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Innovation Blog

Personal Creativity Machine – Do YOU Have One?

By Shlomo Maital

I have been a management educator for 26 years, dating back to 1984, when I began teaching R&D engineers in MIT Sloan School of Management’s Management of Technology M.Sc. program.  For years, I taught a disguised version of microeconomics, showing how simple economic tools could be used by innovators to create and develop great new products.  I wrote two textbooks on this and it seemed that they were reasonably useful for managers and engineers.  But lately, in my workshops for managers, I’ve discovered that there is a far deeper need than economic tools.  Managers need personal creativity tools.  They have worked for years for large global bureaucratic organizations, in most cases (very few large global organizations are NOT bureaucratic), and their innate creativity has been brutally beaten out of them.  Many of them believe that they have lost it – that they are no longer creative, though they once were.  I find this particularly sad and disheartening, because I know for certain that high-potential creativity exists in every human being, and is often repressed, but never destroyed.  Every five-year-old child is super-creative.  Buy them an expensive toy, and they take it out of the box – and play with the box, making it into anything and everything.  Kids haven’t yet learned the rules. So they create as if there were none.  (See Sir Ken Robinson’s wonderful TED lecture on how schools destroy creativity, and why we need to reinvent them). 

So lately, in my workshops, I have been helping my managers build “Personal Creativity Machines” (PCM’s).  These are individually-tailored toolboxes, unique for each individual (no two PCM’s are alike, just a no two persons’ fingerprints are the same).  They are designed to be used daily, to prevent rust from gathering, and to be applied to absolutely everything and anything we do, not just to inventing gadgets.  They are aimed at enriching our lives, because it is far more interesting to do things better, faster, easier, differently, than to do the same thing the same way again and again, until our brain cells die from fatigue and boredom.  My students’ PCM’s seek to empower individuals and restore their faith in their own creativity, to show them that the fires of invention may have been partially doused by bureaucrats, but the spark never EVER goes out completely, and it can and should be re-energized into a raging flame of innovation. A PCM is a structured orderly process for identifying needs and finding innovative ways to satisfy them.  “Brainstorming” is rarely effective. There has to be SOME structure in creativity, though every person needs different types of such structures.

Your PCM has to be tailored to your own passions, interests and learning styles, and to the environment in which you function.  It requires a difficult inward journey of self-discovery, and a difficult prolonged outward journey to the edges of the universe, to explore human society and human needs that want and need innovators.   I have been astonished at the variety and quality of these PCM’s, that each manager-student creates at the conclusion of my workshops.  I now have a very rich collection.  One day, I think I will gather them into a book.  The idea?  Not for readers to borrow them, but to inspire readers to invent their own unique PCM.

Do YOU have a PCM?  Do you use it regularly?  Why? Or why not?  

Innovation Blog

Rwanda – Not Genocide, Wired!

By Shlomo Maital

   BBC journalists are the best and the worst.  The best, because they produce programs like Peter Day’s Global Business, and tell us about a country known forever for genocide, Rwanda, which is trying to become known for bandwidth and fiber-optics.  The worst, because the National Union of Journalists is on strike at BBC, protesting pension reform; they somehow don’t understand that in the global crisis, the value of pension-fund assets have fallen drastically, meaning that their benefits have to fall too.  French workers seem to have a problem grasping that fact, too.

    Thanks to the strike, old programs are being rebroadcast on BBC, and so I was happy to hear one that I missed last March.  It is Peter Day’s account of Rwanda’s plan to invest $50 m. of its own money, using South Korea’s expertise, to criss-cross the country with a fiberoptic network, bringing broadband access to villages.  Rwanda is a small African nation, a democracy, with 11 m. people, largely rural, formerly a Belgian colony (Belgium was among the very worst of the colonial powers).  Its GDP per capita is only $1,000 and its main industry is subsistence agriculture.  In 1994 some 1 million Tutsis were massacred by Hutu tribespersons, while the UN watched.  The massacre was a direct result of Belgium’s policy of favoring the Tutsi tribe, causing burning resentment among the Hutus. 

     Rwanda is already enrolled in the OLPC One Laptop Per Child program, launched by MIT Professor Nick Negroponte.  So Rwanda, under its visionary foreign minister Louise Mushikiwabo and controversial (but visionary) President Paul Kagame, is seeking to become Africa’s first fully ‘wired’ African nation. Kagame has a 2020 goal: Make Rwanda a middle-income nation in a decade. That will take 10 per cent annual growth.

   Many Rwandans earn their subsistence living by herding cows.  Ms. Mushikiwabo’s vision is to have Rwandan children use their laptops to help their parents modernize their agriculture and herding.  Perhaps if Rwanda succeeds, other larger nations will follow suit. 

     It is significant that South Korea is aiding Rwanda.  South Korea was torn apart in the early 1950’s by civil war between North and South.  The country was ruined.  It has rebuilt the economy, through hard work and innovation, and South Korea has become an exporting superpower, with exports comprising well over 40 per cent of its GDP, and global innovators like Samsung leading their markets with clever inventive products.  Now South Korea is aiding another country torn apart by disastrous civil war.  It is sensible for South Korea, not America or France or Germany, to run this project, precisely because of this empathy. 

    We should wish Rwanda well with its venture.  One day I would love to visit Rwanda and see the fruits of their innovative efforts.


Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital
November 2010