Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Taiwan's Invisible Innovation

India's Invisible Innovation

Interesting talk, especially when he quotes people who say "Indians don't do innovation...they aren't good with the creative has nothing to do with Indians, it's their schooling, based on rote memorization".

This reminds me of what a lot of people say about Taiwan - oh, it's not that Taiwanese aren't creative, it's their schooling which beats creativity out of them and doesn't value opinion, independent thought and artistic expression" - what I myself have said about Taiwan, although I'd like to take a lot of that that back.

I do think the teaching methodology and ideas about education in Taiwan are screwed up: I feel that the education system here doesn't foster creativity, and they don't value opinions, independent thought or artistic expression. There is a lot of regimentation and rote learning, a lot of teaching to the test, a lot of cramming and very little encouraged inquisitiveness. My opinions in that regard have not changed.


Despite this, creativity breaks through - more than most Westerners think. In fact, I'm beginning to believe it's snottiness as well as possibly mild (but probably unintentional) racism. It's true that I've noticed trends: students who reply to a question asking for an opinion with a fact ("what, my opinion matters?"), students who come into a class believing that cramming their head with new words or phrases - which they will forget or use incorrectly - is more important than taking the time to practice fewer new lexical items and gain more fluency, students who think that formal usage is always better, or that grammar accuracy always trumps fluency, or who think that fluency is something that can be memorized.

BUT, again...

I've also noticed that there are many creative souls in Taiwan, and that there are people who love to ask questions or who just enjoy gaining the confidence and fluency to talk in a language as naturally and effortlessly as possible. There are so many more inquisitive people, thoughtful people and artistic people than many foreigners give Taiwan credit for having.

All this, not because of but despite the cramming and test prep that defines Taiwanese schooling (both government-run and cram school-based).

So why do I still hear the same "blah blah blah Taiwanese don't do creativity" bullshit, which I myself have been guilty of spewing? Why don't people see it?

Because, like India, a lot of it is invisible. I mean, you have a lot of artistic types who make things, who create, who cover walls with art, who run booths selling their work at markets and fairs, all that terrible poetry from poetry contests published on the MRT (I'm sorry, I'm not a fan) - and you have the entrepreneurial types who get creative when starting up their small businesses. But so much creativity in Taiwan goes into products that don't get branded as being created in Taiwan. "Made in Taiwan", maybe, once upon a time, but not created here. Not innovated here. And yet, in many cases, they were.

Who do you think designed the technology that allows you to stream video on your smartphones? A bunch of Taiwanese R&D guys, that's who (and some other folks, too, but the R&D labs of Taiwan were involved). Who is behind the push to make ever smaller, more powerful semiconductor wafer technology? Taiwanese R&D guys. A lot of apps, branding and design come out of the USA, but a lot of graphics, games and innovation not meant for end users (or meant for end users but not branded as having come from Taiwan or, more generally, Asia) comes out of Asia, including Taiwan.

Basically, everything Nirmalya Kumar says about India in the talk above could also be said about Taiwan - possibly more so (although I don't want to get into a debate on that, I can't really say for sure).

Taiwan is home to innovation, and it is home to creativity. A lot of creativity. You just don't see it because it's not branded that way. It's in the research, development, design and production of components within a product that you think was innovated entirely in the West.


MKL said...

Taiwan and creativity is a complex issue. I think a lot of Taiwanese think too linearly and that's mainly a cultural trait. Young people are more creative, but when they start to work, they just have to blindly follow whoever is above them - that's the main problem. Creativity has no space to flourish in an environment, where the danger of a senior colleague or a manager losing face is very big. And losing face (and bonus) is a disaster for a lot of people in the IT (I see it every day). It's very sad.

Jenna Cody said...

I agree about the work culture issue, but not that "Taiwanese think too linearly" - some do, sure, and it's more predominant (and more encouraged) from a cultural standpoint, but I've met plenty of loose canons and interesting people with very non-linear, "the answer is in the periphery" thinking.