One of the things on last week’s agenda of the Técnico’s management team was the identification of the resources needed to implement the recommendations of a commission appointed to propose new teaching models and pedagogical practices. With Técnico having the most selective courses in Portuguese higher education and having no difficulties for graduates to find employment, the reader may wonder about the usefulness of this additional effort. The answer is that we believe that students should leave the school feeling that they have the power not only to face the challenges of the future but also the ability to take advantage of the immense opportunities that await them. For that, they need to know the path between the opportunity and the achievement.
In my January chronicle (“Do You Have an Innovative Mindset?”, 7-Jan-2019, also here) I challenged the reader to measure his innovative mindset. This test created at the University of Berkeley is based on seven characteristics common to people recognized as innovative and entrepreneurial. We know today that yours trust in others, acceptance of failure, the way you deal with people who are different from you, your willingness to change the world, the ability to work in groups, the recognition that “done is better than perfect” and the way you deal with uncertainty are skils that can be learned, particularly when using experiential learning models. These skills can also be developed in professional practice with a little effort and reflection. What happened when you trusted your customer, supplier or colleague a little more? What if you step out of your comfort zone and get involved in a new project? What if you team up with other people to solve a problem? What can you do with the resources you already have?
In addition to identifying common characteristics in innovative people, we have also sought to understand and typify the path they take from the genesis of an idea to its implementation in an innovative solution. This is the theme of the book “Creativity Rules” where Tina Seelig, from Stanford University, summarizes the conclusions of her work with the aim of helping students to identify and take advantage of opportunities, that is, problems whose solution can create value. Tina Seelig proposes an invention cycle consisting of 4 steps.
This cycle begins with the imagination. You will probably have realized that your imagination was more fertile when you were a child. A child can find more uses for an object than an adult because he has less experience in the usual way of using it. Art students develop processes of deep and long observation of the world around them, to discover details that go unnoticed in a superficial analysis. Involvement in observation and in-depth knowledge of a problem allows for a vision of the future without it. These observation and viewing sequences can help you to identify opportunities to pursue.
The second step is that of creativity. The phrase “necessity sharpens ingenuity” suggests that we are more creative when we have a strong motivation. The author Daniel Pink tells us that we are more motivated by problems chosen by us (autonomy), sufficiently challenging for our abilities (mastery) and that we have reasons to give greater importance (purpose). On the other hand, the ingenuity requires prototyping and experimentation that makes the idea go beyond imagination. The combination of your motivation to solve the problem with the results of the experiences of your attempts to solve it will help you decide to move to the next level.
The next step is innovation. While at the level of creativity you have created solutions that are new to you, an innovative solution will have to be new to the world. This level requires a greater commitment on your part and that can be kept in the midst of the urgent things you have to do. The focus on an opportunity is both a choice and a decision to increase the importance of your agenda. In that time, it will look for ways to reframe the problem in the search for different solutions. The original solutions originate from different perspectives, asking the very question to which you are looking for an answer: do you want to know what is the best bridge or the best way to go to the other bank?
The last step is that of entrepreneurship. With an innovative solution, you need to use your resilience to achieve it and launch it into the world. This will not, in general, a task to be carried alone. You need to inspire others to join you in this common goal, people different from you but available to work as a team and with the same confidence to achieve it. These people will accompany you in the next cycle of imagination, creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship.
As in the development of an innovative mindset, we also know that it is possible to learn the skills necessary for the invention cycle. It is not enough to be prepared for challenges, it is also necessary to know how to take advantage of opportunities.
Adapted from my column in Jornal i on May 7th, 2019