With the recent rise in global competition for technology and manufacturing jobs, professional associations, labor organizations, and political groups in the United States have begun to emphasize the need for innovation as a means of retaining and even expanding the domestic workforce. While many universities offer courses on innovation, it’s not an ability that can be acquired by passively attending a lecture, reading a book, or surfing the Web. Furthermore, innovators aren’t born. They develop their talents through active, directed, hands-on experience.
There is no one correct path to becoming an innovator. However, I’ve found experimenting with electronics, robotics, and microprocessors invaluable in developing the requisite skills, regardless of the areas in which innovation is eventually applied. Designing a QRP transmitter, building a PID controller for a robot drive mechanism, and creating a smart appliance with a BASIC Stamp all involve creative problem solving, adherence to the scientific method, as well as time and resource management. Not only is experimenting with electronics an enjoyable avocation, but the fundamentals learned at the workbench can provide you with the foundation for innovation at work, school, and in your other pursuits.
Consider, for example, that there’s no escaping the scientific method in the process of correctly diagnosing a circuit. Working systematically, you make a hypothesis about the functionality of a component, run tests to prove or disprove the hypothesis, and then, if necessary, move on to the next component or circuit. Like every good scientist or researcher, you make notes about the process and your findings so that you’ll be better able to recognize and address similar problems in the future. With experience, you’ll become more proficient at diagnosis, and the process will become intuitive — integrated in your subconscious thinking.
By mastering experimental fundamentals, you’ll be in a better position to innovate. In this regard, innovation is a combination of logic and creativity — left and right brain activities that are normally at odds with each other. Intentionally shifting the balance between the logic and creativity will enable you to develop new circuits and devices in a controlled manner. Although it’s possible to stumble upon a valuable discovery through random trial and error, relying on serendipity is at best a frustrating, inefficient, and low-yield alternative to directed innovation.
In the pages of Nuts & Volts and SERVO Magazine are contributions from innovators spanning the fields of amateur radio, robotics, circuit design, microcontrollers, and fundamental electronics. As you read through the articles, you’ll invariably encounter projects that either address a problem that you’re facing or that simply peak your interest. Some articles will be more appealing to you than others, but they all provide building blocks upon which you can develop and practice innovation.
Whether your immediate goal is to explore the application of an electronic component, build test equipment that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford, learn to program a new microcontroller, or provide your family with the added safety and convenience of a home automation project, you can make the most of the information provided by our authors by actively improving on it. Don’t feel locked in to the descriptions or applications, but consider improving on the designs by making a calculated substitution here or a modification there so that the end result better suits your needs. That is, innovate, don’t simply duplicate.
Now, read the articles that most interest you, pick up your keyboard or soldering iron, and start innovating. NV