AGE AND BACKGROUND are not big issues when it comes to innovating, but encouragement at an early age does help those who show a creative impulse, say Jim Marggraff and Stephen Frazer, two experts on the subject of innovation and creativity. The two men will be speaking at the Inno Asia conference on Saturday. The forum is part of the Business of Design Week programme. The experts also believe that attitude may count for more than aptitude in determining one's ability to innovate. 'Anyone can learn to be innovative,' said Mr Marggraff, head of Anoto, in the United States. 'Age is not a barrier, but can be an obstacle if you do not remain nimble in your thinking and willing to think as you have not thought before.' Mr Marggraff will present 'A case study on creating a US$1 billion business in five years'. 'I would simply say that critical characteristics of innovators are passion, diverse interests, incredible curiosity and the ability to make connections and map mental models to different areas. Some of these traits are related to what we call intelligence, but the emotional contribution of passion is a necessary driver that is not measured on an IQ test.' Action to turn a good or great idea into reality was the next step. 'There is an old expression that says discovery is looking at what others have looked at and seeing what no one has seen. I would add that you must have the willingness, ability and fortitude to act on your new vision.' These values and principles are mirrored in Mr Marggraff's own venture, Anoto, a paper-based multimedia learning device that generated sales of more than US$1 billion over five years, between 1999 and 2004. Two intuition-driven discoveries lie behind his success. 'A 1988 study showed that one in seven American adults could not locate the United States on an unmarked map of the world. I was amazed by the lack of geographic knowledge in the United States, and I assembled a team to address this problem,' he said. The team came up with the world's first touch-interactive globe. The user taps the globe with a stylus and hears facts, music and quiz questions on world geography. Later, while trying to find better ways to teach his son how to read, Mr Marggraff adapted his interactive globe to create the PBM technology that makes paper audio-interactive to touch. The device involves using a digital pen on 'intelligent' paper; the act of writing or drawing triggers interactive visual and audio effects that enhance learning. Mr Marggraff is now developing a new generation of portable and affordable platforms for learning and communication for all ages across different cultures. 'The quality and usefulness of innovations vary,' he said. 'Meaningful innovations require substantial refinement and testing, and persistence and patience among the innovators to achieve broad adoption.' Product designer Stephen Frazer, meanwhile, asserts that innovation is 'no more than putting new ideas into practice and fitting them into new contexts while making sure they are feasible'. The managing director of Frazer Designers said that a new technology was not necessarily a good product. 'As designers, although we do not invent things, we are helping to humanise technology. We also transfer thinking from one market to another.' Mr Frazer's Inno Asia address, titled 'You don't have to be a genius to innovate', will reflect on how product technology can be enhanced incrementally through innovative design. 'Everybody has to innovate to keep up with new developments,' he said. 'Given the opportunity, everybody can be innovative. It is all about being open-minded, knowledgeable, having an entrepreneurial drive and being willing to take risks.' An encouraging environment at school and at work inspired creative thinking, he said. 'Young people should be encouraged to play and experiment, but many cultures don't encourage this,' Mr Frazer said. 'To develop creativity, schools should engage young people in a continual process of play in an experimental, project-based manner. 'Companies should know that it takes time, money and an encouraging environment to breed creativity. A creative workplace is one where judgments are suspended and ideas are allowed to flourish.' Mr Marggraff of Anoto said: 'We should encourage children to question what they see, and empower them with a sense of satisfaction in conceiving new, challenging ideas.'