Forum: Creativity cannot be engineered or incentivised

Teacher Tay Peiyong with his students from Admiralty Secondary School.
Teacher Tay Peiyong with his students from Admiralty Secondary School.PHOTO: ST FILE

Much has been said about young Singaporeans' fear of failure (15-year-olds in S'pore have a greater fear of failure than those abroad, Dec 4, 2019).

This fear and misinterpretation of failure will lead us to be less creative and innovative.

Often, we use engineering words like "structures" and "systems" to provide the right inputs that drive creativity and innovation.

We use marketing terms like "incentives", such as grades and co-curricular activity points, to get students to be creative.

But too often we overlook one important driver of creativity and innovation - inspiration. Inspiration cannot be structured, engineered or incentivised. Space needs to be set aside for its non-linearity and whimsical nature, even allowing for failure.

Engineering and market metaphors lead to wrong mindsets about failure. They create a "scientific Sahara", an arid and soulless environment where people are good at imitating the creative products of others, becoming second-movers incapable of agile and adaptive responses.

Creativity and innovation are the results of living, breathing and constantly evolving systems, not clinically engineered ones.

And they come with the prospect of "failing", the price that must be paid for the non-linearity of the creative process.

Hopefully, we can get the young to understand this dimension of failure.

Wong Horng Ginn

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 04, 2020, with the headline 'Creativity cannot be engineered or incentivised'. Subscribe