Thursday, 26 May 2016 02:58

What drives innovation?

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Necessity is the mother of invention.  Or is it?

A couple of weeks ago, I shared a video about a young man who had invented a ‘lion repellent,’ a device which used flickering lights to distract lions from attacking the villagers’ cattle.  To summarize, Richard Turere was charged with herding his family’s cattle like other youth of his age in the village.  Every night, the villagers lost livestock to prowling lions.  Some villagers came up with the idea of setting up a sentry each night who was charged with killing any lion that tried to steal from them.  They rotated guard duty and were successful in their plan.  However, it cost the lives of some lions and cattle.

Richard came up with an alternative plan.  Initially, he thought fire would keep the lions away.  Then, serendipity struck and he noticed that flashing lights confused the lions and kept them away from the cattle.  So he designed a device that he placed on the fencing around his family’s pasture.  Soon, other villagers noticed his success in keeping his family’s cattle alive and they asked him to design the same device for their own pastures.

So what made Richard invent such a device?  If we say ‘necessity is the mother of invention,’ every boy in the village had a similar ‘necessity.’  They each wanted their cattle safe from lions.  Indeed, there had been generations of youth who’d lost cattle to lions and who had used the sentry method to keep their livestock safe.  Yet, Richard chose to create a better method of dealing with the problem rather than accepting the age-old remedy.  Why?

Let’s review what it took for Richard to invent his lion-deterrent device:

  1. A problem – Family livestock facing depletion from predatory attacks.
  2. Independent thinking – Richard knew what others were doing, participated when necessary but chose to believe that was not the only way the problem could be solved.  He thought for himself.
  3. A curious mind – prior to creating lion-detractor, Richard had been interested in how things work.  He recounts taking apart his mother’s radio just to review its components.  He’d also tinkered extensively with other things.  So Richard had a curious mind.  He was interested in how things worked.  He tinkered.
  4. A refusal to give up – when his first invention didn’t do the trick, he tweaked it.  Richard was committed to his mission regardless of how long it took or how many tries before getting it right.  Like all successful inventors, Richard persisted in working on his invention (think Edison and the lightbulb).  It takes dogged determination to make a breakthrough so any inventor worth his salt, must persist.

Of all these elements however, one trumps all – a curious mind!  Villages across Africa are replete with problems or ‘necessities awaiting inventions.’  Unfortunately, a dearth of independent thinking generates the same tired old approaches to problems generation after generation ad nausea.  And though people never give up, they cling to the wrong ideas.  Indeed, there’s no substitute for a curious mind.  It drives the three other factors – if there’s no problem, a curious mind finds ways to make an existing remedy better.  It cannot follow the crowd because each person’s personality drives their curiosity and there’s nothing curious about a tired and worn path.  Finally, a curious mind never gives up.  It keeps on generating new ideas.  A curious mind is the mother of invention.

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Abi Adegboye Ph.D


Dr. Abi Adegboye is the Director of AfriLeads, LLC which trains the next generation of leaders.  She is a public speaker and writer passionate about youth and women's empowerment.  Author of Wanna B Prez? 10 Life Strategies from President Barack Obama's Journey to the White House and co-author of Owanbe! Yoruba celebrations of Life, Abi inspires her audience to lead their best lives now.  Book Dr. Abi for your youth conference at or (678) 590-5810.