Arunachalam Muruganantham began to revolutionise the acceptability and affordability of sanitary pads in India in 1998. Padman as he is fondly called produces this commodity which costs approximately 12 (Nigerian naira) from a self-made machine. Whatever a trouble-shooter means to you is what Padman is – an innovator. Innovation is a targeted phenomenon, it answers questions such as: how can we make more with little without compromising quality? How can this be better done? Innovation is indeed looking for problems, seeking why something does not work effectively, and making suggestions about how to improve it.
From solving crossword puzzles to the complex world of computer programming, there is a satisfaction that comes with overcoming the frustration of a problem. Innovation is the bridge between a problem and its solution, hence the saying ‘necessity is the mother of invention’. The problems we encounter in our everyday living are opportunities for our innovative prowess; who would ever have believed one could escape the rigour of pounding to have pounded yam by simply using a blender? The question now is: do you see problems in your immediate surrounding? If your answer is affirmative, then you can be innovative.
Innovation will always be a constant necessity to individuals, societies, businesses and companies as long as humanity’s realities are as protean and unsettled as they have been. A cursory glimpse at times past confirms the position that a harsh and challenging situation will most likely birth innovation. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc on the African continent and the rest of the world, innovations to fight it have been increasingly promising. With focus on African trouble-shooters, Tunisian researchers are using Artificial Intelligence (AI) X-rays to create an online scan tool that tells patients if they are suffering from corona virus. This innovation sorts large number of images determining X-rays of lungs with the novel virus in a very short time, and at low cost. Nigeria’s Dr Ola Brown recently launched mobile testing booths that are capable of reducing the utilisation of the scarcely available single-use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
The innovative journey to the solution to a problem requires a painful, laborious, and often, a solitary one. In the case of the Padman, it took him two years to realize that commercial sanitary pads use cellulose fibres derived from pine bark wood pulp and yet another eight years to perfect his fully functional sanitary pad-making machine without support from his family or community. Every innovation comes from an unlikely process of ideation, enquiry, and experimentation. Innovation is a product of recreation by combining seemingly unrelated things or ideas in new ways, transferring parts from one environment to another. Innovation does not just appear, but evolves from thinking differently than we have been doing, unlearning, learning and relearning.
Fear and innovation are antithesis. The fear of rejection, failure, the fear of making mistakes are defensive reasoning which according to Chris Argyrisand, are factors that obstruct our commitment to want things to be done better. The courage to reify ideas of how global problems affecting the individual in remote corners of the world can be solved is pertinent to the better future we would create. So long humanity exists, the desire to improve and resolve problems around us will persist, heralding an infinite world of possibilities of a better condition of existence to every human on the surface of the earth or any other planet we would inhabit.
Written by: Odunlami Oladapo