At the current moment I am sitting in a travelers lounge inside the Hong Kong International Airport after the second leg of a three-legged journey heading to Singapore. I’m passing my time trying to keep myself amused. In the last few days I have flown five plus hours from New York to Los Angles and just completed a fifteen hour flight from Los Angles to Hong Kong. I’m now waiting to embark on a five hour, third leg of my trip to my final destination, Singapore. All in all I’m tired, cranky and bored to death. I finished reading the book I brought along hours ago and I’m already completely sick of rereading the same two magazines. I just fruitlessly attempted to sketch the passers by. I figure I’m just burnt out from jet lag. Now the question has become, “what to do during my four hour layover?” It seems like an eternity to waste before my next flight. And if I’m going to stay awake I’m going to need some mental stimulation.
I’m heading down to Singapore on a three day trip to meet with new technology partners. I’m hoping to bring back something new and exciting to the toy industry, so the simple idea of technology is on my mind. And so, with time to kill and an expansive airport to explore, I set off on my search for interesting products.
For those of you who have never been, the Hong Kong International Airport is essentially a massive mall with a comparatively small tarmac and some planes. One can easily get lost for days on end there. This ridiculously large mall of an airport is honey combed with trendy clothing shops, makeup counters, coffee bars, restaurants, gift shops, toy shops, bakeries, high-end electronic stores and much more. Being just too large of a Caucasian to fit into any of the clothes on this side of the world I find myself wandering towards the electronics and toy shops. I’m looking mostly for neat gadgets and gizmos. I pass the time flipping through odd and quirky products that light up, flip around, spin and make countless noises. In general I’m surprised by the overall simplicity of the products here. I find very little in regards to the high-end technologies I expect to see in Asia. The consumer electronic stores are just filled with iPod accessories, cell phones and cameras. There is nothing new, nothing odd, nothing I can’t find in the states.
Directing my focus to the toys and gift shops I start to take notice that most of the innovation I’m spotting is actually very low tech, non-electronic type items. Simple twists on classic stuff. I start to wonder is there any innovation here? And then I ask myself a more important question: what constitutes innovation? The trend these days seems to be scouting for the latest hand held digital devices. I see it on every toy company’s inventor wish list: “innovative electronics”. But innovation is not only on a motherboard. It can be a simply engineered device, a change of color, or even a new texture. It doesn’t necessarily have to always mean digital or electronic goods. Basically, anything is innovative as long as it’s clever.
Having time to kill and being too cheap to buy anything, I find myself a spot to soak up some free wifi. I sign onto google and start searching through key words like technology, innovation and invention. I am looking for a connection and some clarity by definition. I’m having trouble clearly defining the words in my professional circumstance. The definitions I find seem to overlap each other. The word change seems to keep appearing. I continue to search and after about thirty minutes I stumble across an ancient Chinese proverb (probably because I’m googling in China) that states, to paraphrase, “change is like an open field of grass. A new trail is only created after many people have walked along the exact same path”. And then I think to myself, that’s it… innovation is the ability to lead the forces of change. Technology, thoughts, inventions can all be innovative. It’s whether or not it’s embraced that leads to change.
And so, for the moment, I feel comfortable with my conclusion. I feel a sense of definition to my task ahead. I realize that I’m not necessarily looking for technology for technology’s sake. I’m looking for an innovative way to provoke change. I’m now able to pack up and set off to Singapore with a clearer purpose. My search for change has begun.