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Unleashing the Power of an Innovative Mind Research indicates that an innovative mind is not necessarily born, it can be developed through techniques of observing and thinking.

By Dr. Ayesha Chaudhary

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In one season, it rains heavily, cities get flooded with water, and life comes to a halt. In another season, there is scarcity of water and thousands of lives are affected every year with drought. Can I harvest the rain water and manage water scarcity?

This is what a Class 9 student from Atal Tinkering Lab in a Public school in Himachal Pradesh, India thought of while observing a problem, asking questions and challenging situations, developing a solution and creating an impact. As a society, we often discuss problems, share our views and opinions, but how many of us really contribute towards developing innovative solutions to address the problem?

With the advent of latest technologies of Internet of Things (IoT), robotics, rapid prototyping, artificial intelligence and big data analysis, humans worldwide are creating thousands of innovations in the form of smart machines. And these intelligent machines are not only beginning to perform human tactical tasks more efficiently but also are being trained to operate with human intelligence. However, humans have a unique power, the power of thinking, the power of innovation: encompassing intellectual, emotional and spiritual intelligence. It was this emotional and spiritual connect that was experienced by Steve Jobs during his visit to India, that inspired him to do something for other people, and create Apple as one of the most innovative companies of the 21st century. This innovative power of human mind will always be harder to automate and will keep humans ahead of smart machines in an increasingly automated world. But, does emotional and spiritual intelligence enhance the overall innovation quotient? A spiritual mind is more self-aware about emotions, questions existing belief systems and theories. And both curiosity and empathy form the core of design thinking and innovation. A spiritual mind also looks for a higher purpose and meaning, and innovation brings along with it a strong purpose to create a positive impact in the world.

Who can innovate? Can any common person innovate, can you and I innovate? Anyone can innovate. The answer lies in the power of human imagination. It all starts with a single innovative thought in our conscious mind, which can transform into an action with the right level of passion, and into an impactful outcome with the right level of effort. Continuous practice of paying attention to the thoughts and ideas soon results in innovation being a habit of our sub-conscious mind, eventually to becoming an innovative personality. Research indicates that an innovative mind is not necessarily born, it can be developed through techniques of observing and thinking. The authors of The Innovator's DNA, say that that roughly two-thirds of the innovation skills can be learned. As we continue to unleash the potential of human brain and mind, it has been proven that we can develop new habits with continuous practice. Recent research on neuroplasticity demonstrates that brain has the ability to change and learn new things throughout life by forming new connections between brain cells. So, learning is a life-long process, and we can learn to innovate at any age. But are we willing to learn and try new things once we are out of school? In schools, we learn a few subjects, and score well in exams. But if we can learn to become an innovator, we will keep scoring well not only in exams and profession, but overall in life. All great leaders today acknowledge that innovation is a lifelong process, and the key to excel in life. So, it is significant to develop what we call as our "innovation quotient' of human brain, to innovate lifelong.

Innovation involves a 3 I approach – Identify, Invent and Implement. One needs to start observing problems around, develop solutions to problems, and implement solutions at scale. Indians have always been known for jugaad, but we need to fill the huge gap between jugaad and innovation. A replicable, scalable and sustainable jugaad approach can alone lead to innovation. Several universities worldwide offer courses in innovation that lead to a paradigm shift towards a more curious, empathetic and spiritually awakened mind. In fact, Government of India has also recently launched the Atal Innovation Mission, under NITI Aayog, where the mandate is to develop an innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystem in India. When is the first time in our life we were exposed to the world of "Innovation'? With Atal innovation mission, innovation and entrepreneurship have become an integral part of our national mission, and children as young as 12 years of age are being introduced to the word of technology innovation, with Atal Tinkering Labs in schools. The initiative empowers students to think differently about problems around them and develop innovative solutions leveraging latest technology tools like 3D printers, IoT (Internet of Things), robotics, miniaturized electronics. The labs allow children to learn 21st century skills of critical thinking, design thinking, thereby unleashing their innovative mind at a young age.

One of the roadblocks to innovation is the general fear of failure. Culturally as a society, Indians are not open to gracefully accepting failure. If we want to innovate, we have to look at failure as an opportunity to gain experience and learn from, instead of a negative outcome. Therefore, the possible outcomes should be seen as either win or learn. And we have to nurture this change from the early years in the school to promote innovation at an early age. Fail fast, Learn fast is an axiom well known and practiced in the western world. Nine out of the ten startup investments fail, but that does not stop venture capitalists from investing in the 11th startup. In Silicon Valley, which is world's start-up hub, start-ups are given preference if they have a story of failure to share. So, an innovative mind also involves learning how to deal with failure. If we learn to view failure in a positive way in our childhood, there will be higher risk-taking ability in adulthood and thereafter. The conventional curriculum based teaching in schools does not allow such an approach. However, the recently launched initiative of Atal Tinkering Lab, encourages students and teachers to experiment, explore and follow a self-learning path, and celebrates learning from failure as an important milestone in the innovation journey.

Do your aspirations change with time? Do you want your life to get better? Do you want to be the one leading and influencing that change through new impactful ideas? As Einstein said, it is insane to do the same thing over and over again and expect different results! So, if we need different experiences, different learnings, we need to try different things, we need to innovate, we need to unleash the potential of the human innovative mind. One should challenge oneself to learn lifelong and develop a creative mind. And one life is probably not enough for it, so one should start young, as early as possible, and therefore start now.

Dr. Ayesha Chaudhary

Researcher and Entrepreneur, Atal Innovation Mission

Dr. Ayesha Chaudhary is with Atal Innovation Mission, NITI Aayog, Government of India. She started her innovation journey with a doctoral degree in BioMedical Engineering, later co-founded a Medtech startup and has also explored the corporate world
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