From TEDx Cape Town: How to incubate new business ideas

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At TEDx Cape Town over the past weekend, Peter Greenwall, author of the book Logical Stupidity delivered a colourful presentation on innovation. Greenwall stressed the importance of embracing discontent, failure, anxiety and curiosity as energy sources for creativity.

The creative process starts with asking the question: “What went wrong?” or as Greenwall likes to put it “Why The Failure (WTF)”. If it’s hard to identify the root causes at first, start by describing the symptoms of the problem — it will help you connect the dots.

Greenwall describes anxiety as a “dark hole of vulnerability” that should be celebrated as a catalyst for innovation. “Your fears and worries encourage creativity by inspiring you to create something that takes the fear away. Edison was afraid of the dark so he re-invented the lightbulb, and Mark Zuckerberg was afraid of women, so he re-invented social networking,” quipped Greenwall.

On embracing discontent, Greenwall cited the example of waiting in a restaurant and not being able to communicate unsatisfactory service to the manager. South African startup Krit embraced exactly this type of discontent to create their service feedback system.

When a child died in a fire, South Africa asked “Why The Failure?” When it became apparent that the fire was caused by a candle that fell over, it would inspire new types of sturdy candle holders and even new light sources. Ockert van Heerden and John Bexley’s Consol Jar provides light through solar powered LED lights. Embrace failure and disaster and study their anatomies to innovate. Without disaster there are no heroes. Greenwall calls it the paradox of life. Without tragedy there is no comedy. Without stupidity there is no logic.

Three basic desires for innovation

Greenwall highlighted three basic desires that drive innovation. The first he said, is the need to understand what went wrong and how to solve the problem. The second, is to share your newly found knowledge or product based on your research. The third is the need for acceptance. The desire to be loved and liked, gauges how well your solution is received. Acceptance cannot be forced, it will come organically if you “fail until you perfect your product.”

It’s important to think from a different perspective. If you’re out of whack you’re right on track,” says Greenwall, but the “innovation zone” really happens when you start caring.

Keep thinking and analysing to avoid hitting a wall of apathy or, on the other side of the spectrum, anger. Instead of being dismayed at the state of the economy, push for a vocational approach for entrepreneurship in schools, for example.

Everything evolves around the cocktail of confusion and curiosity which leads to questions. Greenwall ended by encouraging the audience to find problems with other people’s solutions. “Challenge the assumptions, question the rules, challenge the system, sweat the small stuff, look around at what other people are confused about and remember to label your confusion, that way the problem can be discussed into existence which can lead to a new product.”

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