Innovation: Suborning Imagination

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BitDepth#913, published on November 26, 2013

LeRoy Clarke and Camille Selvon-Abrahams respond to questions from the audience at “The Human Imagination at Work,” a panel discussion on November 18 hosted by the Ministry of Planning and Sustainable Development. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.
LeRoy Clarke and Camille Selvon-Abrahams respond to questions from the audience at “The Human Imagination at Work,” a panel discussion on November 18 hosted by the Ministry of Planning and Sustainable Development. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.

Last week, the Ministry of Planning hosted interested citizens to a panel discussion titled “The Human Imagination at Work.” The participants were an intriguing group; the dependably precise and unforgiving Leroy Clarke, an animated and animating Camille Selvon-Abrahams, the grown-up enfant terrible Steve Ouditt and the unknown factor, at least as far as creative circles go, Nicholas Lok Jack, TTMA president.

Even in the politely circuitous and gently acidic repartee of men who proved to be a Paria’s worth of gulf apart, the very real question of what constitutes creativity, imagination and innovation was contested vigorously.
Senator Dr the Honourable Bhoendratt Tewarie got things rolling by claiming lead authorship of Costatt, the National Training Agency and that notable generator of MBAs, the Institute of Business, now operating under the name of its principal benefactor, Arthur Lok Jack.

Quite correctly asserting that “innovation cannot exist without imagination,” Dr Tewarie suggested that these projects constituted that these career defining efforts constituted “innovation interventions.”
Later in the discussion, LeRoy Clarke seemed to be addressing this assertion by noting that “This thing called imagination needs imagination to deal with it.”

And there were, unquestionably, flights of quite impressive imagination on display.
Steve Ouditt, who is quite capable of jerking one’s intellectual chain while affecting the gravitas of the lead priest at a state funeral, opened the evening’s discussions by declaring it, “an acknowledgement that our imaginative product has been restricted, even retarded in its progress.”

Having put that on record, he then proceeded to recount a discourse with his pet hound, Professor Richard Dogkins, which encompassed a series of wild conjectures about labrador-led laboreteums, dementia dogs and the like.
Was Ouditt making high level points with amplified absurdity or just having an educated laugh at an audience in search of an elusive key to improving imagination? 

Did he simply decide to take the conversation to the dogs early on?
Both Clarke and Lok Jack offered their experiences with imagination through the perspective of very different childhoods, Clarke cleaning pennies in Gonzalez, Lok Jack getting his business lessons from his father on the way to his first job as a pool boy.

Most comfortable in this milieu of manufactured obfuscation and indirect laceration was Camille Selvon-Abrahams who demonstrated an authoritative and admirable capacity to rise above fuzzy contemplation and point to specific work being done at UTT’s Animation programme.

Selvon-Abrahams challenged the audience to come to terms with the need to begin “imagining ourselves.”
“Animation is not a new thing in the world, and it is not a new thing here,” she pointed out, “but foreign animation is all that we know. Why are we, ourselves, not appealing? What do we give to the world?”

The animation programme founder was able to point to a quite specific innovation intervention, the use of cardboard models of a city in animation class to teach mathematics. That project moved a 70 per cent fail rate in the subject to an 80 per cent pass rate, evidence that the radical change she envisions in the classroom can pay positive real world dividends.

But ultimately, this was an effort to grapple with imagination, creativity and innovation, words that the business sector has become quite entranced with in an era in which digital invention is defining corporate success.
Nobody, it seems, has noticed that after raising the flags of Apple, Microsoft, Facebook and Google, most business leaders seem curiously unaware of activity in the world of digital development, being more keen to co-opt the hipness of such flourishing invention for their enterprises.

Philosophers are yet to recover from the tacking of intelligence onto the tail end of business and creative folk are probably right to fear the yoking of imagination and creativity to these remorseless engines of the economy.
I’ve certainly sat through my fair share of executive meetings listening to people with ties laud other people wearing ties on their creativity in reducing spending or squeezing more work out of staff.

After a few years of that, it becomes pretty hard to take corporate discussions about words like creativity, innovation and imagination very seriously.
Nobody really wants to talk about good old-fashioned profit and labour anymore, it seems, despite its lynchpin role as the motivator of business.

In all this keenness to package and haul some imagination off into business, it seems that the notion of reversing that flow and infusing creative industries with some business support and savvy isn’t part of the plan. 
That, more than anything else, is what T&T desperately needs to become more competitive.

“All peaks are leveled to a muddy plain,” Clarke warned, concluding an extended metaphor for creative aspiration. 
Unfortunately, to most in business that tends to look like a great place to drop concrete and develop.