View of part of the Fujairah Corniche and the Hajar Mountains in the Background

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Fujairah: Producer of Nobel Prize Winners?

It is welcome news to learn that the UAE’s eastern city of Fujairah is establishing a ‘Creativity City.’ The concept is two parks (one at the Dubai entrance and the other in Faseel) for individuals and companies that are working in the media, communications, design and technology sectors. The vision is a ‘free and dedicated space for creativity’ and ‘a place of distinction.’

These are high voltage sound bytes but it makes you wonder what future Fujairahans will create. Will it be theme parks and record breaking buildings as in Dubai or galleries and Guggenheims that are top of the capita’s agenda?

Shaping the Environment
What environment is most conducive to fostering creativity? When I was slogging away on a doctoral dissertation my colleague used to encourage me by saying, “You’ve got an advantage! You are writing this tome near to the South Pole!” He had read some research that revealed that more doctoral theses were written the further you got away from the equator! The implication of this theory is that ‘Creativity City’ needs to be a cool and comfortable place even if it is sizzling outside. On the other hand some of the finest poetry, innovative ideas and devoted service have arisen in conditions that were bleak and oppressive. Ireland over the centuries has had a cold and tough environment but it has produced an amazing number of poets, novelists and song writers.

Getting Creative Juices Flowing
Do the creativity juices flow more freely in countries with a long established tradition of learning and enquiry? In nations whose governments make a huge investment in research and creativity? That’s the impression one gets from examining the list of Nobel Laureates and observing that USA (160), UK (110), Germany (94) and France (54) take out the medals for producing prize winners.

It is staggering to think that Sweden with only 9 million people is fifth on the list of Nobel Prize producers (27) and Switzerland with only 7 million is next, having 25 prize winners to its name.[1] A nation like the UAE with a small population does not have to be daunted, especially if it chooses to invest its huge financial resources in the areas that will stimulate creativity.

The breakdown of Nobel Prize winners by religious affiliation suggests that either the judges down through the years have been biased or that the inspiration of a faith culture is a significant shaper of creativity.[2]

Time for Creativity
This is a timely theme for some say that this week or more specifically, the 31 March, is the most creative day of the year because people are cooking up creative plans to fool others on the 1st April, April Fools’ Day.[3] Look at some of the creative plots that have been hatched over the years:[4]

The BBC television program Panorama ran a famous hoax in 1957, showing the Swiss harvesting spaghetti from trees. They had claimed that the despised pest the spaghetti weevil had been eradicated. After the report ran, the BBC was flooded with calls from people asking where they might get a spaghetti tree. They were reportedly told to "place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best."

In 1996, Taco Bell took out a full-page advertisement in the New York Times announcing that they had purchased the Liberty Bell to "reduce the country's debt" and had renamed it the ‘Taco Liberty Bell.’ When asked about the sale, White House press secretary, Mike McCurry replied with tongue-in-cheek that the Lincoln Memorial had also been sold and would henceforth be known as the ‘Ford Lincoln Mercury Memorial.’

In 1998, Burger King ran an ad in USA Today, saying that people could get a Whopper for left-handed people whose condiments were designed to drip out of the right side.[5]

Intentional about Creativity
These tricks might say more about gullibility than creativity. Such hoaxes might be inventive and they don’t bring much lasting benefit. But they do demonstrate the importance of being intentional about creativity.

If they get it right, there will be scientists who eradicate AIDS, economists that make Darfur’s poverty history, diplomats that bring peace to Iraq, environmentalists that achieve global cooling and poets that inspire the world emerging from Fujairah’s ‘Creativity City.’

How much creativity will go into creating this space? Will ‘Creativity City’ be merely a trendy name for a business area or an environment that is serious about fostering constructive creativity?

Geoff Pound

Image: Sketch plans for Fujairah’s ‘Creativity City.’

[1] Nobel Laureates by country, Wikipedia.
[2] Nobel Prize, Wikipedia.
[3] Andy Simmons, Reader’s Digest, April 2007
[4] April Fools’ Day, Wikipedia.
[5] Michael Farquhar, A Treasury of Deception, Reader’s Digest.