Does your child have a mind for invention? Top tips to unleash the creative genius within!

Girls Invent inspires girls to become innovators and create real world inventions or products through workshops, mentoring and market linkage. We spoke with Dr Mark Glazebrook, father, inventor and founder of Girls Invent, to learn what led him to work with young people in this area and to ask his advice for encouraging creativity and innovation in young people.

How would you describe creativity? ​​

MG: Creativity is a big word, but often, times the people who are the most creative are the great observers. In everyday life, the brain can be easily distracted and this means we can miss details. Good observers notice what happens around them. Observations lead to questioning, wonder, exploring, ideas and most importantly business opportunities. This is a foundational aspect of the Girls Invent program. We need to sharpen our observation skills with practice – just like you would with physical activity, so that creative opportunities don’t pass us by.

What inspired you to work with young women in the area of invention?  

MG: I was inspired through my relationship with my teenage daughter, Taya. She asked me a question a few years back that I couldn’t answer. ‘What are most inventors men?  She went on, ‘Zuckerberg, Gates, Musk…where are the women…where are the role models?’ The realisation that there are so few women, particularly young women, who see themselves as innovators and natural leaders made me realize that something had to be done. When I became aware of that, I felt compelled to assist not only my own daughter but also other young women to reach their full potential. It is simply unacceptable to have half the population with self-limiting ideas of themselves. We need to send the right messages to girls that they define what their future should be, not society.

How did your own experience lead you to encourage others?   

For me, inventing is about taking an idea and converting it into something practical and marketable. My experience in product development and business innovation has always been in the space between commercial business and creating a benefit to society. When I worked in large companies, I led projects that created a positive benefit for the community, such as when I was at BP, I was charged with addressing a major health crisis in remote communities. I led a team that was responsible for inventing and distributing a new fuel called OPAL fuel. It was designed specifically to be odourless, so young people wouldn't sniff the fuel and therefore suffer brain damage and other health issues. As a professional inventor in my own right, I have also invented and commercialised several products. For example, I have had considerable success with a new product, the DOY, which is a dog enrichment toy that solves the issue of bored dogs who bark constantly and disturb neighbours. What I learnt and draw from all of these experiences, is the importance of perseverance in the face of obstacles, opposition and resistance. Solutions can come out of struggle and uncertainty, and I’ve found that these are often the sweetest results.

How does the Girls Invent program inspire young inventors?

An important aspect is that we treat all the girls as fully capable people, just like adults. At our first session, we say to the girls, ‘Girls Invent is not just a school program, you are now entrepreneurs and the more you view yourselves in this role, the more progress you will achieve.’

Too many young women have internalised limits on what they can pursue. Maybe it’s messages they pick up from the media or society but we seek to challenge unhelpful barriers that may be self-imposed or psychological in a caring and encouraging way. One thing that we do see over time as their inventions takes shape, is the girls gaining confidence and being amazed by their own abilities and success.

What is the importance of the work of Girls Invent for the future?

I hope one day we don’t exist. I hope the need for a girls’ specific program may not be needed and that girls throughout their lives feel capable and able to excel at whatever they turn their mind to. However, this is a way off. As we run the program today, we are also building a pipeline of roles models of past students who demonstrate to the girls that this can be done. Some of our students have created great businesses while still at school. Some have gone on to Harvard, some work at Girls Invent as trainers. I’m trying to create a community of what’s possible…taking it from the unusual to the usual.

What tips can you share with parents who want to encourage creativity in their children?

Parents can notice and encourage young people where they show signs of seeing the world with fresh eyes. Young people do this really well. For example, their daughter or son might notice a change in their local environment like a neighbour’s having a new fence. When they notice things that maybe others don’t, parents have a key role in encouraging this. Or a young person might ask a question about an issue. The parent can discuss what the child is thinking in order to build their observational skills and spark the inquisitive mind. Acknowledging these abilities through parent validation helps build a ‘mental muscle’ or neural wiring for creativity.

What makes the entrepreneur and the inventor different, is that they see stuff that other people don’t. They look at issues in a different way. One of the challenges for parents is: we don’t know what we don’t know. It can be easy to jump to a response that may discourage the young person, for example, if they start talking about unfamiliar ideas, commercialisation or business plans. Parents can help foster an interest and love in cultivating new ideas and turning these into solutions. Problems are simply solutions that have yet to be found. Striving, despite setbacks, are crucial skills for young people to acquire and parents who model this to their children when faced with their own tough situations, are giving them a lifelong gift.

Genazzano Institute proudly partners with Girls Invent to inspire students at Genazzano FCJ College to wonder, think, create and learn about the invention process.  Find out more about the Girls Invent program.