Thinking Outside the Box
By Priyangwada Perera
"When all think alike, then no one is thinking."
— Walter Lippman
Not many know that World Creativity and Innovation Day is observed on 21 April, every year. For those of us who wonder why the need for such a day, it is to celebrate the innovative minds and their creations which have helped the humans to progress, reaching new heights in various fields. Moreover, the day is also used for raising awareness on creativity and innovation in problem solving. This was introduced with respect to advancing the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) or global goals. Underneath, the main objective is all about using new ideas, making new decisions and most of all, opening doors to creative thinking.
Culture and creativity
It has been recognised that lack of creativity and innovation is the very reason behind why many of our systems lack spark. When the UN introduced the SDGs the organisation realised how imperative promoting innovative thinking, invention, and creativity is in achieving SDGs and hence, the World Creativity and Innovation Day first came in to being on 21 April 2017. Four years after the first celebration of the special UN day the importance of the day and its theme has never been more apt and important, especially considering the pandemic which is affecting all corners of the world. In 2019, the UN declared the year 2021 as the ' International Year of Creative Economy for Sustainable Development' and the resolution makes this year's World Creativity and Innovation Day extra special. As the Deputy Secretary General of United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) Isabelle Durant said, "The creative industries are critical to the sustainable development agenda. They stimulate innovation and diversification, are an important factor in the burgeoning services sector, support entrepreneurship, and contribute to cultural diversity."
Unlike the conventional or mainstream aspects of world economy, the creative economy is a highly transformative sector of the world economy in terms of income generation, job creation, and export earnings. Culture plays a huge role in sustainable development and since culture and creativity have a significant non-monetary value that contributes to inclusive social development, to dialogue and understanding between peoples, both culture and creativity play an important role in development.
Creativity doesn't have a universal definition. It is not as if one can sit and think hard about a certain problem and come up with a solution by purely wrecking one's brain. Creativity is powered by ability to observe the surroundings, culture, tradition, and geographical location. Therefore, it is crucial for each and every country to have a certain governing body that not just promotes creative thinking but also has a sound understanding of the social realities, cultural values, and areas a country can do with some improvement via innovations. The UN can declare a special day or pass a resolution but it cannot monitor each and every country nor come up with a blanket mechanism that apply to each and every country in the world in terms of the promotion of innovative thinking.
In Sri Lanka, the governing body when it comes to innovation, invention, and creative thinking is Sri Lanka Inventors Commission (SLIC). Established on 1 August 1987, the SLIC which now is under the purview of the State Ministry of Skills Development, Vocational Education, Research, and Innovations, strive to be the leading catalyst in bringing out the innovative capability of the nation by being the forerunner in facilitating the conversion of ideas into practical applications.
Innovation isn't necessarily technology-based
In celebration of the special UN day for creativity and innovation Ceylon Today met with the Commissioner of SLIC Prof. Rangika Halwatura who himself is no stranger to the field of innovation and invention as he too is a renowned inventor who owns multiple patents.
“The moment we speak of innovation and invention, people tend to think it is inventions related to technology. However, it is not just about scientific or technological innovations and inventions but about everything from media to social sciences, political science and so on. There is no way of narrowing it down to just technology," said Prof. Halwatura.
Prof. Halwatura further said that SLIC is the only institute in the country, be it private or State, to support invention and innovation from seeds to commercialising. From identifying young and budding inventors through inventor clubs and various islandwide exhibitions to providing ideal platforms such as incubation centres for the inventors develop their inventions and startups effectively, extending patent support and even finding financial support it terms of grants and investors, the SLIC supports the whole process. "We have many inventions. All nationally or internationally patented products will be handled by the SLIC," Prof. Halwatura said.
Invention and innovation
World Creativity and Innovation Day focuses on creativity for a greater purpose. How the SLIC looks at creativity is when someone has a good understanding of the society and its various issues, and if that person comes up with a solution for one such issue in the form of creativity and innovation which what the world needs.
It is not a mere creation and innovation for its sake and introducing to the market. One has to be sensitive to the real needs of the society. The society should inspire one to create and innovate. “To be an inventor, you just need to invent something. But it is quite another story to become an innovator. There is a big difference between the invention and innovation. For example, you create something which is novel and not there in the world. You made it for a purpose but this invention may not work out for the intended purpose. Instead, it can be used for something else. In such an instance, that does not get counted as an innovation," Prof. Halwatura explained.
