Nobody innovates alone - good ideas must collide with other good ideas

Monday March 20 2017

By BITANGE NDEMO
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To succeed in entrepreneurship, one must plan or think about the next paradigm shift that will change business.

Then you must create value out of the situation. 

Strathmore’s Energy Research Centre is gearing up to change business and life by taking advantage of the shifting paradigm in the energy sector. As the university inches closer to starting engineering courses, it is taking a different path from existing institutions by focusing on applied science. 

In seeking to create value by exploiting physical resources, knowledge and creating new energy products, processes and service, they are indeed staying ahead of the competition through constant improvement and innovation. 

Falling prices of green energy products have made it possible for ordinary citizens to access and afford energy, and the institution is developing enviable local capacity to take its programs higher. 

My visit to Strathmore was necessitated by a visiting Japanese team of scholars from Doshisha University, in Kyoto, who arrived in Kenya to look into areas of collaboration with their engineering program.

Geoffrey Ronoh, Manager at Strathmore Energy

Geoffrey Ronoh, Manager at Strathmore Energy Research Centre, explains how a three-phase solar energy supply works to Prof Agola and Prof Takashi both from Doshisha University, Japan and Prof Bitange Ndemo, University of Nairobi. PHOTO | COURTESY

Most institutions across the world have changed, or are changing, their engineering programs into an integrated framework that incorporates social and cognitive processes which combine innovative teaching methods with an industry-oriented curriculum. 

For example, students in water engineering who intend to solve water problems will stay with a community to understand its problems before they move into design thinking and provide an eventual solution. It requires combined knowledge to deal with most problems.

The inside of the 600KVA production that is

The inside of the 600KVA production that is used for training purposes. PHOTO | COURTESY

It is this kind of teaching that lacks in local universities, which largely focus on theory. Upon graduation, the students are hardly employable and are less innovative. 

For us to be more innovative, there must be a collision of minds.  I leant this from a TED talk by Stephen Johnson, entitled, “Where do good ideas come from?”

Johnson’s thesis in this video is that for really great and innovative ideas to make it to reality, they need to collide with other ideas to refine them. It is the group activity that leads to innovation.

Several other researchers like Amabile and Khaire corroborate Johnson’s views by asserting that enhancing creativity is not the sole fount of ideas. One must encourage collaboration to enhance diversity, accepting the inevitability and utility of failure and motivate with intellectual challenge. 

To be more effective, there is need to map the stages of creativity and attend to their different needs. In most cases, multidisciplinary approaches are more effective.

STRUGGLING HAWKERS

The national dream of becoming an industrialised nation starts with capacity-building around innovation and creativity.  With the many problems that we have in our environment, we have the best opportunity to solve our problems as well as those in other countries. 

Strathmore is taking one problem at a time and beginning to solve it, even before it launches its engineering program. They are looking into social problems and creating innovative solutions around such problem.  

One of the social problems they are looking into is the problem posed by hawking in Nairobi. Many, including the city fathers, see struggling hawkers as a menace, unlike many large cities where hawkers sell their wares and leave their stations clean.

Our hawkers, on the other hand, in most cases dumb their garbage in their work environment, thus weakening their case for continued use of their workspace.

Yet the problem is not of their making. City governments often are oblivious to an enabling environment to facilitate entrepreneurship.

Inspecting the three-wheeler configuration

Inspecting the three-wheeler configuration before the solar panel is mounted on its roof. PHOTO | COURTESY

Strathmore University in collaboration with Solar E-Cycles Kenya Ltd, have come up with a new product dubbed SOLAR CARGO BIKE in their mobility product line.  The bikes should carry the hawker’s cargo as well as waste baskets.

The solar-powered electric product comes in two models for urban and rural environment and both can be equipped with refrigeration to curb waste.  The first one is a three-wheel configuration that carries up to 100kg and the heavy-duty four-wheel configuration that carries up to 300kgs.

SUPPORT LEGITIMATE VENDORS

The collaboration between industry and the research institution makes it possible to produce industry ready graduates. 

The university closely collaborates with government especially in the sale of energy into the national grid having signed a power purchase agreement.

The two models of the Solar Power Bike. PHOTO |

The two models of the Solar Power Bike. PHOTO | COURTESY

Customers are invited to request modifications to the basic front cargo design to meet their specific needs. 

The Solar Cargo Bike is highly adaptable. In addition to generating its own electricity, it can be provided with a 1500W inverter to provide 240V AC power, which will enable vendors with perishable products to refrigerate them and prevent losses.

Besides creating jobs for the many unemployed youth in the country, the university says that these products will have different use cases, including delivery, mobile power generation, street marketing, ambulatory door to door sales, sales and event promotion and waste collection.

Potentially, these products will improve the hygiene of vendors especially food vendors.  There will be need, however, to support legitimate vendors to access parking spaces for vending bikes.  Without this, success will be difficult.

Strathmore has demonstrated how government, research institutions and private sector can work together for the good of the general citizenry. Other institutions of higher learning must emulate Strathmore to eventually solve our perennial unemployment problems. 

Michael Schrage, author of Serious Play: How the World's Best Companies Simulate to Innovate, said "Innovation' isn't what innovators do...it's what customers and clients adopt. “

The writer is an associate professor at the University of Nairobi’s School of Business.Twitter: @bantigito