[Editor’s note: For those of you who are sensitive or dislike controversy, read no further. I suspect that Ken Coffman is the type of guy who used to whack a hornet’s nest with a stick when he was young. He revels in controversy and is not shy. But you always know where you stand with him, and his opinions are very clear; plus he’s a bright and talented engineer. If you are not afraid of open and honest discussion about a controversial blog, then please do read on. I like his bold brashness and the way he fires up the audience. I think we need that sometimes in the midst of our daily routine. So go ahead and comment, and let Coffman know how you feel and what your opinions are — and enjoy the ride.]
Our last conversation about lab facilities was a fun diversion. (If you have anything to add, then wander over to The Plight of the Working Electronics Lab and comment.) The Internet is forever, it will wait patiently for you. I intend this blog to cover dryer, technical subjects, but again, let’s chat about another hot topic that’s on my mind: innovation.
Everyone wants innovation — the word is tossed around like confetti. But what does it mean? Regardless of your precise definition, it boils down to creating something new. North America is an innovative place where half the world’s original design work is done. That said, anyone who believes other cultures can’t be creative and entrepreneurial are kidding themselves. We’re in an increasingly competitive business, and it will take our best efforts to succeed.
It surprises me about how people talk about innovation. If we could commoditize it, the MBAs would have done it by now, and instead of anthropology majors, it would be old power-supply engineers like me asking if you want whipped, non-dairy goo on your flatulencino. Shockingly large sums of money are spread around to teach people how to innovate, but to what end? If you ask me, creativity can be taught, but only when you’re six, not thirty-six.
The creative spirit is based on youthful experience with failure. If you were punished for making a mess, tearing something apart or expressing a contentious viewpoint, then you’re not going to be inclined to experiment or try crazy things as an adult. Creativity is a way of life, and the idea it can be taught to an adult seems silly, but I suppose if you paid me six-figures to run a week-long workshop, I’d think of something that looks good on paper.
If we want assured success, then we should do the same things over and over with the same methods and only make small, incremental, and constructive changes. That’s a great way to make slow progress, but it’s not going to be very profitable or create a barrier to competition, because anyone can do things the slow, iterative, steady way.
Innovation is smothered by office politics, bureaucracy, and enforced, groupthink conformity. I can’t package and sell creativity, but I can tell you what it looks like. It looks like chaos, mad clutter, and whimsical thinking. It looks like a tousled lady with a weird sense of humor wearing neon socks and an inside-out, cross-buttoned blouse.
Eminent, disciplined denizens of Planet Analog will disagree with me. That’s great, let’s hear your eloquent outrage expressed in the comment section below, where you’ll teach me yet another valuable lesson in humility. There will be a fabulous prize for the most colorful insult.
— Ken Coffman is a Field Applications Engineer and Member of the Technical Staff at Fairchild Semiconductor. His postings are his own and don’t necessarily represent the opinions or positions of Fairchild Semiconductor.