Comment: listening to your inner child

3 min read

A recent project provided a compelling reminder of how collaboration can help unlock the kind of creativity that so frequently drives the best innovations writes Neil McDougall, Managing Director of C2I2020 headline sponsor Frazer-Nash Consultancy

Frazer-Nash Consultancy MD Neil McDougall

Last year, we helped mobility charity, Whizz-Kidz, with its ‘Dream Wheelchair’ competition, bringing young people’s ideas to life by developing photo rendered realisations of all the category winners’ designs, plus a 3D printed model for the overall winner. We learned a lot about collaboration and innovation through working closely with the children who entered the competition.

READ THE ENGINEER'S FULL INTERVIEW WITH NEIL MCDOUGALL

Children are natural innovators – they come at a problem from a dynamic ‘we could if…’ viewpoint, rather than a static ‘we can’t because…’ stance. Many of us will have seen children letting their imagination run free – and I think the best innovators take the same approach. They see a problem that needs a solution, or something that could be made better, and they work out how it could be done in a new or different way. The excitement of a discovery never diminishes – whether that’s how to fix something that keeps going wrong, or a novel approach to resolve a puzzle – every time I experience that ‘eureka moment’ I capture my childhood optimism once again.

The winning design in Whizz-Kidz Dream Wheelchair competition

The winning ‘Dream Wheelchair’ design was hugely creative. It featured adaptable wheels to enable the wheelchair to walk upstairs; fold out blades that could fly the chair anywhere; a hover function to use on the beach; and an inflatable ball that allowed underwater travel. The design may have stretched the laws of physics, but that’s how dreams work. I really hope that the winner’s dream, which embodies the independence to travel where she chooses, can be made real. Working towards that dream is the goal of Whizz-Kidz ‘Wheels of Change’ project – to reimagine the wheelchair for the future. It will take a lot of innovation – but then innovators are dreamers too, using their visions to work towards and fulfil a need.

The excitement of a discovery never diminishes...every time I experience that ‘eureka moment’ I capture my childhood optimism once again

We’re really lucky at Frazer-Nash: our inner child gets an airing on a regular basis. We get people coming to us and asking us to solve all kinds of interesting problems, and are able to offer answers to some of the questions that really make a difference in the world. Whether that’s to develop a powerwheel that captures data on wheelchair push frequency and speed, supporting the rehabilitation of injured service personnel; or to investigate vibration and shock loading to help improve lifeboat seat design for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI). Sometimes the sky’s the limit for our challenges – at present we’re exploring the feasibility of space-based solar power for the UK government and space agency. One thing that all these challenges have in common, is the satisfaction of working together towards a greater goal.

Collaboration has been key to helping Whizz-Kidz, and its project partners Duchenne UK and the University of Edinburgh, towards delivering the goal of the Wheels of Change project. Taking young wheelchair users’ needs and desires, and turning them into a prototype innovative powered wheelchair is very much a team effort: from the generous funding provided by the People’s Postcode Lottery’s Dream Fund, to the postural support offered by Aergo’s air cells, to the digital innovations of Somo Global and the control system technologies of Curtiss Wright. But the most important collaborators were the wheelchair users themselves, their parents, carers and occupational therapists – their ideas are inspiring innovation to become action. Everyone has had something to offer, a contribution to make to reaching the ultimate destination.

Innovation is a journey we take towards an ultimate goal. Sometimes it can be harder to keep going when the road to our destination is a long and winding one, but it makes it all the more worthwhile when we reach it. If we take that journey with others, we can support each other along the way, using our collaborative discoveries to build a safe path across rough ground. We have a lot to learn from children – by taking their approach we can not only reach our innovation destination, but have some fun along the way. And remember to smile.

Whizz-Kidz is a charity set up to provide disabled children with the essential wheelchairs and other mobility equipment they need to lead fun and active childhoods.

Frazer-Nash Consultancy is the headline sponsor for C2I 2020

Frazer-Nash is a leading systems and engineering technology company. With over 800 employees, Frazer-Nash works from a network of ten UK and three Australian locations. Its consultants apply their expertise to develop, enhance and protect  clients’ critical assets, systems and processes.