Almost everyone is capable of innovation. What differentiates great innovations from everyday little tricks are the individual’s background, experience and knowledge in his or her profession, in the field of innovation, and even basic knowledge acquired in everyday life. Here, I would like to concentrate on innovations in the field of engineering and science that have the potential to make a difference in all our lives.
Innovations almost always start with a need or a problem in a given field that prompts the engineers to seek a solution. Each person will have to draw on his or her total knowledge and background to formulate an approach toward solving the problem. It is safe to say that the more extensive one’s knowledge is, the higher the probability of finding a solution, particularly a solution of high quality. By high quality, I mean a solution that is practical, cheap and — most of all — acceptable to the population the particular solution affects.
This rather philosophical introduction leads us to the question, “How do we acquire knowledge?” Home learning and formal schooling are two familiar means. But most importantly, as professionals, we learn by interaction with others in the scientific community, both past and present. How often have you heard great scientists say they are “standing on the shoulders of giants”? In other words, had it not been for those scientists who made the breakthroughs of the past, more recent achievements would have not been possible.
At present, there exist numerous platforms for spreading knowledge in a direct and complete manner across the globe, in a way that was never before possible. More specifically, I’m referring to the technical conferences that take place in all fields of technology. The reason is simply the accessibility of modern and cutting-edge technology and innovations from all over the world presented by the very scientists and engineers who conceived of them. These events also give the engineering community the privilege of questioning the innovators and digging deeper into theirs concept, and even into the thought processes that allowed them to innovate.
Over the years, I have had the privilege of participating in dozens of conferences all over the world, both as a speaker and as an attendee. I have always noticed that a given scientist’s solution to a specific problem prompts engineers in the audience to question the speaker on the applicability of the idea in somewhat different applications or even completely different applications. Really great ideas act as beacons for mind stimulation, inspiring others to close the loop and fix the problems they are attempting to address and solve.
It is not an accident that innovations are serial or sequential events. That is, each one is an incremental improvement over its predecessor, regardless of the inventor or originator. I cannot count the number of times I’ve had to call for a brainstorming session to come up with the best possible solution to a given problem. I can say that, in my experience, it has always paid well in terms of ease of implementation and sophistication of the solution, something I could have not come up with in such a short time if I were acting alone.
All these brainstorming sessions were confined to employees of one company, one division or merely a group and lasted only a couple of hours at most. But when we attend a specialists’ conference, we are attending a global brainstorming session that goes on for several days. Though your exact problem may not be the theme of the conference, the vast expanse of topics, techniques and ideas is likely to lead you to a solution you never knew existed. And more importantly, you may question the experts about your specific ideas and learn from their experience.
At an average power conversion conference, there may be about 400 distinct presentations, with each presentation being given by a speaker who, typically, has 5 to 15 years of experience. That means there are about 2000 to 6000 man-years of experience of the best minds in your field under one roof. Such a feat could never be duplicated in your company regardless how of large it is.
If you are an engineering manager, general manager or CEO of a high-technology company, I encourage you to take advantage of this unparalleled opportunity. Send your engineers and scientists at all levels to these forums of great scientific innovation and allow your colleagues to expand their knowledge and become true members of the global high-tech community. This will allow you to improve the bottom line hundreds of times more effectively than cost cutting, while also expanding the technological reach of your company.