CREATIVE WASTELAND

Chinese approaches to problem solving can frustrate the newcomer especially if he/she is called on to lead a team of Chinese nationals. When Chinese students and business managers run up against an obstacle they often just yield to it.

If the Great Wall were encountered by a group of Chinese collegians they would starve to death while forming committees on how to scale it, hurdle it, live on the student side of it or while waiting for their envoy, sent to fetch a projector so they could do a powetpoint on alternatives, to return. The wall must have been more to keep Chinese in than Mongols out because when Ghengis Khan encountered it as an obstacle to the siege of Beijing he used the simplest of solutions: He went around it.

In an article in The Economists View (EV) I found this: “..Harry Shum, a Carnegie Mellon-trained computer engineer … said: “A Chinese journalist once asked me, ‘…what is the difference between China and the U.S.?…’ I joked, ‘… the difference between China high-tech and American high-tech is only three months – if you don’t count creativity.’ “

The Chinese, and Japanese, are masters of mimicry and can often master new tasks faster and better than the original designers. But, the Chinese, who believe that that the proverbial nail that stands above the others is struck down, are not yet keen innovators.

Mind you, that is not all bad: Sony was created on the West’s sale of the transistor to Japan. They magnified our creative tremor into a multi-billion dollar tsunami of electronics products.

The Chinese educational system is the precursor for this seeming national inventor’s block. Chinese methodology often instructs students in classrooms deliberately shorted of resources in order to foster group cooperation, sharing and cohesiveness, not individual imagination.

One group of educators from South Carolina (SC) reported on a visit to China and mused over how they ordinarily would expect to “…see a classroom that invites children to choose what they want to do, and to work individually in centers, using materials in individualistic and creative ways. Here we saw evidence that teachers expected conformity and a willingness to work toward the completion of a task the chosen by the teacher rather than the child. These contrasting instructional styles highlight an important difference between the Eastern culture that expects citizens to adapt to their environment and Western ones where the social system stresses freedom, self-expression, and self determination.”

And the Chinese style of University teaching is a true marvel: If they banned PowerPoint in Chinese Colleges half of my colleagues would be stuck dumb. They would panic at the thought of delivering a lecture that diverged from main topic headings and bullet points. The only thing worse would be to have to spontaneously entertain questions from the class. Of course the class would be just as terrified about having to invent queries; hence, foreign teachers who teach without clear guides evident to students may be regarded as unorganized or inept.

A government sponsored study done in 2000 showed that only 14.9 percent Chinese youth polled believed they had creative ability; so, do not be surprised when students, friends or co-workers balk at having to tackle a problem without a clear solution. Do not be shocked when they hover around you for answers to difficult problems.

The survey mentioned above also indicated that 60 percent of the youngsters polled recognized the importance of creativity and 65.3 percent have curiosity about the world around them. Consequently, the government is studying ways to break the PowerPoint habit and circumvent the wall. When they do, the economic race will really be on…

Now, if we could just get American kids to do math….

Be Sociable, Share!