The Real Wheel of Innovation


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February 23, 2016 18:40 EDT

To empower the next generation, children should be encouraged to develop their innovative ideas.

On a recent morning, while traveling to the office on the London Underground, a group of 12-year-olds accompanied by two harried teachers burst onto the subway train at Great Portland Street. I had no clue where they were going, and I suspect neither did they know nor care. They were just excited to be out of school, hanging on the yellow poles, pushing and shoving each other, stuffing their mouths with whatever grub their satchels held, and indulging in all-round grade one tomfoolery.

I was amused at some of their conversations that wafted into my ears, when one of the boys was pushed a little harder than usual and landed on my lap, only to be harshly reprimanded by his teacher and made to apologize. That moment acted like a circuit breaker in my nervous system, and somehow the faces of the kids around me resembled some of the people I engaged in mischief with many decades ago.

Right in front of me, laughing, appeared the now venerable senior journalist and former editor of The Sunday Guardian—the Indian newspaper—tugging at the pigtails of the cunningly analytical and photogenic primetime business anchor of CNBC. Suddenly, I was transported back in time when the former edited my articles for the school newspaper and the latter and I debated on the same team. By our side was the brooding, grumpy new age technology consultant at Alix Partners in Chicago having some sort of a kerfuffle with the owner of a premier art gallery in chic New Delhi. In charge was the physics teacher-cum-terror in residence, and the horseplay ebbed momentarily.

Lost Ideas

When the train pulled the collective rambunctiousness of this bunch into Moorgate Station, I reluctantly got off and wondered how many of these chaps would actually find meaning, purpose and fulfillment in their professional endeavors by the time they were on the other side of the train years from now.

I recalled so many debates and articles on countless topics where we had disruptive ideas at an age when the commerciality or the necessity of a revenue model to back them were inconsequential.

A decorated owner of an architecture firm today was part of a rowdy cabal in our school who would collect signatures and debate against the destruction of the Delhi Ridge. Yet in 2016, over two decades later, the portion of the ridge we felt so passionately about is home to the elaborate and endless morass of concrete malls. Each of us, on our sojourn to Delhi, effortlessly and without so much of a thought slip into these malls for a peck, pint or pizza.

Some of us wanted to start a political party. I still recall the emblem we came up with. The last time I checked, no one had registered our crushingly creative name: SN Party.


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But we didn’t save that portion of the ridge, nor did we foray into politics. We yielded that space to the DLF and Arvind Kejriwal, arguably with the same end result on both counts.

It just puzzled me how the trajectory of our pursuits made us leave behind potentially pioneering thoughts. So, on my walk back to the office, I kept wondering how many of these pesky kids would actually go ahead and start an inter-galactic vacation company, wear the English rugby colors, publish their poetry collection. More than the innate disruptiveness, they possibly represented the primal drivers that many ignore as they grow up and experience the career ladder.

Inspire Creativity

As the background noise surrounding Startup India, one aspect everyone ignores is that an astonishing number of ideas are confined to musings in op-eds long after the fertility of such thoughts has ebbed.

While it is too much to expect the government to play wicketkeeper or field at the slips for each wayward idea, a permanent change in the orientation of teaching staff to help kids stay on their dream projects would be key. Parents have a cardinal role as well, and library shelves are bursting under the weight of insights on what they ought to do. So much has been said and told about incentivizing universities as spinoff incubators of new ideas as the West has done so admirably. Unfortunately, the experience of 60 years of mushrooming public and more recent private universities hasn’t trail-blazed this space.

So, why not try make high schools the new hotbed of incubator activity?

Some can argue that without a university education, most ideas are not implementable. A fair point, but evidence suggests that the worlds of computer software and the Nobel Peace Prize can be driven by 18-year-olds. Equally, there is no stopping such kids getting access to higher order technicians as long as they have clarity of thought in the right environment.

The chap who pushed his friend onto me was eloquently defining his vision of an inter-galactic tourism company. Possibly inspired by Richard Branson and thus an imitator brand. Perhaps the child has forgotten the idea already. But he is only 12 years old. His teacher, who is at least thrice his age and reprimanded him, should have taken note and devised a system to expose him to activities that allow him to explore his creativity. I don’t think she did. That is the only critical step in the sequence that is missing in unleashing better ideas on the world.

So, rather than putting semi-retired folks in charge of 30-year-olds attempting the next God knows what, it’s a better investment to empower, train and incentivize school teachers to spot and develop creative thinking. This is the real wheel of innovation. The rest are mere slogans.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Photo Credit: Sunny Studio / Ollyy /

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