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Learning to be innovative and creative
Plantcloner | 25 Oct 2013 00:08
MANAGEMENT guru Peter Drucker (1909 -2005) said: “Innovation is the specific instrument of entrepreneurship. The act that endows resources with a new capacity to create wealth.” I wonder how many entrepreneurs practise what Drucker preached. Many think innovation and creativity are confined to “creative people”, like those who design your logo. Wrong! You can actually learn to be innovative and creative. I am in fact learning in a massive open online course from Pennsylvania State University entitled Creativity, Innovation and Change (CIC). There is a great deal that even an old dog and trained scientist like me can pick up. This eight-week course is near its completion for this session but check it out on Coursera (www.coursera.org) to put it on your watchlist for the next session. I particularly like the idea of the “idea journal”, a physical notebook, or the electronic version from your smartphone or tablet, that you use to jot down ideas. Doing this regularly will help you build a good collection. Periodically review and act on some of these ideas, and you have taken the first step to being innovative and creative. But having ideas, recording them and executing them is not a surefire way to be successful in your innovation quest. You need two further ingredients: Being observant and having the habit of collecting and analysing data from your innovative and creative projects. My PhD work over two decades ago was on how to multiply the narcissus using a non-conventional method (The narcissus is a bulb producing a trumpet-like yellow flower that signifies the imminent arrival of spring). In the 1980s, plant-tissue culture – commonly known as the cloning of plants – was beginning to be used extensively to clone high-potential and high-value plants. After working on the problem for over a year, I was not getting my plants that I cloned to multiply fast enough. I was stuck. One cold Friday night in late 1988, I had been working for over 12 hours in the laboratory, doing more to fine-tune my technique to multiply my plants. Fatigue and frustration overcame me (later I attributed this to having inhaled too much of the 99% alcohol used as an antiseptic spray). I was very brutal in the way I used the scalpel to slice into my plants. I was even more brutal in the way I stuffed the cut plant material into my test tubes containing growth medium. Despite feeling tired, my training dictated that I label and keep a record of my experiment with great dedication, though I had done about 500 test tubes of plants by then, – about 10 pm. Ten weeks later, while doing my daily routine of inspecting and recording data about my hundreds of test tubes, something odd caught my eye. Twelve test tubes contained 12 to 15 shoots each, while the rest were “normal”, pathetically with two or three shoots. Checking my records, I found the plants in this particular batch of test-tubes were those that had received the severe cutting and brutal stuffing on that fateful night. This was in fact the turning point of my research. I had cracked the tough nut of the low multiplication rate of my plants in tissue culture. Without a trained eye, I would not have figured out what had caused the substantially higher rate of multiplication of my plants inside these 12 test tubes. Without a habit of recording data and events, I would not have traced the unexpected results to my brutal treatment of the plants, which had removed the effect of what plant scientists called apical dominance, thus allowing the severely cut plants to multiply in much larger numbers. I had a system then to produce massive numbers of narcissus shoots in test tubes. However, the end product required of my PhD work was a system to produce a massive number of narcissus bulbs which would produce flowers. I was not out of the woods yet. Being innovative also means one should look at other people’s ideas and see if one may borrow any concept. That is why academics tell research students to read around the subject and think out of the box.

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