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