IBM Academy of Technology & AAAS-Lemelson Invention Ambassadors: Creating a Better World Through Invention

On July 30, 2019, the IBM Academy of Technology and the AAAS-Lemelson Invention Ambassadors Program hosted a conversation on how we can create a better world through invention. This conversation aimed to spark discussion about why more people should invent and the best ways to spark innovative ideas to better serve society. AAAS-Lemelson Invention Ambassadors Florence Lu, Rick Hamilton, and Elaine Chen shared their perspectives on invention in the 21st century. The conversation drew over 250 people. I took so many lessons from the hour-long conversation, which revolved around issues of diversity and equity, and collaboration. Here are a few messages that stood out.

Florence Lu, a Senior Solution Architect and IBM Master Inventor at IBM Research and a current AAAS-Lemelson Invention Ambassador, highlighted the connection between mindsets and invention. She firmly believes that with a slight change in mindset, everyone is capable of being an inventor: the only things required are a curious mind, a willingness to learn, and dedication to the invention process. She often draws inspiration for inventions by simply observing the world around her and asking herself these questions: how does something operate? Is it accessible to everyone? Can it be improved in order to be accessible to more people? A central tenet of Florence’s mission when inventing is to be as inclusive as possible with all her ideas—invention and inclusion go hand in hand.

Rick Hamilton, a Senior Distinguished Engineer at Optum, Invention Ambassador alumnus, and most prolific inventor in IBM history, echoed Florence’s call for more people to become inventors. To this end, he offered three key pieces of advice to help us become more innovative in our day to day lives. First, because every new invention is simply transforming known innovation to meet new ends, we should strive to build a strong and broad foundation of knowledge—success depends less on our education than it does on the way we choose to spend our time. We are influenced by everything we read, everything we see, and everyone we interact with, so those choices can have a profound impact on our knowledge base. Next, we must look critically at existing solutions. “The innovators are the ones that will find the flaws in those solutions… and be the ones to improve upon them,” Rick says. His last piece of advice is to use whatever abilities you have to take action and bring your ideas to life.

Elaine Chen, also an alumnus of the Invention Ambassadors Program and a Senior Lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management and an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship shifted the focus of the conversation to the importance of working on solutions to problems that matter to ‘you’. The best solutions, she believes, come when the inventors themselves experience a problem they care deeply about and stop at nothing in order to come up with a solution. Elaine also highlighted the importance of incorporating broad perspectives into every step of the traditional pipeline that transforms inventions into products—having a diversity of viewpoints can help make the right decisions. Being on the business side of invention, Elaine stressed how important it is for companies to build infrastructure that helps encourage an ecosystem where innovation can thrive. “As much acceleration as you can have inside the pipeline, you need input in terms of ideas and inventions, and you need a structure to do that.” Idea crowd-sourcing and dedicated time to side projects are two ways that companies can foster an invention ecosystem.

Along with this guidance on diversity and equity in invention, collaboration was a theme that cut across each of the Invention Ambassadors remarks. Florence spoke to the importance of connecting with people from different organizations, and Elaine agreed that more minds are better than one when thinking about real-life solutions. Rick echoed their sentiments, adding that the ultimate goal of any invention should be to create solutions that change peoples’ lives for the better—leveraging a network of smart people with complementary skills will take ideas much farther much faster and allow for an influx of diverse perspectives simultaneously.

You can watch the full event here: https://tinyurl.com/y4v3bh8f

Blog by: Erin Conn, Ph.D., Program Associate at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) for the AAAS-Lemelson Invention Ambassadors Program.