Teaching creativity a possibility or myth?

During my usual lunch trolling of my RSS feed from Tomorrow.sg, I am once again faced with the amazing ad-nausum argument of whether it is possible to teach creativity and its cousin entrepreneurship to an individual.
This comes at a very important time as we are in the midst of Singapore’s transition from a manufacturing base economy into a knowledge based one.
I shall attempt to share my 2 cents worth on this issue, and echo a comment from Mr.Wang’s blog of Creative Technologies Mr Sim Wong Hoo when he told the Singapore Government to “Do Nothing” when ask what it can do to foster creativity and entrepreneurship in Singapore.
I am basically of the mindset that you cannot teach creativity or entrepreneurhsip because there is nothing to teach!
Think about it? How did you go about getting your grubby paws on that elusive bar of chocolate? Did you trade or barter your apple for it? Did you pinch some when the owner was not looking? When was the last time you were faced with a problem that you solved thru your own intellectual power?
News-flash people, everybody is innately creative and entrepreneurial in their own way and I will go as far to say that it’s ingrained in our DNA as it’s about a matter of survival. How are you going design that spear that best kills that deer? After a few time, anybody will figure it out.
But being creative or entrepreneurial does not make you a designer or entrepreneur. That’s the harsh reality of today work environment. In any activity and profession that falls in the realm of creativity, only the best survive. There are many elements that make a designer and entrepreneur, and I will not list them all out as there are tons of blogs who do a much better job than mine. I will talk though about one element, and perhaps the most important.
I quote from Singapore Entrepreneurs Blog who could not say this any better:

This incident demonstrated a very simple weakness on both Singaporean entrepreneurs: they just cannot assimilate and elucidate the information from both sides of the house and make an independent decision and passionate stand on their ideas.

To me the solution is not to teach creativity as a subject but to teach people how to think in general. Mentally process input, analyze information and finally come up with their conclusions supported by their own reasoning. And it does not matter if it’s right or wrong. Post conclusion discussion is the key.
The ability to think analytically is a core competence in applying creativity to become a designer or entrepreneur. In many ways being a designer or entrepreneur is about problem solving, or I dare say, creative problem solving!
In my personal view the only way is to move away from rote learning towards enlighten learning. This has to start from young. Exposure to many subjects and activities, dropping streaming, project based homework etc. The list is endless.
Ah but now we start to talk about the environment’s influences on creativity, and this leads me to my final few points.
The biggest myth in creativity is that you need freedom to encourage creativity. To me that is utter nonsense. Can you create something if your world is in utter anarchy? I don’t think so. Look at your work space if you could not find your tools would you be able to draw? Furthermore ask your self as designers, if you had to design a product, but with no constraints what would you do? Chances are likely you would waffle around and come up with tons of ideas that never become a design. As they say, nothing beats the freedom of a tight brief.
Same with entrepreneurs, the creative entrepreneurs like Mr. Sim, will find a way whether if there is rules or not. In fact if there are rules, it’s much easier, as he will know what he can and cannot do. How can then rules stifle entrepreneurship? In fact contrary to popular belief, it is dead simple to start a company in Singapore. In fact you can do it online.
In conclusion, creative entrepreneurs, or what i like to call the true entrepreneur, will always find a way. All this start-up funding and incubators, business plans awards are really a joke to a true entrepreneur. Is seems the ultimate oxymoron that you need funding to sell a product, when the product should be already good or unique enough to be sold on its own merit!

  • BL

    June 7, 2006 at 1:44 pm Reply

    Mr Wang and DS,
    Here is my reply to both your comments: Thoughts on what Singapore lacks.

