Creativity reloaded – life, ex-pats, & outsourcing

I enjoy my life here in Hong Kong as an ex-pat. I work, I drive, I speak Mandarin, I cook, and I wash my own car. The Internet flows free and fast. Parks, beach, and hiking trails are minutes away, the food is fantastic, and it’s safe. What’s my guilty pleasure?  Outsourcing! I outsource all cleaning and sous chef duties Monday through Friday.

Every week, I meet fantastic people and families, ex-pats & locals alike, who all engage in outsourcing in one form or another. Some still cook, others outsource cooking completely along with the shopping. Some have drivers, yet no one works on their own car. Sure, we all wash a few clothes on the weekend, but rarely do we iron. We live in apartments with management fees. So drilling holes in walls is frowned upon. Painting is negotiated ahead of time. Replacing washers on leaky faucets or basic plumbing. “Please there are people to do that kind of work for us.” Moving house from country to country and packing your own boxes. “Shirley you jest!”

I am familiar with Reaganomics and trickle down theory. I am good as this, so I do only this. I leave the other things to those who are good at them or have no other choice. No doubt at work you are the creative force affecting change or keeping the organisation together. I get it, you may not be great with a needle, knife, iron, plunger, or wire cutter, so you outsource. Yet, what does this do to your creativity outside the office? Does creativity transfer across the discipline of life if you don’t get it out and show it off? I learned a lot helping my Dad with the car and being a sous chef for my Mom as took care of my newborn sister.

Why bother about creativity at home when products keep getting more complex? Average tinkers stand no chance against certified technicians. Manufacturers often replace instead of repair. Occasionally, they tell you what went wrong. Worse, they threaten to void the warranty if you crack open the case. And even if you wanted to fix something, would you have the tools? Circuit boards are all integrated. Engine compartments are designed keep us out. True story, few BMW owners know how to jumpstart their car because everything is tightly laid out and the battery is in the back. Of course, we have no garages, basements or workshops to store tools or just tinker around.

As life gets easier, you don’t need that much creativity. Google maps, I love ’em, but where’s the fun? We don’t get lost. We don’t stop and ask random strangers for directions? We just go from point A to point B. And that’s a shame. We prefer to watch reality TV instead of being in our own reality. Let someone else take the risk and succeed or royally screw up. It’s safer and more entertaining. From bread makers to rice cookers, we add ingredients and get near perfect results each time. Sure, maybe you can live without great bread crust, but what of experimentation, innovation, and getting it wrong? . 

No, I am not advocating to end domestic outsourcing. We all work hard and will probably continue so, especially with Samsung building bigger smart phones. Yet, do get into the creative game. Yes, it’s more work. And yes, you will need to push a few comfort zones. Chances are, it won’t matter. Plus, you’ll get a a great story to tell.

And yes, I know Mandarin is the easiest of all the Chinese dialects. 

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I learned a lot in school, just not from my teachers

Nine Dangerous Things You Were Taught In School by Jessica Hagy, is a fantastic education retrospective. Upon extensive reflection, some yoga, and a lot of green tea, we clearly attended different schools. Yes, there were many insidious and unspoken lessons in school. And I agree completely that students will “have to unlearn them” if they want to thrive. Yet somehow, what I took away from school was different.

What do I need to unlearn? I definitely was not a great student. Good grades were celebrated at my house. When I was clearly having too much fun, I got sent to harder school. We did not celebrate again for a while. To me, I always seemed to be learning. Yes, there were rules, but somehow I learned early on about angles and latitude. College was a given, but there was no pressure to conform. Was it the rural Midwest landscape? Some of my best friends were card carrying members of Future Farmers of America and 4-H. I did get my first job at thirteen? Maybe I just got a batch of eclectic teachers?

Maybe the concept of school was similar, but different variables resulted in vastly different school experiences? Sure, I was not overly fond of school, but it had its moments. I heard about the starving kids in China. Turns out in China, there were stories of starving kids in Africa. Talk about early spin. I had my share of passionate and “less passionate” teachers. I got through them all. Yet, somehow I picked up on an unspoken/surreptitious undercurrent.

  1. Question Authority! School was filled with historical references to people shaking things up. Whether it was taxation, liberty, the industrial revolution, or voting rights, I learned that people could create different realities. So, when I did not like an answer, I asked questions. Sometimes there was further discussion, sometimes there was not. Most times I was dispatched to the library. I went on to build robots, venture to big cities, and even plan a Grade Eight trip to our national’s capital. Sure, we never made it, but I learned early on that the teachers were only going to get you so far.
  2. Show & Tell Rocked!. Students, teachers, and even parents brought in cool stuff. Everyone had a story. And those that were interesting, you sought out to learn more. You went over and tried to borrow whatever it was. If his/her parents have a strict “no lending policy,” you invited yourself over. If that did not work, then you asked all the questions you could. Where’d you get it? How much was it? How long have you had it?
  3. Pay Attention! Yes, there were different rules for different people, e.g., Teacher’s Pet & Goodie Two Shoes. You had to get past those though if you did not want to be teased. I noticed teachers liked it when you asked questions. Offer a little physical labor, wind an extension cord, move a desk, carry some great smelling ditto copies, teachers liked it. Swing by the lunch counter at clean up, you might get free cake. School/life was coming together nicely for me by Grade Eight. To keep me humble, I was sent to the citys top high school. Talk about challenge based learning?
  4. Supplements to the Book! No dispute, the textbook was the go to place for information and answers. Occasionally though, a topic came up that was too new. Unlucky students got told to choose a new topic. Lucky students found their way to the library. And if they were really lucky, they found Reader’s Guide to Period Literature. Note to reader, I noticed a correlation to “lucky” and those students who paid attention. Of course, this is just my observation.
  5. Standardized Testing Wouldn’t Kill Me! I was horrible at standardize tests. And I am a little proud to say; I never quite learned how to take them, apart from the ones at the DMV. Maybe I was warped early by all those law dramas my Dad made me watch, i.e. every case was winnable. I knew I was bright. My parents favorite phrase was, “you’re a bright kid, you just need to apply yourself.” Of course, according to the government, I was not bright. Lucky for me, no one in my educational career focused on this fact.
  6. Snow Days Could Get Boring! Believe it or not, you can only watch so much daytime television. I did learn a lot about value, worth, and probability from the Price is Right. In the absence of school and cable, thank goodness for copies of the magazine Boys Life and the book the Boy Mechanic.  I learned a lot about making igloos and Eskimos. When we did make it back to school, I stocked up on books at the library. Unfortunately, I could find no whale blubber in Southern Ohio.

Where did this undercurrent come from? It came from my parents. They somehow engineered a reasonable balance of push, pull and slack. In my mind, there could have been more slack. There were trips into New York City when I could have been playing with toys or watching television. We shopped at a historic inner city market house instead of the A&P or the IGA supermarkets. The library was a weekly trip and twice a week in the summer. I red and was red to. Television was a family activity where shows were vetted and many ruled inappropriate or “a waste of time.” I learned to use chopsticks at age ten. Talk about a patient mother. We talked about the future, theirs and mine.  And family friends streamed our house or dining room table on their way to their next adventure. Ah, the stories!

Learning is now a team sport and parents need to be in the game. Technology brings fabulous opportunities along with new responsibilities. Shirk these responsibilities and who knows what your son or daughter will need to unlearn. Technology is not a makeshift babysitter. It is a tool that requires ongoing collaboration and monitoring.  You may want to be their friend, but do keep in mind the there are different job descriptions for parent and friend. My parents did!