Ask questions. If you can’t think of any, one of the best is “why”. Don’t quit until you find out “because.” “What if…” works really well, too. Little kids are great at these questions; after all, it is how they – we all – learned about the world. Questions take us beyond learning what exists, they are what get us to the next step: innovation.
Torie Bosch, of Slate asks, “Are we in the midst of a new era of innovation?” she is inspired by “New technologies are making it easier than ever to turn an idea into a reality. Three-dimensional printers, open-source software, hackable products, and collaborative communities have turned traditional tinkering into a full-scale “maker movement” that allows—and encourages—everyone to tap into their inner entrepreneur.” She is excited about Slate, the New America Foundation, and Arizona State Washington, D.C., Future Tense event on Wednesday, Feb. 29, called “Tinkering With Tomorrow.”
Tinkering may not be enough, however, especially when competing with a generation of highly-educated, highly skilled innovators. MIT is working hard to expand that pool beyond the students who study at its campus. MITx is “a portfolio of MIT courses for free to a virtual community of learners around the world.” Tinkering will be done by a lot sharper “DIY” crowd.
On a petty level, I found a DIY mindset saved me a bit of money recently. I was checking with my cell phone provider about using my 4G Android phone in Italy – it won’t work. But the service rep eagerly offered the number of a company who would give me “preferred rates” to rent a phone that would work. That sounded like money I didn’t want to spend, especially unattractive since two years ago, the same cell provider offered loaner phones free of charge, but no more. I wrote down the number for the rental company and hung up. But I called back a few minutes later with an inspiration about whether any of the old phones I had upgraded from would work in Italy. “Customers prefer the rentals,” I was told, an answer to a question I didn’t ask. I started asking about each model in the pile of discarded handsets. “Hey would my old Blackberry 9630 work in Italy?” My provider wasn’t volunteering the information, but at least was honest enough to say when I got to the right one, “Yeah.” I had the technology I needed right in my hand; I just had to ask.