Tag Archives: Innovation

Grass root Innovation

In India, kids enjoy a long summer vacation; typically for the whole of May and June. This is the time the kids and their mothers go to their native place leaving the husbands alone in Bangalore.
While some people find this forced solitary life unbearable, I find this very interesting. The most interesting part is that I get a glimpse of a life with ‘no strings attached’. Usually this is also the time I do lot of introspection and sometimes simply space out.
When I am alone, there are few daily chores that I need to attend to. This involves some amount of exploration around the house, especially in the kitchen. And it is when I come across some simple innovative ideas that amuse me. For e.g,
1)our washing machine is in the work area and that’s where naturally the washing powder is kept. But then you don’t always wash in the washing machine, sometimes you wash certain things (like socks) in the bath room. To your pleasant surprise, you find washing powder is also kept (though in smaller bottles) to cater to such needs. This eliminates the need to walk to the work area just to get the washing powder.
2)Things in the kitchen cabinet are arranged in such a way that all those things that are used frequently (sugar, salt, tea powder etc) are ketp in the cabinet that is closest to the stove.

Working in large corporations, we generally tend to look down upon our wives as the ones who mechanically do the same things over and over again. But I am afraid that’s far from truth. If you aren’t convince yet, here is a simple illustration.
I had put the cloths in the washing machine yesterday. Since in a tropical hot climate like in India, the collars and cuffs become dirty and they need to brushed once before washing in the washing machine. I looked around for the brush and found something interesting. My wife had affixed a small piece of soap on the other side of the brush.
Washing Brush
Now, imagine the situation. The cloths are in the washing machine, and one needs to pick some of them, apply soap to the collars and cuffs (and some other places where there is extra dirt) and then brush them. If you were to use a soap and brush separately, it will involve lot of work to pick the soap, apply it, keep it back, pick the brush and brush it. All this extra effort is eliminated by this simple solution. All you need to do is just reverse the brush to apply the soap and turn it around to brush..
Washing Brush
I do not know if such a brush is available in the market, if not it is a good idea..

I think to see real practical innovations, one need to go not to the corporates (with all complex techniques for Systematic problem solving), but in to homes (more in to the kitchens) and you will simply be amazed at how the housewives have optimized everything possible.

No wonder you get your bedcoffee, breakfast, ironed cloths etc on time everytime.. They have optimized better than any CMM 5 companies..

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Grass root innovation

I was in Sabarimala over the weekend for the annual pilgrimage. Sabarimala is one of the most popular pilgrimage spots in South India, attracting over 50 million people every year and undoubtedly one of the largest human gatherings in the globe. The temple is situated on a hill-top and has been facing difficulties accommodating devotees who pour in at the rate of about 90 people per every minute. Several initiatives have been taken by the authorities in the recent past the manage the increasing crowd, de-congest the place to make space for the pilgrims. One such initiative has been to relocate the shops beyond the periphery wall.

This naturally should have hit the sales and the shops are invariably forced to think out of the box to boost sales. Here is one such shop

Sabarimala

What you see below is a pilgrim shelter the boundary of which is indicated by the yellow line. There is a shop that sells steel vessels (used by pilgrims to carry the offerings back home) above the boundary wall  indicated by the red arrow. The pilgrims spent time in the shelter and it is likely that they would buy the vessels there than to walk up the row of shops above.

So this shop people have figured out a way. Firstly, they have displayed all the vessels on the walls for pilgrims to choose. Then there are two people sitting on the wall mid way. The pilgrims can communicate with them – choose a vessel, enquire the price, bargain etc. Once the deal is fixed, the transaction is carried out using a bucket and a rope

The money is put in to the bucket and the change and the vessel is delivered back.

Sabarimala_1

This is called grass root innovation.

A policeman who saw me taking this picture simply smiled, because the law only forbids selling anything within the shelter and the wall definitely was not covered under the rule !

Logic

It is commonly believed these days that ‘logic’ is what prevents one from thinking creatively. Strangely, if you were to ask a spiritual master what is the obstacle on the way to freedom or realization, you might get the same answer. We have a villain and since ‘logic’ is an abstract concept, it is easy to blame it. I too have made fun of the ‘logical mind’ in several posts in this blog.

