How to Innovate

Innovation – today’s theme – was prominent throughout Mr Baptista’s talk and the organisation visits. Today, I’ll reflect upon different aspects of innovation each segment of today provides.

Mr Baptista’s talk was not only entertaining, he also explained the how of innovation. Many of us know the why of innovation: pain points, a need for a better way of doing things, or a desire to improve upon something. I strongly agree that the first step to innovation is observation. When we make observations, we better see and understand not just the superficial layer of a problem, but also its causes and from there, work out the situation. His case of tree-destroying caterpillars illustrates this problem well. In the A*STAR laboratory, a similar observational course of action is also taken. Before actually experimenting upon the animals, they will take blood samples from the mice and put them into ‘wells’, from which they are able to first glean preliminary information before moving forward. Personally, I will apply this by always ensuring I fully understand a problem before trying to solve it. Sometimes, I try to solve a problem too hastily, resulting in gaps in and inefficiencies of my solution.

The HDB visit highlighted the importance of responsible innovation: innovation that keeps the needs of stakeholders in mind. Despite today’s news on how HDB flats are now too expensive or inaccessible, the HDB has no doubt managed to establish a strong and effective system of public housing. This is done by always keeping in mind the needs of stakeholders; most importantly, the people. The HDB’s decision to construct areas as ‘towns’ was an innovative one, as this had not been done in Singapore before. However, it has been proven to have had a positive impact on residents’ quality of life. Even today, the HDB continues to innovate with residents in mind. Recently, a Universal Design (UD) campaign as been launced by the HDB. UD encourages the design of facilities accessible and convenient for all, even if the user is elderly or disabled. This includes ramps, covered walkways, and textured flooring. Studio flats constructed especially for elderly couples now come with handgrips, non-slip flooring and an emergency pull rope. By innovating responsibly with these users in mind, the HDB will continue to provide quality housing at an affordable price to all Singaporeans.

Lastly, though the A*STAR visit was admittedly boring (I didn’t understand much), it was exciting to see what innovations have been taking place. What I learnt was that innovation can be aided. The immense amount of resources the government commits to R&D is testament to this. By providing these passionate researchers the space, time, and money to explore as they wish, the government is building a research culture that will propel Singapore through the 21st Century, where skills such as creativity and innovation are valued. I realised that this doesn’t have to be limited just to scientific research: people can be developed through the same approach. We shouldn’t provide a narrow line of road for people to toe, as all this teaches them is to follow instructions. Instead, by providing the people the space and resources to develop themselves, they will do so in unexpected and often fantastic ways. This is what innovation truly is.

Innovation will no doubt continue to be valued throughout our lives, becoming even more important in the knowledge-based future. We should not only innovate ourselves, but through our innovations help others to innovate as well.

– Joshua, Singapore

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