First Scattered Thoughts On Innovation.

I was at an event recently, about a week back, in fact, and I heard an Israeli Minister talk about education and innovation. This was Neftali Bennet, and he spoke about innovation in Israel. The Jews have had a long and difficult history, and he mentioned that they believe in investment in the brains of their children, because this investment stays and grows. They do not invest (not literally, of course!) in land, because this can be taken away.

Going away from the literality of this statement, the powerful message in this, is that for  a nation, or corporation, or individual to grow, investment in intellect is critical.

When I read “The Pancatantra”, I read about the king who asked Visnu Sarna to teach his children how to think, and not what to think.  

This distinction is critical, because when you are taught how to think, then you start to break boundaries, and when you are taught what to think, then essentially you create generations of mental pygmies.

In all old mythology, the father was killed, so that the son could then take his stead. This, I assume, was desirable, for the old order to give way to the new, and for progress and new thoughts to propagate. Somewhere down the line, this stopped in many places, and old ideas were preserved, not for their validity, but for the fact that they are old ideas that have stood the test of time.

Old is not gold, and old is not always bad. But, does it stand valid in changing times?

How do you foster this culture of innovation? For one, I believe, you need to encourage questioning. When we look at our kids, we delight in their questions. We find them cute, and this allows us to feel good. It also allows the child to grow. Somewhere down the line, and I am not sure at which point this happens, in many cultures and organizations, questions are not always welcome.

When I was a young trainee on the shop floor, we were always asked for questions and suggestions. They were not taken kindly when we took up the offer!

Recently, I challenged the Managing Board of a company I was associated with about their views on India, and I was asked if I was daring to question the “wisdom” of the Managing Board!

I am sure that many people have experienced this.

So, how do we indeed foster a culture of innovation? One, is to encourage questions, including stupid questions. However, stupid, lazy thinking needs to be weeded out.

There is a fine line between stupid questions and stupid thinking, and it is up to the “boss” / “team” to distinguish between the two.

The fear that many young folk have, to question, needs to be eliminated. For this, it is important for the “bosses” to allow the knowledge that they are not infallible, to be strong, humble and approachable.

The old order gives way to the new, and this happens with genuine, innovative thinking.

Teach ’em how to think! Easy to talk about. Difficult to practice.

This is the key..




  1. Universities, school systems & corporations neither encourage nor foster independent thinkers – it’s not in their best interests.
    We need more independent thinkers!!

  2. Very thoughtful article. The concept of investing in intellect because it can’t be taken away is very interesting. I think every government and organisation like to think they after dynamic intellect but differ on how to cultivate it and often suppress it if it does not suit an agenda or will lose votes.

    Even in democracies it is often difficult to make progress on issues like education reform because there is sometimes much heated and political debate by non-experts drowning out the experts.

    And let’s face sometimes independent thinking produces idea that only look genius in hindsight, or ideas that look great now but fail over time. Not an easy issue!

    1. This, I agree. In the early days of the Pancatantra, the king wanted his children to be taught how to think. Now, we bludgeon them and tell them what to think. I suppose this is supposed to make it easier for us to deal with iconoclastic thought!

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