A Brief Overview of Pecha Kucha Night #18: Education for Innovation

Last Saturday saw the 18th volume of Pecha Kucha Night Delhi, held at the campus of the Adianta School for Leadership and Innovation. The theme for the evening, “Education for Innovation,” brought together a range of educators, thinkers and designers who have been working in this critical space. The nine speakers for the evening presented their own unique understandings, projects and thoughts about this topic. As always, I can hardly hope to do them justice in this blogpost, and so will only briefly touch upon their presentations, and will allow them to speak for themselves in the videos which will be released next week.

Hemant Sahal kickstarted the evening with a presentation about innovation, education and the kind of relationship that lies therein. While the theme for the presentation was Education for Innovation, he offered the idea that perhaps we could think of Education as being equal to Innovation. In other words, the very definition and understanding of education should be that it gives birth to innovation. Perhaps, he said, this is where we have been going wrong – we have been mistaken about the role that education needs to play. Rather than allowing it to stifle creativity and simply promote conformity, we need to allow it to trigger and enhance our imaginations.

Abhishek Sanghvi followed next, and spoke about the widespread prevalence of innovation – it literally is everywhere – and that it is no longer a luxury. Every company that hopes to survive its competition necessarily has to innovate. But what are the essential ingredients of innovation and how can more people be given these tools? Creativity, curiosity and necessity all drive innovation, and it is essential that educational institutes of all levels try and instill these qualities in students from a young age, says Abhishek. The means of doing so is by encouraging curiosity, research, collaboration, observation and visualization. For all this, educationists need to develop new methods of teaching that make students think visually, critically and creatively.

Christian Leborg, a designer and branding consultant, spoke next about elements of the design process and its relationship with innovation. The systematic process that designers employ when developing, testing, prototyping and enhancing any new design is equally crucial to the process of innovation. These skills, therefore, should be taught not only to designers, but to people across disciplines. Moreover, they can be applied across multiple disciplines as well, and can even be used when creating a company, in fact, where an iterative design process can help your company grow, change and continuously improve itself.

Nehal Sanghvi of USAID spoke next, offering a completely different perspective on education for innovation. He spoke about the US-India relationship with regard to innovation, specifically in the context of development and aid. Whether it is called jugaad innovation, frugal innovation, social innovation, or any other title, he said, some of the development-focused innovations coming out of India have the potential to transform social realities not only in India, but across the world. It is this aspect of working with the rural communities and helping them develop their innovation into scalable, implementable products, systems or services, that is critical for USAID’s work.

Prashi Agarwal, a co-founder of AmbitionMe, spoke next about the kinds of misalignments that currently exist between the education system and the world of work. Giving the example of a specific student who chose a job simply because of a need for security, rather than because of her passion, interest, or even money, Prashi highlighted just how difficult this process is in today’s world. AmbitionMe tries to counter this by offering counselling, workshops, competitions and other innovative approaches to highlight the students strengths and interests, which will then allow them to choose a profession strategically, by experiencing the actual work and interacting with the company.

Siddharth Bathla of the Design Factory India was the next speaker of the evening. His presentation focused on how innovation is taught at the Design Factory, which is a center of interdisciplinary and collaborative study. The center aims to bridge the gap between students and industry, as well as bridge the gap between disciplines. Students from different disciplines (and from around the globe), therefore, collaboratively work on projects in direct coordination with industry. Projects are often socially relevant, and can involve students from backgrounds as diverse as design, design management, engineering and the social sciences.

Abhimanyu Nohwar of the National Innovation Council (NInC) followed with a presentation about the Innovation Education project of the NInC, including its vision, goals and methodology. The Council aims to set up a range of innovation and design-centered educational institutes across the country. One of the first things they decided at the start of this process was to steer away from traditional institutional models of education and to devise an alternative model that could allow for more creativity, collaboration, partnership and cross-disciplinary study. Innovation can come from anywhere, they realized, and therefore inclusion lies at the very heart of the program.

Mike Knowles, the Dean of the Sushant School for Design, spoke next. His presentation focused on the importance of design for innovation, especially in the social space, and how this kind of education is becoming more and more prevalent in India. He cited the NESTA report titled “Our Frugal Future”, which highlights India as a hotbed of lean, socially relevant innovations, and talked about the need for even more innovation-centered education that would empower people to create more sustainable, scalable social innovations. This requires not design education, but design thinking, which is coming into greater focus as well, and focuses on instilling empathy, creativity and rationality when tackling problems in any sector.

Ishan Khosla was the final speaker of the evening, and ended with a presentation that talked about design education and innovation. He began by saying that design education shouldn’t be something that only design students and professionals should be exposed to, and that at the higher education level. Rather, design education should begin in schools, at an early age, since one of the most important skills it imparts is critical thinking. Ishan also spoke about the need to consider ethics, sustainability and usability when designing new products or services, which are critical elements of any successful innovation.

Following the presentations, there was a slightly more structured and moderated conversation than usual Pecha Kucha Nights, where audience participants shared their thoughts, asked questions, and discussed different aspects of the topic. While I will not attempt to give an account of that free-flowing discussion here, several points made during this concluding conversation will inspire some of the blogposts to come over the next few days. Stay tuned!

About Ayesha Vemuri

Ayesha Vemuri is responsible for thought leadership and outreach efforts at CKS. She has undergraduate degree in Visual Art from Reed College in Portland, Oregon, where she also studied such varied subjects as biology, literature and the humanities. At CKS, she is responsible for curating the Design Public blog, managing our various social media platforms, organizing Pecha Kucha Nights and contributing to the intellectual content of the Design Public Conclave and other CKS initiatives. Find her on twitter at @ayeshavemuri.
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