Friday, February 15, 2008

Can teaching creativity be possible? Isn't creativity an in-born trait we either have or don't have? Or can creativity be nurtured through a social environment that encourages its members to play, be silly and be free to ask the really stupid questions?

That was what this bunch of us signed up for today; the chance to shuck off the weight and wisdom of our years and be noisy, mischievous, shameless little kids once again.

This time, for being the monkey who disrupts class with his antics, instead of death-threats and letters to our parents we got rewarded with chocolate! And guess who amassed the largest haul of cocoa-based goodness? Ahem.

But this full-day workshop was about having purpose-oriented fun. We participants -- representing organizations involving different fields of education, transport and maintenance -- were there to experience how to solve our industrial problems, or explore potential opportunities using innovative thinking tools fueled by freedom, fun and play.

In between laughing, egging on and cheering our fellow participants to perform eyeball-rolling acts of ego suicide (like playing modified games of catching and pole dancing), we were gently being led to put together a business concept for some unlikely product or service that arose from our games.

A few competitive brainstorming sessions led us to ask 'what if...?' questions somewhat akin to Lewis Carroll's "why is a raven like a writing desk?" conundrum. But since we were thinking within the contexts of our particular industries, our questions came out something like "What if our office set-up was like the S'pore Flyer?" or "How can we use a bus to assist in ship repair?" or my group's "What if education was fast food?"

If we're stuck for ideas, the theory goes that by putting different things together in weird combinations and thinking through the random associations and connotations these combos embody, we can find a seed of a powerful new innovation that may solve an immediate headache, or become the next big thing to take the world by storm... who's to say?

While this method sounds suspiciously like the monkeys with typewriters theory, because there's some actual thought going on, the odds for success are marginally better. The oddities our various groups ended up pitching were things like creating a carnival atmosphere in the admin office; training office staff with a magician's showmanship to add entertainment value to the basic service provided; an ERP system to track and fine latecomers; a personal counselling service to help troubled workers be more confident and effective in their workplace; and a transforming bus that assists with ship repair (which we voted Idea of the Day). Obviously, Feasibility is another lesson for another time.

Today, we learned to not fear the stupid question, but rather how to ask the stupid question, no matter how stupid. A better tomorrow depends less on the clever answers people work out, and more on the stupid questions people ask. That's human history in a nutshell.

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