Using creativity to change Africa.
The creative act is not an act of creation in the sense of the Old Testament. It does not create something out of nothing; it uncovers, selects, re-shuffles, combines, synthesizes already existing facts, ideas, faculties, skills. The more familiar the parts, the more striking the new whole.
Koestler’s law of creativity
It is a simple but very profound quote that represents the power and value of creativity in life. And this is not merely artistic endeavors but also scientific. Our quest as Africans to solve our problems must stem from an intimate interaction with our context at all levels. Our attempts to create new innovations and solutions doesn’t arise out of thin air but by careful and strict interaction with the world we are living in by:
- UNCOVERING: the wealth and treasures hidden within the continent. Africa has untold reserves of wealth that are yet to be uncovered and fully maximized. One of the most important activities for African entrepreneurs is to go on a journey of discovery.
- SELECTING: choosing the right paths to solve problems. Everything from agriculture, biotech to neurosciences represents a path towards solving some of our problems. We cannot approach Africa’s problems from a reductionist viewpoint but rather develop a more constructivist and conversational approach. Through practical interaction and conversation between different subject areas that we will uncover more striking and impressive solutions.
- RE-SHUFFLING: The ability to recycle and reapply knowledge and information. There are 3 types of knowledge, Tacit (locked in the minds of people), Explicit (formalized and documented for consumption) and Executable (knowledge applied repeatedly to achieve a result). Bionics is the of mechanical systems that function like living organisms or parts of living organisms. How can we use what we observe in nature to mechanize the continent?
- COMBINING: being able to combine different subject areas to develop better and more sustainable solutions. As our perspective of the world becomes more complex it naturally follows that we need to develop more comprehensive solutions. The business in the food industry needs to have a better appreciation of finance as well ICT to improve accessibility to the market. Marketers need to be better psychologists and sociologists to reach their customers. Doctors need to be better economists to understand the demands and pressures encumbering their patients. According to Professor Lohn of Steinbeis University the fundamental question as we develop better solutions is whether a different, parallel technology can be used to achieve the same benefit? Or is someone already using a parallel technology (AI in medicine) to deliver services.
- SYNTHESIZING: through bisociation creating innovative solutions. How is the sea connected to a landlocked country like Zimbabwe? The very concept of being landlocked deprives Zimbabwean entrepreneurs from understanding the dynamics of global economics. If Zimbabwean entrepreneurs discover that 90% of the world’s economy is on the high seas it would change their approach to export and the strategies thereof (A landlocked shipping company). Bisociation is when one mixes concepts from two different contexts normally considered separate by the literal processes of the mind e.g. a landlocked country and the sea.
To achieve this level of creativity that will create more striking and relevant innovations we need to :
- Improve our appreciation of already existing facts: the potential of Africa is more apparent than we think.
- Interrogate ideas and concepts: there is nothing new under the sun rather there will always be more diverse interpretations of what is under the sun. A letter, Morse code, the telephone and a mobile phone all represent interpretations of communication throughout the ages.
- Harness the faculties and skills on the continent: the wealth of 1 billion brains can not and should not be underestimated. Africa has an amazing trove of knowledge spanning different cultures and languages. It may often be viewed as a disadvantage but if we truly appreciate the power of familiarity in relation to creativity it could become our greatest strength.
The Power of Familiarity
Does familiarity lead to loss of respect for someone or something? In some cases yes. But in the case of creativity it can unlock more possibilities. “The more familiar the parts the more striking the whole.” People are looking for solutions to a problem. In this postmodern era this means embracing complexity. Superficial ideas are unsustainable and by and large impractical. To develop better solutions, businesses in Africa need to become deeply familiar and intimate with their customers and the context they exist in.
The principle mark of genius is not perfection but originality, the opening of new frontiers. Arthur Koestler
Our aim in Africa should be to strive to unlock and discover new frontiers, develop new perspectives, reach newer and higher heights. I believe this is possible especially when we embrace our problems and look at them with a keener and more curious eye; the eye of creativity and innovation.