New ideas, products and services that solve our problems affect change on a mass scale and help redefine and upgrade economies; a process that continues to steer innovating nations towards economic supremacy over the rest of the world.
Luckily for us, the world has witnessed more innovation in the 20th century than in any other period ever before. Examples of the aforementioned process are thus numerous and accessible.
Everything from radio, airplanes, electricity, automobiles, television, robots, nuclear bombs, microwave ovens, solar cells, optic fiber, pacemakers, microchips, computers, spacecrafts, cell phones, internet, the World Wide Web, to a plethora of other advancements in medicine and related fields have changed the way we live today.
Moreover, the change has been so drastic that the period usually ascribed to a typical ‘generation gap’ has had to be redefined into a series of narrower categories to chronicle the variation in human behavior.
There was a time when a ‘generation’ could represent anything between two to three decades and changes in human behaviour were measured through this very yardstick. Today, in an attempt to better manage the study of change, sociologists have coined new terms to identify varying mindsets. The ‘Millennials’, or ‘Generation Y’, or the ‘Peter Pan Generation’ broadly represents individuals born in the 80s. ‘Generation X’ follows ‘Generation Y’ and the rate of technological change will ultimately determine how soon we demarcate time to separate ‘Generation X’ from the one that arrives after it.
The semantics associated with change, however, should be the least of our worries. What matters and what we should worry about is whether we are contributing to change or simply consuming every new idea that comes our way.
Countries and economies that want a larger, more significant stake in the global economy have no choice but to innovate. Indeed, innovation is the single greatest driver of economic change and can put the owner of that change in a position of supremacy, even for long after competition seeps in. American films and German cars are two examples of global leadership in two distinct industries, both lending immense support from one common business principle – innovation.
But even with the benefit of hindsight, and the undeniable correlation between innovation and economic progress, in developing countries like Pakistan, where problems clearly exceed solutions, only a handful of brave individuals are willing to risk everything in the name of innovation. Not that the government in Pakistan is helpful or focused enough to assist, but I feel determined entrepreneurs have other, bigger things to worry about.
Why people are risk averse and why they value security over adventure has something more to do with the collective psyche of the nation then. A closer look at some of the many enemies of ‘business adventure’ and ‘business risk’ in Pakistan may provide a better understanding of the obstacles to innovation here.
First and foremost, an early marriage, a long line of unending children and the pressure to make it all work with a measly starting salary will tame any young adventurer into a pack dependent goat. Our cultural obsession with marriage and the responsibilities associated with family life will not create obstacles for all individuals but most will buckle and conform in line with other job seekers.
Second, the essence of innovation lies in troubleshooting, brainstorming and creativity. Yet more and more school going children in Pakistan are learning the art of thinking, behaving and communicating along one common line. Children in school and otherwise are attempting to blend in with their peers because in an intolerant environment differences are frowned upon.
Third, we have developed a habit of acquiring practically everything for free – this goes for the rich and poor alike. Amongst the poor, when underprivileged communities get free products and services from development agencies, the development agencies are doing a disservice to the people because the products and services invariably expire and the people then – unable to generate new income – remain vulnerable. This particular brand of development, which is tantamount to spoon feeding, also compromises the capacity of the beneficiary to find his or her own solution to a given problem.
Four, a myth prevalent amongst all kinds of people is that inventors, creators and innovators spend their entire life in laboratories mixing potions and devising algorithms to solve complex problems. That is certainly not the case. Very recently, a seventeen year old girl, Amber McCleary, in an attempt to create the world’s first odour free dog bed, infused copper into a series of prototypes and finally discovered that copper infused clothing is actually antimicrobial. Pet owners are happy with this new find but more than that, Amber’s creation has immense potential in the health industry; a potential that she is actively exploring now.
So if you’re someone at the cusp of choosing between a fancy job and a thankless entrepreneurial project, think about all the obstacles you have already crossed to get where you are. You might not be very far from where you want to be.

n    The writer is a communications consultant based in Lahore.