Remarkable achievements, transformational change and leaving a powerful impact on others’ minds are topics that always engrossed me. In the early part of my life, I did not have the semantics of today neither did I do things out of reflective choice. Like most, I also did things steered by habits of thinking and action I grew up with. Even the value of iterative progression in reaching to wherever I reached in any context came as a learning gleaned through afterthought. Serendipity with all its romance and value is more respected and even relied upon as a process as one grows older. I would like to qualify that growing older for me would mean gathering wisdom through experiences over time and different contexts. Knowledge or wisdom gained over time by an individual is surely very valuable and important. But, is this knowledge or wisdom mainly instrumental in creating remarkable achievements or transformational change?
I think not!
The old adage, ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ has been on my mind for a long time just because it is old and you grow up with such quotes. I have always argued with myself that maybe the word ‘invention’ is a bit too dramatic and should be replaced with ‘innovation’. However, whenever I think of remarkable achievements, this adage somehow shrinks in my mind for its applicability. Recently, while responding to a note from an old friend about how the Vietnamese society has evolved, my fingers typed out the phrase, ‘while necessity could be the mother of invention, Adversity truly is the father of evolution’. When continuing in that strain, I did recognize that inventions or innovations are just milestones in the journey of evolution. In an organisation or society, innovations or inventions are continuously being churned out luckily by some individual somewhere. The coalesced result of these endless eruptions caused by a few individuals around us is what leads to transformational change. And transformational change is permanent; what has been changed never comes back including the changes to our habits of thinking and action. People who have gone through transformational change are never the same people. They now behave – think, see, choose, decide and act – in a transformed manner. When a lot of people undergo this change, we have an organisation or society that has undergone evolution.
The majority enjoys the gains of this evolved society and applauds the disruptive individuals for their remarkable achievements. They forget the pains the applauded caused them when going through transformational change. They sail on merrily until they are again hit by another wave of transformational change.
But, what is more intriguing to me is what makes these few individuals, whom I would call leaders, cause these disruptions – innovations or inventions. And that is where I find the adage, ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ inadequate. Necessity is a perception of the person who feels the need. If recognizing the need to invent or innovate was enough for invention, all older or wiser people who have gained knowledge or wisdom through their experiences would have been at the helm of every change or disruption. As any society or organisation always has many wise or older people, evolution through disruptions would have been voluminous as they do recognize the Need to innovate and invent new ways. But, all they mostly do is to exhort the young and the inexperienced to think out of the box, take risks, do what they are convinced they want to do and cause disruptions. We all know the many older and wise amongst us who ask of others to cause evolution and then sit in management meetings weighed down with their frustrations and wisdom. They know very well that there is a dire need for innovation and invention, but fail to cause any. Therefore, Necessity is NOT the mother of Invention!
It is Adversity truly, that fathers evolution.
Adversity threatens our survival. Necessity is felt when we are yet comfortably surviving. Adversity is opposition from powerful forces that we know we cannot fight with the status quo. It dwarfs the wisdom and knowledge we are comfortable with. Adversity raises my anxiety and I start looking for straws in thin air. I reach out to anything that could help me fight the Goliath towering over me. I am forced by adversity to learn more and fast, to unearth what has not been hunted yet, to collaborate with whatever forces available, to use whatever resources available and work intensely to get over the looming opposition. I do not need to be exhorted or incentivized to think out of the box. I innovate without knowing it is innovation. I invent oblivious of the adulation it may bring in its wake. I create as I have no other option. I do not look for easier alternatives to retire for the day. I know if I let go that moment of intense search and activity I may lose the opportunity to survive. My purpose is to conquer the adversity looming large. I know that my habits of thinking or actions are redundant to overpower the opposition and hence I disengage with my habits and look for new ways and ideas. I start noticing options that my old habits of thinking never allowed me to see. I choose the option that will make me overcome the adversity in front.
I cross the Rubicon in my mind and relish the fresh cool air on the other side. I feel strong, healthy and powerful. I am self-made!
Innovation or inventions becomes just happenstance. Milestones whip past without the cognizance of having passed them. There is no sense of need fulfilment, just a sense of remote but intense tightness in the groin coiling up in all vitality intensely working for the release that would be so exhilarating and emancipating. As positive anxiety piles up and transformational change finds its root in the womb of the society, adversity has spawned evolution banishing all status quo to history. A new dawn glows in the horizon, a new glow lights up the beads of sweat that went unheralded when the individual came up with path breaking innovations and inventions without even realizing that they did anything remarkable.
Need or necessity is too fragile a vector to rouse creativity or greatness in man. It is adversity as felt by the individual that pumps the adrenaline. Adversity is what brings into focus an existential crisis and makes the leap into complexity – uncertainty and disagreement – a logical choice. Adversity makes us look for a purpose to live for and our mind gets engaged with an objective that commands our cognitive space. That is when we get volitionally engaged instead of looking for incremental levels of need fulfilment. The purpose becomes our goal and we do not feel motivated by what we may get in exchange. Both gains and pains as a transactional consequence cease to be a motivational lever. All that we are conscious of is our purpose that lies on the other side of the adversity.
But, adversities are difficult to come by if we do not venture out of our comfort zones. Status quo is what one gets if one remains in a status quo. But, in an evolving world no status quo is everlasting. Since some individual somewhere is causing some disruption, change is bound to hit us one day. Either we believe that our lives are a part of an evolving world and join the changing side as disruptors or we could be lucky to be bruised by change racing past us. If not so lucky we could simply get picked up by a tempest of change from nowhere and find ourselves in a world that we never imagined to be in.
Adversity is a boon when we are unhappy to merely fulfil someone else’s expectations. Adversity is a curse when we wish to wait and see what others do and then react. We can never be prepared enough to react for disruptions that we have been ignoring or are scared of. We would then be amongst those who were lucky to survive change and enjoy the fruits of someone else’s disruption or just perish.
If we were to hide from adversity, we would never know the ecstasy of having spawned evolution.