It seems that everybody is talking about “innovation,” whether they’re businesses or the government. However, you can’t just talk about it, you have to understand it. Is innovation a skill you need to practice, like welding, or more of an attitude? If it’s a skill, then why can’t businesses train a batch of innovative talents in a short time? If it’s an attitude, how do you develop it?
This year is the third anniversary of the American Innovation Center, which is a collaboration between the American Institute in Taiwan and the Taiwan Design Center. The event “2016 AIC Conference Next Century” was held, with the theme of “Innovation, Startup, Digitalization, Culture and Design” as the trends for the future. The first guest was Ben Jai, founder and general manager of Hope Bay Technologies, Inc. He is also a man with rather long hair, and he talked a lot about “innovation.” He believes that innovation is not a skill, but rather an attitude toward life, and also a breakthrough to the old framework. When he was working for Google, he broke through two frameworks, “ a centralized uninterruptible power supply for the server room” and “computer adapters that provide multiple voltages simultaneously,” and achieved the innovation of cutting down the electric bill by US$10 million every year. That is to say before you talk about innovation, you have to talk about framework first.
Hope Bay Tech founder Ben Jai. (Photo credit: CommonWealth Magazine)
What is framework?
Anything as common as an electrical outlet, a power plug or the size of your bed, is a framework. Most people don’t realize it because these things are just too common. The standards or regulations all serve their purposes. Industrial standards allow manufacturers to make products that consumers can use without problems, and conventional courtesy sets a standard on how we should get along with one another. They both help us communicate better.
However, if you blindly follow a framework because “that’s just what we do” without understanding the reasoning behind it, the framework itself might hold you back instead. Just like the multiple choice questions in schools, there are always 4 choices for each question. When one teacher changed one of the choices to “I don’t know” and gave you one point for choosing it, people got really upset because this multiple choice question was unlike traditional multiple choice questions. The purpose of a test is to evaluate how much the students have learned, and the expected value of guessing the right answer out of the first 3 choices is the same as selecting “I don’t know.” This new choice encouraged students to be honest and hence fits the purpose of the test even more.
Accidental innovation, can you see it?
After you have discovered the framework and learned how it’s formed, what’s next? A manager once consulted Jai on how to teach innovation to employees, but he himself wasn’t at all interested in the peanuts and instant noodles combo created by one of his own engineers. This is a great example of why you don’t get innovation. The mass production of Penicillin was partially attributed to one of the research assistants going to the market and discovered a moldy cantaloupe. The bottom line is that you should always be open to new things, listen to different opinions, learn from other professions and step out of your comfort zone once in a while.
Besides adjusting your attitude, it also helps to understand the different types of innovations. An innovation isn’t always a technical innovation like the discovery of Penicillin, it can be an improvement on a process like the mass production of Penicillin, a new business model like Uber, a collaborative application like Google Translate, or even stealing from another business model and technology but still able to find your own market like what EZTABLE has done to OpenTable. These are the various types of innovations. Limiting yourself to only the technical innovation is falling into a framework by itself.
Those who only talk don’t know innovation
Innovation is more than just a few words or classes. It requires a friendly environment, a correct attitude and a wide range of knowledge. More importantly, you must have the instinct to know how to jump out of the framework you’re facing. The next time you get tired of following procedures, think about which type of framework your current task fits into, and can you find a new use for it. Whether it’s building something using different parts, or tweaking a script according to your needs. These are all great ways to help you develop an innovative attitude. If you’re a Maker who is on his way to entrepreneurship, it would be nice to find a trend to join, but the important thing is to rethink your current situation and keep an innovative attitude, because that’s how you survive the roaring waves of the red ocean.