  • mr wang

    June 2, 2006 at 4:34 pm Reply

    Perhaps it’s a question of which angle you want to use to look at it. You’re approaching it more from the angle of:
    “I am a creative individual. Now I have some problems. Can I find a way to work around it? If I am creative enough, I can.”
    My examples here are more along this angle:
    “More creativity is a good thing for Singapore. But the environment in Singapore seems to contain many obstacles that obstruct or impede creativity. Shouldn’t we get rid of some of these obstacles, for the good of Singapore?”
    I think that the local environment has a lot to do with it. If local environments do not have anything to do with creativity or entrepreneurship, we would expect the people in all nations to be more or less equally creative or entrepreneurial. This clearly isn’t the case ….
    Cobalt Paladin himself asserts that Singapore is one of the best places to be an entrepreneur. By implication, this means that some places must be better than others, for an entrepreneur to be in. Since entrepreneurship is generally felt to be lacking in Singapore, and entrepreneurship is felt to be important, the question from a policy maker’s or civil servant’s perspective must be “What can we change about S’pore, to make it more conducive for entrepreneurship?”.
    It may well be that Sim is right when he says that the best way for the government to encourage entrepreneurship is to “do nothing” – ie leave them alone. Again, by implication, this means that right now the Singapore government is not leaving them alone – the government must be “doing something”, and too much of it, right now.

    A personal example, from me. I once won an award from the National Arts Council. Among other things, the award included thousands of dollars for me to go overseas to do a course in my artistic genre (if I wanted to ).
    However, my job situation would not allow me to take 3 months or six months’ leave to do such a course. So I said to the NAC, “I won’t be going for any such course. However, I volunteer to run a project locally, whereby I will work with young, inexperienced Singaporeans (who show potential) in this field to improve their artistic ability and give them some exposure. Let me use the money to sponsor this project.”
    They rejected my altruistic offer. I was offering to help them develop local creative talent, for free – I wouldn’t get a cent out of this for myself. All the NAC had to do was to sponsor the project using money which they were already prepared to give to me for another reason, but which I wasn’t going to use for that reason.
    But they rejected me, because it was “against the rules” – the money was meant for overseas courses, not local projects. They would rather see the money not used at all, that is, totally wasted on nothing … than to be used for something useful, constructive, creative and artistic, but which wasn’t in accordance with “the rules”.
    The losers? All the young, creative Singaporeans whom I could have helped with this project. See what I mean? About a local environment that obsctructs and impedes creativity.

  • Design Translator

    June 2, 2006 at 3:29 pm Reply

    Hi Mr Wang,
    Thanks for that fantastic post, and the time it took to write it. My analogy is, perhaps to you, simple because it really is. However the implications are far from shallow.
    Perhaps I was not clear, but let me further explain, the way I see it is creativity is an action and a process and entrepreneurship is the result of applying creativity. This result of applying creativity could be anything, a drawing, a sculpture, a bridge, a cocktail, a new way to get to work. My point was you cannot start this process in the semblance of total freedom. Total freedom gives you no framework or point of reference to start this creative process. Total freedom gives you nothing to base your exploration on, nothing to control your limits, nothing to move on from. Even an artist has the size of his canvas, a sculpture the properties of his materials, or a dancer the strength of his limbs.
    The examples you have described, can be viewed as the framework where we navigate from. So in an equally simple fashion is my solution to your points is:
    Think creativity to get a solution around the problem.
    Really it

