ALONG, long time ago, a wise man once told me: “Last time, we didn’t have much technology, but we had a lot of creativity. Now, we have a lot of technology, but we don’t have much creativity.”
It was the early 1990s, he was a music producer and he was referring to the art of music production.
He was lamenting how The Beatles in the 1960s could achieve so much innovation using only rudimentary four-track recording machines and basic recording gear and how the industry had evolved to having a lot of technology and awesome digital gear but not much musical innovation.
Would The Beatles’ stunning albums like Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band be as innovative if John, Paul, George and Ringo had access to unlimited tracks and modern recording equipment and gear?
Producer George Martin and engineer Geoff Emerick had to work with what they had.
But, with the scarcity of resources, they had no choice but to experiment, to try and keep up with the imaginative minds of the band members, and they produced the sonic masterpieces you hear today.
But, this is not just limited to music production.
The Viet Cong, armed with limited artillery and firepower compared with the Americans, figured out innovative ways to fight their more illustrious and way more well-equipped foe.
They lived in underground tunnels, even digging all the way to below an American base for added safety.
They made traps using leftover American bomb shrapnel.
The Americans had the military might. They didn’t have to think. Or, maybe that was the reason why they found it so hard to fight in Vietnam. They didn’t have to think. They were not pushed to think.
However, the Viet Cong had to be innovative. They had no other way. They HAD to think.
Scarcity breeds innovation.
Malcolm Gladwell puts forth this idea in his popular book, David & Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits And The Art Of Battling Giants.
He argues that a person with limited resources would be forced to be more creative than someone who had a lot of resources.
Gladwell mentioned a fact — that many successful people have dyslexia — and argued that this disability was a GOOD thing as it forced them to master other skills like developing high-level listening skills or strong memory that eventually helped them to be successful in life.
He said David, by popular notion, wasn’t expected to win his battle with Goliath.
But, because he was an underdog, and had to be more creative and clever, actually he SHOULD be expected to win.
Maybe by giving someone a disadvantage, we are helping him to win.
By giving someone a lot of resources, we are helping him to lose.
“Necessity is the mother of invention” is an oft-said phrase.
I think it should be reworded to scarcity being the mother of invention.
Which brings me to another thought. Our minds.
Last time when we had nothing but a stick to play with, it didn’t stop us from imagining the most awesome scenarios.
We turned our gardens into battlefields, and our beds into spaceships. We created our own games.
Now, we have supreme technology to “help” us play and imagine.
Someone else is designing our world for us, creating our games for us. We don’t have to think.
Now, we are exposed to a barrage of information and news, thanks to social media and the proliferation of resources where we can get information.
We have Wikipedia, we don’t have to research, someone else has done it for us, right or wrong.
With so much information coming our way, we don’t have time to go into details, or research what it is we are reading.
It will take our time away from our Facebook updates or Instagram selfies.
Because of this, the world appears to be less careful in their understanding of the world.
Or maybe, they are even less understanding of what to do with all this information.
So much information, so little understanding.
So much bandwidth, so much less thought.
Much like the wise music producer I mentioned earlier. So much technology, so much less creativity.
Maybe we can get more creative ideas if we don’t coddle our people so much.
Ahmad Izham Omar, who works in the production of TV, film and music content, is desperately trying to get off the grid.