Friday, September 15, 2006

Widespread Creativity & Problem Solving: Basics for the African Renaissance

How reconcile this world of fact with the bright world of my imagining? My darkness has been filled with the light of intelligence, and behold, the outer day-light world was stumbling and groping in social blindness”.

These gracious words were uttered by Helen Keller, American author and lecturer who through the painstaking support and mentorship of Anne Mansfield Sullivan at the initial request of Alexander Graham Bell (Telephone Inventor) overcame physical handicaps including blindness and deafness and has served as an inspiration for many, both the physically challenged and the “supposedly whole”.
She traveled many countries of the world and was very active in socialist causes. Her life eventually became a subject of a motion picture, The Unconquered and a play, The Miracle Worker by William Gibson.

She rightly observed that the world she lived in was one predominantly built upon facts in the sense that tradition, conformity, factualism and resistance to adventurous but constructive change stood in the way of human creativity, development and the realization of endless possibilities. As some have rightly commentated, Adversity fortifies and reveals hitherto concealed competencies (if you we are lucky enough to pull through, but we almost always do) and this possibly explains Keller’s ability to recognize and explore her bright world of imagining! Her darkness (physical blindness and deafness) experienced salting with the emancipating light of her intelligence while the generality of the outside world, though possessing physical vision, kept thrusting along the path of social blindness.
This brings into remembrance the words of my foremost social-development mentor and freedom crusader, also considered to be one of history’s greatest orators, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He remarked: “every man must choose either to walk in the light of creative altruism or in the path of destructive selfishness”.
Though without sight, her inner eyes, mental vision, and passion for positive non-violent change in society distincted her and etched her name in Gold. Little wonder she later remarked in similar fashion as Benjamin Elijah Mays (Martin Luther King’s Mentor) that “the greatest tragedy of life is to be endowed with natural sight, but lack aim and vision in life”.

Keller lived at a time when creativity was not common place and only a few dared express themselves thoroughly. However, the 21st century has surfaced and needs no further announcement. Condensed information (knowledge) has been intensely proliferated and the pace of technological innovation has redefined business, economic development and even the very art of breathing and existence. Creativity and problem solving has now become a universal currency and medium of exchange. Effectiveness, climbing profits and results have become the metrics of corporate performance. The scriptural extract “do you find a man skillful and diligent in what he does, he shall stand before kings, not mean men” is being fulfilled more than ever before.
Wealth creation is increasingly being linked with problem solving and neo-developmental economic policies the world over are consistently reflecting this ideology. These policies have stressed people empowerment, collaboration, market decentralization and the provisioning of an enabling environment and access to all forms of capital (financial, relational, intellectual and spiritual) that will encourage entrepreneurship and pervasive harnessing of local opportunities. Niche-players are increasingly attaining significance and this is evident even in the operations of Intel, a major global player in the processor, hardware and wireless technology market. Intel now subcontracts a lot of its production and R&D jobs to smaller but more effective companies. They simply furnish these companies with their resources and research labs and allow them to focus on their highest competencies. Intel realized her success may soon loose significance if she attempted continuing all her technology-development operations in-house. Henry Blackaby, author and consultant to many Fortune 500 CEOs rightly remarked that “the small service-oriented companies are the companies of the future”.

Africa has however lagged behind in the Creativity Era. While economic development indices of highly industrious Asian and South-American countries are experiencing all time highs, we are still slowly reeling out of the socio-economic mess we almost drowned ourselves in. This is not to undermine the scattered substantial progresses made. Reduction in HIV rates in some countries like Uganda, thriving democracy in Ghana, Nigeria, Tanzania and a few others, continent-wide debt forgiveness, economic reforms (Ghana and Tanzania’s reforms ranked 9th and 10th worldwide while Nigeria is ranked 94th,…hmmm) are proofs of improvement. The cause of our slowed growth has been attributed to many factors that we are all familiar with and needs no further emphasis but failed leadership has been perceived as the premier culprit. The virus of malfeasance, irresponsibility and hate has long eaten deep and everyone of us is now directly or indirectly responsible and should be held accountable if the trend persists.

There are enormous policies, value-entrenching campaigns, re-orientations, societal changes and reforms that ought to be put in place for a 180 degree turn-around in our situation but I’ll leave all of that for the corporate and economic development geniuses like the Pat Utomis and Okonjo-Iwealas of this world. However, in the spirit of the theme of this publication, analytical problem solving (a product of strong analytical positive thinking and research) and spontaneous creativity on the part of everyone (including government, industry, civil society, you and I) will be more decisive in our pursuit of freedom from poverty. Poverty has been attributed to be more of a mental state than a physical condition, hence psychological, mental and intellectual wealth are a pre-requisite to material abundance. What we all crave is success and fulfillment and research has revealed that those with a balanced mix of intrinsic (personal) and extrinsic (societal and people oriented) Life-goals and Vision have experienced much greater fulfillment and a sense of accomplishment than all others. As a mentor once implied, “recognition of a deficiency in a system is the proof of a calling to rectification of same”. Rather than become mere spectators, we all have a call to conscience that ought to spur us into relevance, significance and sensitivity to the challenges facing our richly endowed kingdoms and domains.

The African Renaissance and the New Nigeria Dream after all are not mere products of illusion and vague imagination. They are practical, achievable and surpass-able targets.
The 2025 vision of Nigeria becoming one of the most desirable countries of the world to live in is certainly realizable.
Niyi Adesanya, Gbenga Sesan, Fela Durotoye,……….and a brewing Army of tough-minded, tender-hearted, young, focused, sound, God fearing and tenacious non-conformists, problem solvers, entrepreneurs and roving leaders with the support of the Ancient of Days will ensure accomplishment of this vision.
You had better join in now!