I always find it ironic when someone uses the expression “think outside the box.” Having long lost its original freshness, it’s now about as inside the box as you can get. I’ve rarely attended a brain-storming session, though, where it wasn’t slipped into the introduction – hardly a model for creative thinking processes.
Old habits die hard, but when you allow yourself to coast in your comfort zone (another hackneyed expression – instead let’s say “sleep in your smug smog”), it’s easy to miss opportunities for new and improved ways of doing things.
Just this week, I dined in a restaurant so dimly-lit it I could barely read the menu. The waiter there accused me of being old-school, because instead of using the flashlight on my smartphone to read the menu, I held up one of the table candles to it. It’s not as if I grew up in an age of beeswax, it just didn’t occur to me to use my phone (less a case of old habits dying hard, and more of new habits being a difficult birth).
The same stuck thinking doesn’t apply, thank goodness, to UBC scholars, who – through their impediment-free pondering and masterful mulling – frequently come up with novel ideas and new approaches. Take Nemy Banthia, PhD’87, the engineering scholar who is finding a way to bring infrastructure to rural, remote, and resource-poor communities. He and his team have developed the world’s first self-repairing concrete for building cheaper and more durable roads (page 12). Or Dr. Keekyoung Kim and colleagues, who have created a new bio-ink that may lead to improvements in the fabrication of human tissues and organs (see Take Note). Or Dr. Muhammad Abdul-Mageed, who has co-developed a computer program that uses Twitter data to detect human emotions (see Take Note).
Albert Einstein once wrote: “Imagination is more important than knowledge, for knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution. It is, strictly speaking, a real factor in scientific research.”
There are few limits here. UBC recycled all its boxes a long time ago.