The left-handed lame: a profile of the brave innovator

Ohfajar 07-1480-kQfD-U10701252322527UpB-1024x576@LaStampa.it.jpgAristide Boucicaut is the inventor of the “Bon Marché”, the first modern mall, a store where you can find everything. In the beginning, Boucicaut worked using a strict method of classification. He organised products by category, with a precise order, well dividing them. Great success. But after a year or two, he realised the profit was not increasing. Thus, one day he mixed up all the products, putting potatoes next to clothes. And the profit went up again, because a housewife has to pass by clothes to find potatoes, and ends up buying them as well. Just like Columbus, he found what he was not looking for. The Anglo-Saxons call it “serendipity”, a lucky and unexpected event. This is one of the secrets of innovation, although it does not happen just by chance, but requires hard work, knowledge and research.

This is the example of innovation that Michel Serres gives. He is a Professor of History of Science at Sorbonne University and author of important philosophical essays, and will present his last book, Le gaucher boiteux, The left-handed lame, at the next Book Salon in Turin.

According to Serres, innovation comes like a burglar at night, catching us by surprise. There is no method to achieve it. A recipe can make us cook the dish we want, not to imagine another one. An inventor is someone who finds what he was not looking for. Just like Christopher Columbus, who discovered America while searching for Asia. To innovate, one should get out of the beaten path, and branch. To innovate means to branch. Serres’ left-handed lame is someone who is branched in the body, but nonetheless can find his own path.

Innovation is a process to follow along, not to be afraid of. To innovate means to change one’s path and find out that the new destination can be even better than the one we imagined. To innovate means to deal with reality, whatever complicated or resource-constrained it might be, and find out that there is more hidden potential to exploit. It means to be a bit optimistic, very jugaad.

Aristide Boucicaut dared. He went out of the beaten paths of the commercial and sales managers, who hardly ever would have put potatoes next to clothes, and achieved the benefit he was hoping for.

The real innovator is brave and is not afraid of changing the games to generate a true change. And what about us, are we afraid of change?

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