The nuclear crisis in Japan and why your creativity is needed

March 17, 2011

Tudor Rickards

Many people in and outside Japan believe that Japanese people are not particularly creative. This is a fallacy. There is plenty of contrary evidence from its great companies. However, its culture is more disposed to incremental creativity rather than to radical breakthrough ideas. This becomes important in its response to crises. The Fukuyama nuclear crisis demonstrates the need for creative actions.

Over the last week, the world has watched with horror as the dreadful tragedy of the earthquake and Tusnami was followed by escalating problems at the Fukuyama nuclear plant. Various efforts to restrict the consequences of radiation leakage have been tried. In general, however, the crisis management seems to have proceeded in an over-linear way. By that, I mean that standard or pre-planned responses were initiated. Once there was evidence that Plan A was failing, a Plan B idea was attempted.

So, for example, once it became clear that cooling water was needed, a Plan B was suggested to dump water from a helicopter. Once this Plan B was found to expose the pilots to unacceptable risks of radiation, a Plan C was tried, as water cannon were mobilized.

A different way

My concern, based on involvement in numerous creativity sessions attempting to support industrial crisis situations, is that there is a need for large numbers of possible ideas, some of which appear hopelessly unrealistic at first. Furthermore, efforts need to be directed towards multiple ‘mini-scenarios’ which involve as many teams as can be engaged with the creative effort. It can be argued that this is a form of work requiring creative leadership. If carried out with pre-training, the teams can be expected to come up with more, and better possibilities.

It can’t be done

One aspect of such creative work. The most promising ideas are almost always emergent. They are far from obvious at the start of the meetings. When suggested to others in the early stages of idea development they are likely to be greeted with ‘expert’ evidence that they are not feasible.

What might work better

What might work better is a response through social media. The ideas can be generated in large numbers and from multiple perspectives very rapidly. The sheer scale of ideas needs to be managed (the so-called variety-reduction process). I estimate there are thousands of teams who have worked in creativity mode on industrial crisis problems all over the world. But the capacity for self-organisation of such an effort is immense.

Let’s get started

Let’s get started. Hold on to a few basic principles for creative effectiveness. Collaborate with others by improving the unusual ideas, particularly if you can see concealed strengths, perhaps through technical know-how. Look for ideas close to a specific action requiring a short time-period for implementation.
And remember, impossibility is often a matter of perspective not logic.

My first idea is to get this message to students and colleagues who collectively have something to contribute. Creativity can also ‘go critical’. My next idea is to work with colleagues on the matter this morning and identify bloggers who might also be interested.

Not just in my backyard

This blog site is too insignificant of itself to be more than a catalyst. Please spread its proposal as far as you can.

The author

The author has worked in nuclear science (radiation chemistry) as well as in various projects internationally which have generated industrial innovations through applying creative problem-solving techniques

Red Cross and other useful links

The red cross appeal is one charity appealing for funds to support the wider humanitarian crisis in Japan. This Google site is a further great source of information. See also comments to this post, and also for discussion on Risk management

Co-Creativity: The Book with a Hundred Authors

December 10, 2009

The Industrial Design Engineering Faculty of The Delft University of Technology celebrated forty years in education with a spectacular display of co-creativity

Under the direction of Professors Frido Smulders and Han van der Meer, a hundred and six students became creators, authors, and production-managers of a book created and published within a three-month design project. The students had assembled on Sept 9th [2009] to receive their project brief, which was short and to the point. It was to collaborate in whatever way seemed appropriate to write and produce a book. The finished product was to be launched at the end of the project in December.

So it was that the students gathered on December 9th in the main lecture theatre on the appointed deadline. They had come from around the world to study at Delft’s celebrated Industrial design department. As they took their places, a large trolley was rolled in, carrying the books straight from the publishers. A first copy was handed over to Paul Rullman, Vice President Education, of the University.

The Project

What had happened between the first and last days of the project? Professor Smulders explained.

“Our Project Leadership course is part of the Strategic Product Design Masters degree. There is a great deal of problem-based learning. But we realized there were problems for students and Professors about how to conduct team work. That was the starting idea. Meike Brehmer and Geertje Roodbol did a pilot study which led to an internet survey of 15,000 of our students. They got 20% response, and we knew there was a lot of interest in giving students all around the University a book dealing with the problems of working in teams. Meike went on to be our student co-editor for the book”.

So the project was born, grounded in a lot of information about student needs in project work. In the next stage (after Sept 9th) the information was restructured into a conceptual framework of 70 themes identified by ‘root-cause analysis’. This led to the four main categories in the book, and to 12 main chapters.


Each chapter was allocated to a student team, with a further set of issues framed as ‘how to .. ‘ challenges such as ‘how to initiate a good team atmosphere’ , and ‘how to give and receive feedback’. At the book launch, a hilarious video showed the team leaders in a wild scramble for a chapter for their team.