But one level deeper, do we really understand what exactly is this demon called ‘logic’? How does it influence our thinking? How to get over it? Or are we too busy inventing techniques to overcome ‘logic’? (It is like the concept of ‘sin’ in some religions. Once you can make people buy in to this belief, it’s easy to create a whole industry out of it)

Here is an insight that came along on this.

 The mind made up of thoughts. In the absence of thoughts, there is ‘space’ which the mind is uncomfortable with. Therefore the mind needs something to be going on continuously. In order to achieve this, mind has devised a mechanism which consists of two distinct things:

  1. There is a process that keeps dumping thoughts continuously in to the mind (to the next empty space to be really precise)
  2. There is an ‘algorithm’ that chooses what will go in to that space from a choice of millions of possibilities These two together keeps the mind engaged and active.

The second one follows and supports the first. And the second one is what is called the logic.

Contrary to what many say, the ‘logic’ might actually be good. The issue comes from the fact that at some point both the above acts become unconscious. This is where the problem lies. Even before you see something fully, you have already named it, categorized it and may be made an opinion on it, because in the little space that follows the act of seeing, the mind fills the details from your past experience.

When we talk of a creative thought, we are actually talking of that one which is unconditioned by your experience, memory, perceptions etc. It’s almost like the thought is not yours. And just because of the fact that it comes not from the conditioned mind, it can be anything – a new insight, a new poem, a new solution, a new dimension, a new potential or may be God himself.

In order to go beyond logic or transcend thought, there are two ways. One is to look in to the second act – to see how the logic can be refined to produce the best output. This is what most of the creative and innovation techniques try to do. There try to define frameworks and techniques which can orient the mind in a particular direction. This definitely might produce thinking that’s superior to normal, but then you aren’t really talking of that idea that’s born beyond the mind.

The other approach is to tackle the process of filling the mind with thoughts. This is what many spiritual traditions attempt to. This is done by the simple technique of being comfortable with space or nothingness. And the moment you are comfortable with the space, the need for the logic is gone. Space where there is neither thinking nor the need for thinking exists.

 Then in this space might arise that new insight or the thought that is not stained by the logic..

Smile or Frown?

In the previous post, I wrote about the two qualities of the brain – focusing and expanding, and their role in creativity. Though these are qualities of the mind, they are also qualities of the brain. Anything that influences the brain has a direct impact on these aspects of thinking.

It is now an accepted fact that structural changes of the brain has an impact on the mind; mostly negatively. In fact there incidents keep a whole battalion of brain scientists engaged these days. What makes these cases interesting is also that they cannot be created (at least as of now) though a surgery or something like that. It is also possible to alter the way the brain functions by altering the chemical composition in the brain (what most of the psychiatric medicines do). To some extend the brain can change its own functioning through thinking (“I can win” types).

But if you have noticed carefully, the way our mind functions keeps changing without any such intervention: our thinking may be focus, or the mind devoid of thoughts, balanced or cluttered. Since we do not watch our minds, this goes unnoticed mostly, but we do rarely observe this, especially when we feel down, depleted of energy or there is too much on noise going on in the mind. And typically people try to get over this by indulging in something very distracting or through self-talks.

When I began to practice mindfulness, I saw that there is a correlation between the way the brain (mind) functions and the facial expressions. And this leads to a profound, but simple way to alter the way the mind works at a given point of time. The argument is that the reverse is also true.

We will discuss two facial expressions here and how they alter your thinking:

1)      Frown : When you frown the mind focuses. This is a state of concentration. There is a one pointed focus on something.

2)      Smile : Observe what happens to the mind when you stretch your lips for that beautiful smile? You can observe that the thoughts suddenly reduce, you feel a sense of space. This is a state of expansion. Your logic takes a back seat and this is also a state of creative thinking.

A variation of this is to feel the stretch at the temples (backward). If you hold this stretch gently for some time, you can see that you are in a state of attention.

It is possible to use these expressions to alter the way the mind functions at any point of time (especially if it is not in the state we want at that point of time). The approach will be to smile or frown consciously for a while till the way mind works alters.

