Promoting innovation has been one of governments' favourite undertakings in the last 10 years. This makes sense because it can create jobs and help their countries compete better. Therefore, many experts have offered up their recommendations on how to encourage innovation such as getting universities to turn their research into business products and services, holding creativity courses at school, deploying more technologies throughout a person's education.
While we fully agree on the necessity to have policies in place to promote creativity and innovation, we want to point out what seems to be a widely accepted yet erroneous assumption: more technology leads to more innovation and high-tech related ideas. Such thinking is not hard to understand: people who are versed in technologies know how to best adapt them for new purposes - and fast. You don't need to look beyond Facebook and Google for evidence. But this is missing the point: what is important is that they all started with one really great idea and not technology per se.
Rather than throw ourselves deeper into technology, we argue doing the opposite when it comes to surging past our creative boundaries: go low-tech and stay away from Internet technologies! You read that correctly. We suggest people to consider eschewing Internet technology, from time to time, because "unplugging from the Matrix" creates a more conducive environment for generating new ideas - even the occasional lighting strike. We believe that excessive use of technology can:
• Distract us from what really matters. Ev Williams, the founder of the tremendously successful Bloggers.com and Twitter, once shared the secret of his success: high tech does not have to involve "inventing new things". Instead, it is about using it to help us do things more conveniently. Surely, we need to be in touch with technologies and know what they can do. But more importantly is to understand the "low-tech"/offline side of human living.
Paul Lee, inventor of the Acehearing, a phone app - and a blessing - to help the hearing impaired hear, once told us that there is really nothing technologically new about his award-winning product. Instead, the value of the app lies in being in touch with human condition and sees what can be improved. Contribution to the society does not come from technologies; it comes from addressing peoples' needs.
• Impede the learning process. As business school professor, I am guilty as charged. A recent study cites that the root cause of classroom boredom is the instructors' use of PowerPoint slides, which are now a standard teaching tool. Let's take another technology: SMS. The trouble with texting too much is that it may hurt our learning and affect intelligence. In a study of children, ages 11 and 12, researchers found that those who used their mobiles to send three or more text messages a day had significantly lower verbal and non-verbal reasoning test scores than children who sent none. And how can we explain that in technology laden Silicon Valley, parents are more likely to send their children to schools that reject the use of technology in the classroom, than those that embrace it?
• Narrow our attention spans. We are gradually losing the ability, or at least the patience, to read long(ish) articles, particularly online. We now prefer short articles because there are so many elements - including that warning to tell you that you have received new message - that are competing for our shrinking attention span. We have also become more selective in our reading. The result is that we now read at a much more superficial level, precluding us from opportunities to think deeply. In doing so, we miss out on that meditative act that allows us to replenish our minds and to engage more deeply with an inward flow of words, ideas, and emotions.
• Detract from the ability to grow our creativity. This has happened to many of us: we struggle to come up with new ideas, so we set aside the problem for a while and return to it later, at which point all those ideas that had formerly eluded us, suddenly strike. But it's difficult to refresh our perspectives - a fundamental way to create a burst of creativity - if we are constantly overwhelmed with information from different sources such as Facebook updates, new Tweeds, and email. The result: our thought process narrows, making it a lot more difficult for new ideas to make their way to us; there's just no space.
By no account our above arguments are scientific. But we know that innovation is more than just technologies - they are just powerful tools that can turn innovative ideas into reality. Yet, those ideas are ultimately derived from insight and observation, both of which sprout and then flourish when we opt to spend less time online and more time offline.