Opinion / From the Readers

Outside the box - Inside the circle

By Jerry woods ( Updated: 2016-01-06 13:36

Outside the box - Inside the circle

 The total length of the subway network in Shanghai will be expanded to 1,000 kilometers by 2025. [Photo provided to]

Standing near the Huangpu River, Shanghai's energy, like its recent air quality, hangs heavily and drips with expectations and uncertain possibilities. China stands at another critical pivot point in its long turbulent, but ultimately successful, history.

Previous voracious economic growth is sputtering and the average Chinese citizen is less enthusiastic about accepting hazardous living conditions as a continual trade-off for economic growth. Despite the literal and figurative grey forecast, I believe in the emerging potential of the Chinese people, in the power of creativity and the intersection of those two entities.

China has had its share of "aha" moments contributing to science, technology, art, and more recently to global business successes such as Alibaba, Tencent, and Xiaomi which have proven that China can innovate on a scale rivaling anything in the West.

China's reputation as the "World's Factory Floor" is accurate only as a broad brush headline grabbing description and I believe the Chinese have, to some extent, been unfairly mislabeled as lacking creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship.

In the book, The Invisible Gorilla, authors Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris, bring to light the idea of "inattentional blindness" illustrated by their earlier study in which participants watch a video and are told to focus on a tight cluster of basketball players with the instructions to count the number of passes between them.

Almost half of the participants fail to see a person, dressed in a gorilla suit, stroll into view, beats its chest, and walk out of view. Many of us simply miss this obvious distraction because we weren't expecting to see it. This explains how two people watching the same car wreck can see two completely different things, or how medical instruments left inside people after surgery cannot be seen by x-ray technicians and other physicians.

Is the perceived lack of Chinese innovation and inability to think "outside the box" another case of "inattentional blindness" that Westerners apply to China? Are we just looking for examples of creative solutions through colored lenses based on our expectations of what we think it should look like?

A casual stroll down any busy street in China will yield a plethora of examples of people making do with the materials and resources at hand often coming up with creative, innovative solutions to problems, obstacles and challenges. They are undervalued, even ignored, because they are just "simple" solutions for daily problems lacking in potential cultural changing meaning or importance.

But isn't it often the case when an elegant breakthrough occurred in science, physics or medicine where focusing on a simple, seemingly mundane detail yielded an insight or a slight shift in perception that triggered the "aha" moment?

The more we try to define creativity, the more elusive it becomes and seems about as explainable as the miracle of birth. We understand the biology, but only up to the point when magic happens. This is when our understanding stops and we are left standing at the edge of our knowledge, scratching our heads as we marvel at the creation.

The power of expectation is strong and blinding. I contend that the Chinese are actually more fluid in their abilities to adapt to unexpected situations at hand coming up with unique solutions while remaining inside the circle of social forces and strong cultural biases that are woven into every culture's welcome mat.

What is needed, in my opinion, is guidance to help inspire and encourage thinking "Outside the Box, Inside the Circle".

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