challenging. However, there are people who are not comfortable to let others to use their brain power to assess, evaluate and challenge. I would imagine dictators would fall into this category.


Given the level of competition is the present globalised environment, no country or economy is spared from the need to be competitive. Under such circumstances, it would be natural to fall back on the natural instinct of people for survival, to innovate. For this to happen, nothing should be secret. The issue is whether the community we live in allows all its members to question and challenge? As Bill Gates argues in his book Business as the Speed of Thoughts, any business that does not add value will parish. I suppose this applies to groups of people and even countries as well.

Community leaders who derive control from intimidation, fear and suppression would not welcome the culture of questioning and challenging. To them the status quo must be preserved i.e. they should continue to be allowed to lead, irrespective of them leading the community to the dogs. Under this circumstances, it would be very challenging for the society to innovate as by nature they would be scared to consider change. So, not withstanding how many agencies or programmes to promote innovation, the chance for success would be very remote. This will be further amplified when the society has reached a stage of going back to the leaders for every problem that they face. Off course the leaders would be happy as the society is beholden to them. 


However, as data, information and knowledge reach people using cheap and simple technology such as social network platforms, the ground is slowly shifting. Furthermore, putting in place technological and information infrastructure is big business and these people with power would be tempted to promote this for "reasons only known to them". As what we saw in other places lately, having more data, information and knowledge made people more conscious about the present and provided them with more options in moving to the future, beyond what were promoted by those in leadership. Some societies had decided to challenge and change status quo. 

I trust, we as occupants of this planet, would be able to leverage more on the availability of knowledge and information to keep on questioning, challenging and innovating. One caveat though. Not every status quo is bad. For example, those in charge of governance are expected to act in the best interest of all stakeholders. This has been established for a long time and I do not see this changing. In fact, a lot of problems that we faced globally were the result of failures of the people in charge of governance to perform their functions effectively.


One simple step that we could take is to encourage everybody under our care to start asking questions, even on matters which we feel strongly about. We may not be able to answer all these questions but by giving permission for people to consider beyond status quo, we are nurturing innovation.
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