  • mr wang

    June 2, 2006 at 8:55 am Reply

    “The biggest myth in creativity is that you need freedom to encourage creativity. To me that is utter nonsense. Can you create something if your world is in utter anarchy? I don’t think so. Look at your work space if you could not find your tools would you be able to draw? ”
    I would hardly equate “freedom” with “neat workspace”. It seems a rather shallow example.
    Here are more realistic examples of what freedom (or the lack of freedom) has got to do with creativity (or the lack of it):
    (a) You are a JC student and you have strong views on politics and social issues. You have been expressing these views on the Internet. Your school gives you a serious warning to stop such behaviour, as you are jeopardising your chances of getting a scholarship.
    (b) You make a film on politics but you cannot exhibit it because the government does not like it. You come under police investigation.
    (c) You are a secondary school student. You would like to borrow the school lab facilities to do some science experiments on your own, but you are disallowed because your experiments are not part of the syllabus.
    (d) You are a musical prodigy. You would like to study in a prestigious music institute which has offered you a place and for this, you ask for a temporary NS deferment. You are disallowed despite many members of the public expressing support for you.
    (e) You are an extremely talented young poet. In 1997, you submit your entry for Singapore’s most prestigious writing contest (first prize $10,000) and in fact, everyone knows that you will have strong chances of winning. However you are disqualified because you are 20 years old on the date of submission. The contest rules are that you must be 21 years old on the date of submission.
    (f) You are a secondary school teacher. You use innovative techniques to teach your History class. For example, when teaching them about Singapore during World War II, you ask your students to perform a simple 10-minute play in class, whereby they act out historical characters and scenes. Your principal orders you to stop such activities because they are not part of the syllabus.
    (g) A certain Singapore GLC has a programme whereby staff are allowed to submit ideas to improve the organisation. You submit an idea to reduce the delivery time of the company’s products to its customers. However, your idea is automatically rejected because you are not an “officer” – you are a non-graduate – and under the rules of the programme, only “officers” (graduate employees) are allowed to submit ideas.
    (h) You are a businessman. You have a business idea to offer tours on an amphibious vehicle (passengers will travel on land and water). For years, your business idea is held up by the government because you need a licence and they cannot decide whether your vehicle should be licensed as a vessel or as a land vehicle or as both.
    (i) You are an entrepreneur. You have an excellent product and need to raise funds to take your business to the next level. You’d like to IPO your business in Singapore, but under the policies, guidelines, rules, regulations, bye-laws etc etc of the SGX, you’re disqualified. You have to take your IPO idea out of Singapore, to NASDAQ, where it is accepted.
    (j) You wish to study a certain subject in school (you have a strong interest in it) but the school stopped offering it because it’s not so easy for students to score A’s in it, in the O-level exams, and offering it would drag down the school’s overall performance.
    (k) To encourage cross-fertilisation across disciplines, the university allows you to take a module at another faculty. However, the university insists on grading your voluntary elective strictly, so students end up hunting for modules in other faculties which is most closely related to their main area of specialisation. So much for “cross-fertilisation”.
    (l) Supposedly, creativity, and not rote learning and memorisation, is being encouraged in your school. You’re very excited by this. Then to your horror, you go to a “creativity class” and you find that you are asked to learn by rote and memorise certain passages from an Edward de Bono book on creative thinking. And yes, you will be tested, and yes, the grades depend on how well you’ve mastered the materials by rote learning.
    All of the above are drawn from real-life examples in Singapore. No doubt you will recognise some of them. What has freedom (or the lack of it) has got to do with creativity (or the lack of it)? Quite a lot, I would say.

  • Cobalt Paladin

    June 1, 2006 at 8:46 pm Reply

    Hi DS,
    Yes, I totally agree that Singapore is one of the best place to be an entrepreneur. However, to me, I belive perseverance is one attribute that is most required to be a successful entrepreneur. I’m not a clever person. There are times when brute-force method can also work instead of coming out with creative solution. :p
    That is why I always believe that everyone can be an entrepreneur as long as you are determined. Determination is not a gift but an attribute that everyone has.

  • Design Translator

    June 1, 2006 at 6:22 pm Reply

    Hey BL,
    Thanks for your comment!
    That’s the thing, too many people sit and complain rather than think about a way or a solution around things. Have we been so spoon fed that we become a nation of complainers when the “food” does not come to us?
    This is so counter-creative and non-entrepreneurial in nature if you ask me!

  • BL

    June 1, 2006 at 6:07 pm Reply

    Hi Design Sojourn,
    I agree with you on the myth about freedom to encourage creativity. That’s the problem I have with the writers, artistes and even scientists sometimes. If you are creative and passionate about your idea, you will find your way to make it happen, rather than sitting down and wait or give up before even trying.
    Hope to hear from you more

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