Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Tracking, chasing, and eliminating deep rooted barriers to innovation...

Another story, another few questions about it...

In our previous story we mentioned a child and his family planting the seed about a novel use of a used tire, transparent plastic foil, and water to concentrate solar radiation for making coffee, while camping...

The way said story developed led to a passion for solar/renewable energy by the child in the story, a passion which he then used to research and develop a few new things and win a few research competitions, and maintain a decades long passion for new technologies and fighting to help getting those to becoming mainstream.

We will not answer here the questions we asked before. We leave those open.

However, we will add another related story in the mix...

In part as a result of the last story about collecting solar rays with a tire made large lens, the same (yet older) child was in high-school when he researched, optimized and built a series of conic solar concentrators, and used them consecutively for further experimentation and design into:

- first a better optimized coffee maker,
- then a solar powered running water heater, with a fitted copper spiral, and
- further a solar powered steam engine coupled to a small electricity generator.

As a member of the physics research group in the high-school, he secured the support of the physics teacher in charge of the student physics research group to talk the school's administration into backing and expanding these research efforts. It all boiled down to a simple lock on a door for a would be storage space, otherwise previously unused...

But please let me explain...

The proposal the high-school student came up with was the signing of an agreement between the high-school and the main technical university in the town to have the university:

- sponsor the research group,
- provide on site visits and guided participation by passionate in physics high-school students to the research facilities in the University,
- provide equipment and guidance to the students research group,
- provide a college/university student recruitment ground based on learning by the high-school students of what the university was doing and a matching with the high-school students' interests and inclinations thus nurtured by the partnership.

The to be donated equipment was there, the plan was written and on the table, the responsible faculty's commitment was there, and even the spot for storing the equipment was found in a small 4 cubic meters (about 320 cubic feet) space with a door located under some stairs, which was not otherwise used at all.

When presented with the offer and the MoU, the school administration's response was one concerned with the potential stealing of the equipment from the storage space. No lock was deemed strong enough to resist a potential break in. The storage space was indeed accessible from the school's inner (fenced) yard. The administration didn't want to take the responsibility of having the equipment in its inventory and then eventually be liable for it if it gets stolen... But furthermore, the lock alone aside, there were really no processes in place designed to allow for this partnership to be developed and established towards its fruition. We wonder today about the (absent) vision to see the value of such partnership and to make it possible irrespective of the small organizational hurdles involved.

... hold that thought for a second... "inertial high-school administrators"

The same child from above, many years later in a different country a world away and decades more into the present, now a parent in the meantime, tries to talk his child's school into taking all the children to one or a few Childrens' Museums on a school field trip. Quite a few options of Science and Technology Centers and Hands On Museums were available in the area, within just some twenty or more miles driving distance.

There was much support from the teacher for the idea, a teacher who has promoted field trips herself, yet who had an explanation for the school administration's impossibility to support and organize such field trips. It was not a lock or equipment security considerations this time, but rather equity... It turns out a half hour go and half hour come with some four-five hours wait bus trip would cost some 6 $/child to offset Diesel fuel and the bus costs, not budgeted for in the school's budget. Some parents were of limited financial means and could thus not afford the 6 $. Trying to avoid creating a socio-economic means discriminatory environment, the school could not propose such trips to parents and organize them.

There was probably little know-how as to grant writing and securing extra funds which would provide sponsorship of the trip for the needy families, or too cumbersome administrative processes (and resources intensive thus costly, dedicating resources away from managing daily operations and from focusing on ensuring a good learning environment overall) involved for securing the extra funds needed to address the equity issue and make a new much needed initiative available to all children.

[For the record, for those such inclined as to research which school we are talking about, in the meantime the "problem" was actually fixed over the following few years from the events described here. One more "fight" won after all. We wholeheartedly thank for this organizational learning and evolution.]

... now please bring back the story stored in memory, about the inertial high-school administrators in the other country a world away, a few decades in the past, and a political system a universe different than the United States.

What are the similarities between these two stories, thousands of miles away and decades apart?

What do the negative outcomes in these stories do to innovation readiness of the young learners many years later?

What are the lessons we need to learn? And once we learn them, what do we do to truly eliminate consciously and systematically the deep rooted barriers to innovation, day in and day out?

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