by Solomon Osadolo
If there’s anything the strides taken in the last fifty years as regards stretching the boundaries of innovation by hatching and harnessing creative ideas to make the world a better place has taught us, it is that the orthodox set up – quiet, pristine and adequately equipped laboratories – we’ve built over the centuries to foster such ideas don’t necessarily reserve the prerogative.
In fact, as is increasingly the case in the last decade, garages and dorm rooms are gradually taking the shine off of laboratories and formal institutional ambiences when it comes to harnessing technological ideas. It’s not to say that formal institutions and laboratories are losing their relevance with respect to the reasons for which they were set up; it just means the rules have changed in recent times. Unless, of course, you’re doing stem cell research or working on chemistry/biomedical research for which the rules will most likely never wane. But most of the notable inventions that have shaped the world in recent years all started in the founders’ garage or dorm rooms –places least likely expected to be conducive for such work.
But what is it with garages and dorm rooms that seem to unlock creativity in today’s innovators in spite of the attendant chaos? Is there some link –however subtle or bizarre- between inspiration and disorder?
The structure of science is built on rules. So are its laboratories. There’s a way to act in a lab. There are various etiquettes to functioning inside a lab and these rules are rigid. They have to be because they’ve been proven to ensure optimum safety and minimal errors while working inside them. But could it be that the very system on which our labs are based may be a limiting factor in itself with respect to stretching the limits of innovation today?
One thing is certain, though. Today’s innovators are younger, less patient and certainly more eager to circumvent the rules to achieve their results. Speed is an ever increasing variable, and the resilience that used to be associated with sitting at a lab while painstakingly following a sequence of set rules while you work can easily spiral into frustration. In a lab, the rules that ensure safety and due process while anticipating optimum results can also restrict you in that they can keep you from striking out. And a mind that is beleaguered by a constant prompting to not break the rules would barely have the nimbleness required to break into deeper levels of thought. And for minds less susceptible to the parameters of perfection, a pattern of chaos could do much good.
Poets, writers and artists usually talk about having to go to very serene or picturesque sceneries to draw inspiration for their art. We cannot dispute the fact that such places evoke eerie feelings that tend to heighten one’s creative powers. But I think much needs to be said about the insight that can come from observing chaos. Some of the most beautiful concepts can come to you (as has been my case) from taking a ride in a bus, amidst a game, movie or news program, or observing people and proceedings at a party, rally or at church, even.
Our minds keep finding a useful pattern in chaos and use it as springboard for new ideas. But we’re almost always trapped in the pastimes to notice.
All the best ideas have not been hatched. All the coolest concepts haven’t been completely harnessed. And if the world is to benefit from an ever increasing influx of good ideas we have to, while constantly reviewing the systems that make our labs and formal institutions work to ensure a steady outpour of ideas, learn to pay mind to the fickle insight that can seldom ignite from the embers of chaos. Besides, there’s far more people than there are labs to work in. And there aren’t nearly enough readily accessible beatific sceneries to inspire us all.
We may need more garages, it seems. Chaos is useful.