There is no workshop or seminar on any topic that does not reverberate with rhetorical calls for innovation, creativity, and thinking beyond the dot and outside the box. There have been any number of surveys testifying in a generalised way to their pivotal importance.

For instance, an IBM 2010 Global CEO Study surveyed 1,500 Chief Executive Officers from 60 countries and 33 industries worldwide, only to come to the predictable finding that all of them, without exception, were positive that, “more than rigour, management discipline, integrity or even vision, successfully navigating an increasingly complex world will require creativity.”

Be creative or perish, is the current motto. As I pointed out in my column, Heading for a Never-Never land ? published in this paper on December 5, the UPA Government has outdone them all by declaring the years 2010-2020 as the Decade of Innovation and set up a National Innovation Council with a typically amorphous mandate and uninspiring membership.

Since then, there has been total silence about the labours of this body as also about the programme of activities intended to be carried out in the Decade of Innovation and the nodal agency to which the responsibility has been assigned. So far as the Government is concerned, the achievement of innovation is complete with the announcement of the Decade and the setting up of the Innovation Council under its aegis.


The cardinal point missed, not only by officialdom, but also by corporate enterprises, academics and R&D establishments is that innovation and creativity, and generally the urge to think beyond the dot and outside the box, are inspired not by formal structures and functional hierarchies but by the prevalence of an ambience conducive to fostering and nurturing it.

Availability of facilities, provision of incentives, and recognition and rewards are, of course, a necessary part of it, but they do not, by themselves, constitute the ambience. It is made up of intangible and undefinable factors which cumulatively stoke the fire in the belly, so to speak.

I would rank as the first among them the fundamental right of freedom to commit mistakes. Extreme competitiveness among nations and organisations has given rise to the dicta that there can be no mercy for mistakes and one has to be right the first time. Such a prescription will sound the death knell of creativity which is simply another name for the courage and willingness to experiment with previously untested concepts, processes and products.

It is, therefore, essential to make allowances, and be prepared for, the wilting and withering of any number of what looked like promising ideas along the way. There can be no thriving of creativity in any setting unless failures are regarded as stepping stones to eventual success. In short, the ambience should be such as to welcome the commission of mistakes in pursuit of novel and path-breaking outcomes and absorb their cost.


Second, the enterprise as a whole should be receptive to new ideas, however offbeat they might be. A purportedly creative environment should encourage uninhibited brainstorming of the wildest of notions. It is necessary to remember that the inventions that are commonplace today — telephones, desktops, airplanes, television — were dismissed outright as bizarre and insane when they were first mooted. I am quite sure that but for Mr Ratan Tata boldly going ahead and making it a reality, the Nano car also would have been considered fit for the dung heap.

Third, there can be no creativity without the never-say-die spirit. It expands into a temperament that is neither daunted by obstacles nor dampened by defeats. It means being imbued with perseverance, persistence and determination, and both intellect and imagination. Indeed, creativity is imagination, fed by intellect, stretched to its outermost limits. It calls for a mental stamina contributing to sustained inventiveness even when the odds are stacked against oneself.

Constant cerebration and fermentation is the hall mark of creativity and for this to flourish, there should be a Brains Trust in every human enterprise which, additionally, should also hold Brainstorms at frequent intervals. Finally, creativity is not something that exists for its own sake. It is integral to the social good which it must promote in the manner of its application.