Bill Gates, writing on innovation and optimism in the New Statesman, claims that it seems wise to ask whether or not we can secure Bend trend lines with the power of innovation and optimism 1enough food to eat in the future. He adds that there are plenty of pessimists about food security, but believes the smart money is on optimism. He claims; Pessimists, extrapolate from the present to the future in a straight line. Optimists bend trend lines with the power of innovation and improvisation. He adds; optimists look for key junctures where they can apply innovation to bend trend lines and avert crises. 

Gates continues; currently, four million tons of rice in India and Bangladesh are lost to flooding every year, But if farmers in the region grow a flood-tolerant variety, they will flip that curve upside down, producing enough extra rice to feed millions more.  In sub-Saharan Africa, new varieties of maize can be fifty per cent more productive under the type of drought conditions that helped cause the Horn of Africa famine. In fact, despite this general environment of scarcity (whether its food or government finances), I have never been more optimistic about the future. I am optimistic because I believe in the power of innovation. My whole career has been inspired by the conviction that breakthroughs can make the impossible possible”. 

I have not done detailed research on Bill Gates’ claims but I am aware of the negative assumptions he refers to and the significant resistance to food that may be genetically modified. But, could the broad assumptions about food modification be perpetuating the loss of millions of tons of food and as a result many are starving? 

Trend lines are simply lines and they can be bent

 The idea of innovation bending trend lines correlates with the concept of beating the curve. To beat the curve you need to accept that trend lines are simply lines and that they can be bent. To bend them often involves the allocation of significant resources or it takes calculated risks like innovating and improvising. This innovation usually requires of you to introduce change before you have to and in so doing risk a short term loss in performance. To beat the curve you need to sense when it’s the right time to introduce changes or different options that will bend the trend line. It seems as if it is optimal to do this when the going is good because if you wait for the trend to turn negatively against you before you act, it is invariably too late to effectively arrest the trend.

Re-invent and improvise – Like PSY

To create value for Microsoft, Bill Gates invented and innovated. But calculated risks also exist in reinvention and improvisation. Korean singer, PSY, used reinvention to become an overnight hit. He accrued the most hits on U tube for his song Gangnam style which Bend trend lines with the power of innovation and optimism 3reinvents and parodies old style rodeo dancing.   

Change your reference points

When one refers to a reference point in the context of Mental Toughness it means the level of stress or anxiety that the individual or group is adapted to and therefore they operate optimally up to that point. All people have developed reference points that play a significant part in governing what they feel they can or cannot do and say. To take calculated risks the governing nature of these reference points needs to be addressed by changing what you believe you can or cannot do and say.  You change these reference points through moving systematically to the edge of the reference points, and when ready, cross the edges to establish a new reference point. This increases your competitiveness by establishing new boundaries within which you operate. 

Do the Springboks take calculated risks?

Bend trend lines with the power of innovation and optimism 5In 2001 I was party to an interesting experiment involving an attempt to change a reference point. Springbok rugby coach, Harry Viljoen, wanted a reference point change in the way the Springbok rugby team habitually played rugby. He felt that the Springboks needed to develop and use more creative options in order to blend and balance their game plan.  He discussed the idea with the team and it was decided that, as a first step, they would experiment with less reliance on kicking. It was common knowledge that the Springboks used kicking as a default attacking and defensive option. This approach was practiced and applied in real time during the first rugby test match against Argentina.  

You can imagine the consternation among the supporters and press when they observed the Springboks’ seemingly suicidal option taking of running into spaces where historically they would have kicked to relieve pressure or set up an attacking platform. However, even though there were some tense moments, the Springboks managed to win the game. Most journalists and rugby followers criticized Harry for this “crazy idea”.  Despite his explanations I doubt if press or supporters saw it as a calculated risk towards increasing the reflexive options of the team over time.  Harry had taken a calculated risk in an attempt to introduce a reference point change. He intended that this would initiate a more creative approach to playing rugby.  However, the criticism and indeed threats negatively influenced his commitment and soon afterwards his adventurous spirit dwindled and the Springboks were back to rugby tactics that resembled the typical South African subdue and win approach. 

However, unfortunately for Harry, South Africa, at the time, did not have a crop of players that were capable of subduing top teams like England and New Zealand. This left Harry stranded without a sustainable competitive advantage. On reflection, subdue and win has served the Springboks well in the past and continues to do so today. But I still feel that game plan flexibility can be achieved through mental reference point change and is ultimately a more sustainable approach. 

Bend trend lines with the power of innovation and optimism; Re-invent and improvise – Like PSY; Change your reference points; Do the Springboks take calculated risks?

Dr Steve Harris – Mind Doctor