Making inventions useful
It is also not about inventing something and introducing it to the market. You need to understand what societal requirement is.
There is a process to make an invention a useful innovation. From the idea to the commercialising, the entire process is handled by the SLIC. You can invent something new and get the patent and the intellectual property right to it, but converting an invention to an innovation is the bigger issue. One has to make sure that the product is accepted by the community. For it to be accepted by the community one needs to fulfil the expected problem solving. That is the only way you can claim that you have come up with an innovation.
"The special UN day we are referring to is not exactly on inventions but the larger picture of creativity and innovation. All inventions cannot be converted to be innovations. Only a handful products or processes will be converted to innovations. To celebrate the day one has to be innovative and not just inventive,” the Commissioner specified.
National Inventors' Day
Even though the World Creativity and Innovation Day falls on 21 April, National Inventors’ Day for Sri Lanka falls on 26 October. It was declared by the SLIC for Sri Lankan Inventors. The day is special because it is the birth anniversary of Dr. A.N.S. Kulasinghe, the great Sri Lankan engineer and inventor, who was also the first Commissioner of SLIC. Therefore, they do not have any particular celebration on the World Creativity and Innovation Day. Furthermore, Prof. Halwatura added that personally, he does not really believe in creativity and innovation being the focus on a single day. “It is a process. It is long-term. One has to be active and proactive in terms of innovations and inventions on a daily basis. After all, inventions and innovations do not pop up like mushrooms."
In Sri Lanka, Dr. Kulasinghe who worked hard as the first Commissioner was also famous for his innovations of low-cost concrete technologies. “We always celebrate and value the contributions made by Dr. Kulasinghe. However, more than just celebrating his birthday which is just one day, what needs to be done is that making sure his vision is carried forward. If his ideas can be materialised and put to practise, that is the biggest honour,” Prof. Halwatura said. He also is quite content that they are doing justice to the vision and aim of Dr. Kulasinghe instead of a merely recognising the great man on his birth anniversary.
Lots of innovators, lots of potential
When asked to mention a few noteworthy innovations of local innovators which have made it big in the commercial arena, Prof. Halwatura said he'd rather not name a few bests out of many. “If I name a few, I am sure I would still miss some great inventors and that is not fair to them. However, we have a target of creating 12 industries or startups with 12 Sri Lankan inventors. In fact, at the moment we have exceeded our target. We are in the fourth month and have created six startups,” Prof. Halwatura said with content.
Be careful of disruptions
The inventions and innovations certainly have a high-tech, electronic or robotic vibe to it, mainly because what we perceive to be innovations are what portrayed in books, movies, and media. More than often these 'innovations' are tech-savvy, intricate, and looks as if a thing only a genius can come up with. However, little do we know that, if a teenager bends a piece of wire and creates something new, it also constitutes as an invention. There are wonderful inventions out there but the simplicity of it can perhaps take our attention away from it which in reality has a potential of being a unique innovation which can be the answer to many of our problems. The paper clip is a classic example of such a wonderful innovation. Every corner of the world uses what appears to be this simple thing. “That is why I say that it is not necessarily that we categorise something as a 'groundbreaking' innovation,” said Prof. Halwatura.
In connection to this misconception, Prof. Halwatura pointed out something else. “Many of the ‘groundbreaking’ inventions and innovations that are happening in the world are neither inventions nor innovations. These are disruptions. This is what we must be careful of. If you really want to come up with an invention or an innovation, you should target the entire mankind. Moreover, every animal and other forms of life on the planet should also be included and considered. After all, we cannot live alone in the world. We cannot rule the world. If one can understand our limitations and do something for animals and humans in the world that would be the best."
Even if you leave Sri Lanka aside, looking at the bigger world where many inventions and innovations, right now we are being nothing but disruptive in our inventions. If it is something that damages mankind, the environment, the living creatures of the world, that is no invention. Looking through sustainable solutions is much important in development.
Innovation and invention are to safeguard the world and preserve the world. Inventions cannot be imposed on people and that is why it is important to recognise the necessity of people when inventing something. It is said that creativity is what makes the world go round and that is exactly why the innovators make the ride more worthy.
"The uncreative mind can spot wrong answers, but it takes a very creative mind to spot wrong questions."
— Anthony Jay