Smulders again: “This is not a final product. It’s ‘ a zero edition’ like you get a zero series in such products as cars. But we can build and develop it.”

I suspect he is right. The product is indeed a bit raw around the edges, but in my view it reaches a remarkable level of technical competence of its content. It is also meeting a niche need. Frido and Han van de Meer always saw the potential beyond that of the needs of their design students . It may well be that the pioneering product will go through further editions, and attract international attention. I would encourage students and tutors to take a look at the zero edition.


Smulders, F., Brehmer, M., & van der Meer, H., (2009) TeamWorks: Help Yourself By students for students, Delft, NL: Delft University of Technology, ISBN 978 90 81 5053 1 4

Creativity and Design Processes

December 5, 2009

It is broadly accepted that creativity and design are related processes in practice. But there is still need for further research to link in theory and practice. A promising approach is described for application within courses on design methods.

Most design courses offer students the opportunity of designing, and also provide know-how of general principles supporting the execution of design. Similar approaches can be found in courses on innovation and creativity.

It is hardly surprising that the areas are related. This idea was elaborated recently by Professor Margaret Bruce in The Companion to Creativity recently. As she put it

“Design is about doing things consciously and not because they have always been done in a certain way”.

Together with innovation researcher, Professor John Bessant, Margaret has developed a model in which design and innovation are linked through creativity. It occurred to me that the model could be tested within training programmes. I selected an approach which engaged the students in thinking about a specific product and then challenged them to design a new version of the product applying structures (process designs) to do so.

Partly because of my interest in Chess, I chose Chess Sets as the first artefact to be studied. There have been enormous variations in these over several centuries, and they have been to subject of design competitions for many years. Pilot studies began in November 2009, with the illustrations shown above.

I welcome contact from anyone wishing to try out the approach which I believe has wide application when modified for students of design, engineering, creativity and related fields of application. If you would like to contribute in any way, please contact me through this website.

A Creativity Experiment

August 16, 2009

Parasitic twitterer

Leaders we deserve has reported regularly on creativity as it applies to leadership. We now invite subscribers to an experiment on co-creativity. The core of the pilot experiment is a narrative around the nature and consequences of Social Media

An experiment into the nature of co-creativity has been proposed, and an initial pilot experiment designed. Membership in the pilot experiment is initially restricted to subscribers to Leaders We Deserve. They are invited to develop insights into the nature of co-creativity through a process of action research, initially around a narrative dealing with an individual’s attempts to understand and cope with the web-based world in which he lives

The pilot experiment

The pilot experiment explores a narrative which began in a series of blog posts in August 2009 under the authorship of someone known as The Reluctant Twitterer. The author believes that Twitter is a serious danger to social cohesion on Earth, and may be evidence of interventions on a global scale by Alien forces.

The Reluctant Twitter wants to warn others of the danger. But is worried that in doing so will draw attention to himself. (There is some evidence that the author is male). He fears that to do so will place himself in danger and strengthen the ripening plans of the evil forces behind Twitter.

How to get involved

The Reluctant Twitterer writes in a strange format somewhere between poetry and prose. You can intervene in the narrative by reacting to the posts. You may intervene by trying to influence the subsequent course of his narrative in any creatve way you can think. For example, The Reluctant Twitterer discusses in his first posts whether he should join Twitter. If he continues to equivocate, you may want to send him a message to influence that decision in some way.

You may agree with his suspicions about Alien plots. Or you may want to find out more about why he believes these things. Or you may want to ‘talk him down’ from such weird notions.

Why get involved?

Subscribers to leaders we deserve are invited to participate as pioneers who will be able to influence the design of the full experiment.

Take part for fun. The experiment can be seen as a game to be played by many people. There are mental challenges to grapple with, as you exercise your creativity in getting involved. Is there a hidden message in the blog posts and the way they have been constructed?

Go with the flow. See what effect you have on a story that you will be helping get written.

Or take part as a way of introducing your own ideas, concerns, and social identifiers to a self-selecting community of people with shared interests in creativity, collaboration, and leadership.

Participation may take you no more that a few minutes from time to time. Or it may become a more important part of your web-activities

Rules for participation

Social interaction requires rules. The designers of the experiment favour to principle of rules which would emerge from those involved in the experiment. We have decided that as a rule of thumb contributions which would be considered offensive enough to be classified as spam by the editor of leaders we deserve will be removed swiftly from the experiment. The Reluctant Twitterer (whoever that might be) has been informed of this basic principle.

Frequently Asked Questions

If the experiment attracts enough interest, frequently asked questions will crop up. As far as possible in the pilot Leaders we deserve will offer specific comments to specific questions.

Are you out there lurking or waiting to take part?

Our estimates suggest there are several hundred visitors to LWD each day. We hope this invitation will persuade a few silent friends (sometimes known as lurkers) to join in our experiment. The Reluctant Twitterer (who appears to be one such lurker) will be most grateful for any help he receives.