miltontan

A Surprising Encounter with Globalisation

In Change, Globalisation, No Readymade World on 2010/10/14 at 12:51 pm

It was a regular sunny Saturday afternoon.  I drifted rather uneventfully to a cramped motor parts shop in Alexandra Village (Singapore) to look for replacement wiper-blades for my Honda CRV.  Not exactly something I look forward to, but one that can blow out of proportion by the upcoming annual vehicle inspection for all cars older than 3 years.  Based on a scenario that my Mandarin and dialects were undependable to ensure I leave with the right thing, I removed one of the blades to take with me as the sample to match.  I remember thinking that it was the smart thing to do since the folks in these shops were unlikely to have the capability of knowing all about makes and models — “first gen”? “pre 2001″? etc. What happened next caught me entirely flat footed.

The “towkay” (boss) of the shop took a quick look at the blade that I confidently presented to him, nodded, and sternly asked me for the other blade.  Still in a confident posture and tone, I questioned the need to.  He slowly lowered his chin, raised his eyes to glare at me over the brim of his oversized reading glasses, and said firmly (in Hokkien) that they are not always of the same length.  I felt my intelligence challenged.

Surely all wiper blades come as identical pairs, I thought to myself.  They always had been, and there was absolutely no reason in my mind why they would be otherwise.  The save-the-planet in me thought that the world might even be a better place if all wiper blades for all cars were identically mass produced.  Less material wastage.  And, no time wasting too in hunting and arguing about blade sizes…

Whilst I was still affixed there with my ‘high’ thoughts, the “boss” went into an even higher level of attack that I never saw coming. He gave me, and several of his workers who had by then gathered around, a long lecture on globalisation.  He spoke (in Hokkien, still) with gusto of why we can no longer continue with old assumptions, such as lengths and types of wiper blades, where they were made, distributed (globally), and sold (online).  He concluded by saying business is no longer the same and we all must be prepared for change.  A deep silence followed.

I wisely decided not to up the ante, and made the longish back-track in the hot sun to fetch the other wiper blade.  I grudgingly removed what looked like a pretty identical piece to the other I left with the “boss”, feeling it was a waste of time and hoped to be vindicated.  When I handed it to him, he proceeded to hold up a blade in each of his out-stretched hands, and, with some drama, brought the two together side-by-side.  And, boy, was he right! The outer blade was actually more than two inches longer!  I humbly conceded defeat and complimented his commitment to keep up with change.

Every time I reflect on this incident, I am reminded of the person in the encounter, and not so much the particulars of the case, such as the difference in lengths of the wiper blades.  What kind of a person lives on the edge of change?

One of my favourite accounts on creativity

In Beating the Odds, Creative Culture, Creativity, Design on 2010/10/11 at 2:51 pm

Pablo Picasso painted a rare portrait of Gertrude Stein, his patron and friend, in 1906.  Despite some 90 sittings, Picasso completed the painting largely off-site, ending up with a figure with simple masses, and a face that bear more resemblance to an African mask.  It was a visionary work that pre-empted his radically-abstract cubist phase.  When someone commented that the painting did not resemble Stein, Picasso famously replied, “But… she will”!

Creative people alter the way we see the world.  They introduce the surprising, even shocking, alternative to the things we take for-granted as permanent and unchanging.  It must be said that it does not always work, but when it does, our world gets turned on its head.  Suddenly, we wonder how we had put up so long with the bad and the ugly.  Often, we even cry, “Why didn’t I think of that?”, or, “I could have done that!”.  But the sad fact is that we did not, and the truth is that creativity is much harder than it seems.

Creative designers are reconfiguring our world everyday.  They constantly re-visit old problems — such as the way we live, our furniture, clothes, and the tools we use — but frequently re-frame new ones — such as our response to climate change, the ageing population, and security; all striving to make our world a better, safer and happier place.

Can Creativity be Taught?

In Creative Culture, Creativity, Education on 2010/09/30 at 2:58 pm

I seldom use this expression but I sincerely think it is the best answer to this loaded question: “yes and no”!

A related question, “Can thinking be taught?”, would attract the same response.  Creativity to a large extent is thinking, although we tend to expect it to have more tangible outcomes (such as art, music and design) compared to more abstract or conceptual thinking.  But both creativity and thinking share the need to be practised for them to make sense for the rest of us.  Both are fascinating subjects for lectures and discourses but mean relatively very little until they are applied to the real world.

The thing with creativity — and thinking — is that is an innate attribute, like language, that is unsanctioned.  We do not need to be formally taught creativity, thinking or language, but it helps if we want to take it to a higher level.  For example, creativity, like thinking, is contextual; but many fight for “more creativity” as if it were fresh air or clean water.  The funny thing is that cognitive psychologists, sociologists, neuro scientists, philosophers and linguists trip over themselves to explain what is practised billions of times everyday since the beginning of time without the slightest awareness that these are subjects of deep inquiry that may be taught.

Have all the probing made any impact on creativity?  Well, yes and no.

Stay tuned for cases of “yes” and “no”.  Send me a note on your yes/no encounters.

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