Consider this example. You are listening to a presentation and you are supposed to give creative ideas. But those ideas aren’t coming. Then you observe that the mind is cluttered and distracted completely. In this situation, try this. Stretch the sides of the temples backwards and hold the stretch gently for a while. You will observe a dramatic shift in your attention and you will be able to come up with very creative ideas.

While this comes handy in many practical situations in life, I am not really sure the impact of really switching the way the mind works. Experiment it yourselves.

If you practice it carefully, you will also observe the change in breathing during these three expressions. This is another key, we will discuss this later.

In some of the traditions of Buddhism, the only thing they do is to smile (or laugh). That is their meditation, message and life. Mostly, they had figured this out.

The act of mindful watching

Continuing from the previous post, here is a representation of what happens in mindful observation.

If you compare this with the normal watching, there is a simple but profound difference. Let’s concider an external stimulus to which the mind is reacting. The first thoughts are formed, but here there is no irresistible urge to form an association. So the next thought trigger is formed and so on (indicated as the primary thought triggers). After a while, after consideration of all the primary thoughts, the best possible connection is established with the mind (memory) and perhaps then there is no difference between this to the normal watching.

The urge to form an association with the memory comes from the act of trying to ‘understand’ something. The moment you drop the attempt to ‘understand’, the quality of the perception drastically changes.

The urge to form connection with an existing thoughtform is going the pattern way and choosing to form a new connection is the seed for creativity. This is actually achieved by introducing or rather letting space between the thoughts.

But then what is that quality of the mind which overcomes the urge to form a connection? Intelligence?

Presence and perception

In the postHow much of what we see, we ’see’?,I had mentioned that we actually see a very small percentage of what we see physically; the remaining things are filled up by the mind from memory.

Close attention to details is a quality of creative minds and this is very much related to presence. Our minds are programmed to respond to triggers instantaneously; creating a chunk of thoughts followed by any trigger. Another trigger (unless it is too important to miss) that comes during this chunk is ignored. Sometimes the thoughts that follow the trigger are related to the trigger itself; so that the mind is possibly making up the same stuff that the missing trigger contained!

See the illustration below:

Fig 1: has a set of triggers that a mind is receiving

Fig 2: shows how a typical mind responds to the triggers. What is in blue is recognized by the mind. What is in yellow is the thoughts generated in the mind in response to the triggers. And the brown ones are the triggers missed out because of this thinking.

Fig 3: In the state of ‘presence’ or when one is mindful, the link between the trigger and the thoughts are severed (at least to a good extend). So more triggers are accepted. This means that the attention is more complete

Why is this superior? When the mind fills ups the missing details about an object, mind can’t resist being biased. There is an effort to make an object ‘what we would like it to be’. But when we are ‘present’, we see the object as it is. The object could be anything – a person, an event, a situation or a physical entity. The physical space you see in the image represents the space between thoughts.

Space between thoughts is called time.

Forced Association

Let me digress a bit to settle a thought that came in after the lat post. In the post I mentioned about the technique called ‘Forced Association’, which is a popular technique for ideation. (Forced Association is a technique in which a series of random words are forced into association with the topic under investigation. These artifically paired words are then considered for creative possibilities). I have never been a fan of anything like this. For me quality associations are spontaneous, natural and effortless.

Whenever I think of Forced Associations, a game we used to play as kids comes to my mind. Let me reproduce the game for you here:

The objective of the game is to change something to something else. For e.g Change CAT to DOG. The rule is: you begin with the first word, change only one letter at a time to have another meaningful word, till you reach the second word. Who does it with the shortest number of words is the Winner.

For CAT to DOG, here is a solution

CAT

COT

DOT

DOG

Definitely we enjoyed doing this, but was it something creative? I don’t know. But for a reason that I don’t know of, this comes to mind whenever I hear the term ‘forced association’

Want to try one for your own? Try changing  TRUTH to FALSE….

Postscript: The great India poet Kalidasa was a master of analogies. His famous work Raghuvamsam begins with a verse in salutations to Siva and Parvati, which can be translated as “To derive the pertinent idiom and its ideation I adore the Parents of Universe, pArvati – parameshvara, who are indissolubly cleaved together like sound and sense…”