Today, the word ‘creativity’ usually refers to the latest electronic innovation.
But technology and innovation aren’t the same as creativity.
This was Amy Smith’s worry.
She lectured in mechanical engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
In 2002 she opened the D-Lab: standing for ‘Development through Discovery, Design, and Dissemination’.
The main course was called Creative Capacity Building and, for her, ‘creative’ meant “Practical solutions to global poverty challenges”.
Creativity had to be practical.
The course ran a workshop headed “Make what you couldn’t make when you walked in”.
One of her students was Bernard Kiwia, a young man from Tanzania.
What he learned at MIT was more revolutionary than mere electronic innovation.
The creativity he took back to Tanzania was how to transform a village with no electricity.
If no one in the village had electricity, where could he start?
Well the one thing everyone did have was a bicycle.
So first he turned his bicycle into a charger for his mobile phone.
Then he made a pedal-powered water pump for his bicycle to run.
Then a pedal-powered washing machine.
Then he made a solar-powered water heater.
Soon the locals wanted this creative technology, so Bernard copied MIT’s D-Lab.
He began teaching locals to solve problems with practical creativity.
So far, Frank Mollel has created the ‘Fert cart’ from a wheelbarrow.
It spreads manure and fertilizer much faster and more evenly than can be done by hand.
He sells or rents them, and the proceeds mean he can send his children to school.
Jesse Oljange was able to design and manufacture a home-made avocado oil-press.
So instead of letting excess fruit rot on the ground it can be collected and turned into oil to be stored or sold.
Magreth Omary was able to make a soap cutting machine which means she now runs a small factory employing local women.
There’s also a home-made maize-sheller which can process 100kg of maize per hour.
Also a machine for turning avocado seeds into powder, for making herbal teas.
Wood is in short supply, so they are making beehives from waste-plastic.
A mechanical fruit-juicer means fallen fruit doesn’t go to waste, it’s sold as juice instead.
A plough & planter device can do both jobs simultaneously, cultivating twice the land.
Bernard Kiwia estimates around 800 local inventors have benefitted so far.
Using creativity to invent products, sell them and make money for food and education.
So MIT’s D-Labs is having a real effect in the world by Developing real creativity where it can make a real difference.
That is why Edward de Bono stressed practicality:
“An idea that can be developed and put into action is many times more important than an idea that exists only as an idea.”
In the West, and particularly in advertising and marketing, we tend to value theoretical thinking highly.
This has the appearance of knowledge but it often has no practical value.
That’s why de Bono insisted practicality is a measure of creativity.
Creativity has to have a purpose.
“Many highly intelligent people are poor thinkers.
Many people of average intelligence are skilled thinkers.
The power of the car is separate from the way the car is driven.”