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How to foster an innovative mindset

When we think about what it means to be an innovator, all manner of attributes can come to mind: motivator, problem-solver, listener, communicator, hard worker, brainstormer … As a young person at high school who has taken on projects and studied hard, it’s likely you’ll have a couple of these attributes already.

But what can you do to be a more innovative thinker? We asked five innovation experts for their advice, to get your mind buzzing.

Think outside the box

Approach a problem from a different angle. Turn it upside down. Director of Deakin’s CADET Virtual Reality Lab, Dr Ben Horan, is constantly thinking about how to do things – and more often than not they haven’t been done before.

‘Engage with as wide an audience as possible – out-of-the-box ideas can result from discussions with someone with an entirely different skill set and perspective on things,’ Dr Horan suggests. That’s how Verity, the ‘Virtual Reality Intrapartum Touch Trainer’, came about – with a chance discussion between Dr Horan and Associate Professor Helen Forbes from the School of Nursing and Midwifery.

According to Professor Ian Gibson, a pioneer in his field of 3D printing, an inclusive environment is also a must. ‘People at all levels should feel confident in voicing their own opinions without being labelled in any way. I get some of my best ideas from discussions with both professionals and students.’

Embrace and overcome roadblocks

It might feel demoralising, but roadblocks are an important part of innovative thought processes. ‘If you’re put off by a roadblock, then your level of conviction and commitment to the idea may not have been strong enough and the idea may, in fact, deserve to fail,’ Prof. Gibson says. Harsh words, ‘but if you’ve got a feeling you’re right, that should be enough to keep you moving,’ he adds.

Challenges are an unavoidable part of working in high tech, and Dr Horan thinks it’s important to take the time to acknowledge successes and ‘remember that problems are an opportunity to do something new’.

Simeon Taylor, a lecturer on motion capture who has seen his work on the big screen with Happy Feet, is constantly surprised by how often just talking about a problem will bring out obvious, or not so obvious, solutions that he missed when he was tackling it alone. ‘When you hit a roadblock, remind yourself what the end goal is, and see if there isn’t another way to get to it. Also talk to people – anyone you can find!’

Convince others that your ideas have value

Daizy Maan, Manager of Deakin’s entrepreneurship program, SPARK, helps people grow their startup ideas. ‘When it comes to entrepreneurship, the value of an idea does lie in the execution. If you are pitching your idea, you should also know your market very well,’ Maan advises. ‘Know what problem your idea will solve, how it makes things more efficient, and how your idea will be applied.’

Director of Deakin’s Motion Lab, Associate Professor Sean Redmond, agrees: ‘You need to be well prepared, evidence- or hypothesis-based and try not to shoot from the hip. Visualise it, rehearse your arguments and invest your ideas with value and consequence.’

Dr Horan agrees too: ‘It’s the onus of the innovator to clearly identify the value of the innovation.’

'Engage with as wide an audience as possible – out-of-the-box ideas can result from discussions with someone with an entirely different skill set and perspective on things.'

Dr Ben Horan,
Director of CADET Virtual Reality Lab, Deakin University

Recognise and grasp opportunities

Keep your eyes and ears open. Assoc. Prof. Redmond says: ‘Being a part of dynamic networks is essential since you will be part of the most up-to-date conversations. If everyone is talking about it, doing it, then look towards the margins, to something not yet fully born or understood.’

Be interested in what you’re doing, keep abreast of what’s happening and have some diversity in what you read. Taylor adds: ‘Opportunities come from when the area you work in is used in an unexpected way.’

Light bulb moments happen when you’ve got your eyes open – that’s how Sleep Station began for Deakin’s Property and Real Estate lecturer Tom Keel, who is pushing for an innovative solution to Melbourne’s homeless problem. His proposal would see disused train carriages converted into shelter for the homeless.

Be passionate and curious about learning

Finding solutions and being motivated to learn come more easily if you’re working in an area you’re passionate about. ‘Other motivators such as career progression (and money) just don’t work as well if you’re not passionate about what you’re doing,’ Taylor says. Dr Horan adds: ‘It’s all about being surrounded by others who share the same passion’.

It’s also a good idea to sign up for events so you can ‘ask the right questions of people who face the problem you are trying to solve,’ Maan says. ‘Now is an exciting time to be in Melbourne; the government is embracing startups and innovation, having set up LaunchVic, a $60 million fund to strengthen the startup ecosystem.’

When it comes down to it, some of your best learning will happen in the classroom where you’re constantly interacting. ‘There, new ideas emerge, converge and sometimes fall away because they were not actually very good,’ Prof. Redmond explains. ‘Read and network continually, and scour the trade and commercial mags to see what is emerging.’

Prof. Gibson sums it up nicely: ‘Have fun in your job. Study the problem. The better you know it, the better your solution will be.’


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Dr Ben Horan
Dr Ben Horan

Senior Lecturer, School of Engineering, Deakin University

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Prof. Ian Gibson
Prof. Ian Gibson

Professor of Industrial Design, School of Engineering, Deakin University

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Assoc. Prof. Sean Redmond
Assoc. Prof. Sean Redmond

Director, Deakin Motion Lab – Centre for Creative Arts Research, Faculty of Arts and Education, Deakin University

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