A BBC World Service documentary, The Convict Streak, about Australian convicts and their attempts at escape, includes a wonderful segment about Bernie Mathews, an intractable prisoner sentenced to solitary confinement for two years.

Mathews says his cell is pitch black, with no light at all. Once a day he was given a jug of water, a jug of milk and a loaf of bread. Once every four days he was allowed out to exercise for half an hour or an hour. He lived this way for two years.

How does one keep from going insane, in the total black darkness of a cell, with nothing at all to do?

Innovation.

“I found a plastic button in my cell,” Mathews relates. “I invented a game. I flicked the button, then crawled along the floor to find it. Then, after I found it, I flicked it again. I played this game for hours and hours and hours. That is how I survived solitary confinement.”

Management educators motivate companies to innovate, in order to survive. I wonder if they realize how, for some individuals, this is literally true. 

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