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Exporting VN creative thought

Written by Minh Huy

While the world at large, and especially Việt Nams neighbours, concentrate on promoting creative thinking, Việt Nam lacks substantial investment in an area which researchers believe could change the future of science.

HCM city – Professor Phan Dũng just received a request from the Malaysian Ministry of Education, asking him to give a lecture to a visiting Malaysian delegation on the subject of creative thinking.

Phan Dũng, who manages the Centre for Scientific and Technical Creativity (CSTC) at HCM City University, met Dr. Ibrahim Ahmad Bajunid last August at an international conference on education and human resources in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

At the conference, Dũngs enthusiasm, together with his sound research, captured Bajunids attention, who then invited him to conduct courses of creativity and the Theory of Inventive Problem Solving (the Russian acronym is TRIZ) methods for Malaysias educational administrators.

As the director of Malaysias National Institute of Educational Management, Bajunid wants to introduce more sophisticated teaching tools to his countrys educators, as Malaysia is poised to become ASEANs next tiger.

Creative thinking appears to be the key to problem solving, particularly in scientific and technical fields.

According to Phan Dũng, Malaysia has creative thinking, and has already been studying many different aspects of this science. While visiting this Islamic country, Dũng noticed a range of literature that deals with this topic. However, most of that literature represented "Western thinking" schools. Dũng guesses that Malaysia wants to make a comparative study of the former USSRs creative sciences.

Following Dũngs course, one Malaysian educational manager wrote, "Before I attended your lectures, my approach towards creativity was simply trial and error. Your lectures on the topic of creativity and methods of problem solving have opened my eyes..."

The science of creativity

Genrikh Saulovich Altshuller created TRIZ in the former Soviet Union, in 1946. TRIZ differs from Western methodologies in its approach to finding guiding mechanisms for problem solving.

In 1971, Altshuller co-operated with his colleagues to form the Institute of Inventive Creativity. Fortunately, Phan Dũng was one of its first students.

Whilst a student at a Hải Phòngs junior secondary school, Dũng used to wonder why thinking had no rules, while all scientific disciplines were subjected to many principles. The question of thought processes continued to haunt young Dũng, until he got a scholarship to study in the USSR in 1967.

By chance, Dũng learned about the creation of a special institute that studied "the ways of thinking". The institute admitted only engineers and professionals from creative fields. However, Dũngs enthusiasm helped him to gain admission and, in 1973, he graduated from the Institute of Inventive Creativity. Later, he earned his Ph.D. and Doctor of Science in Experimental Physics, being the first Vietnamese to attain such a high degree in this field, particularly before reaching 40 years of age.

Back in Việt Nam, although receiving no substantial aid, Dũng began to lecture on the new field of "Methodologies for Scientific and Technical Creativity". His first official course opened in 1977. Since then, Dũng has taught more than 90 three-month courses, gathering some 3,600 participants. In 1991, with the permission of the University of HCM City, Dũng established his Centre for Scientific and Technical Creativity.

There, a self-effacing Dũng works 12 to 14 hours per day. Like many others who have something to say, Dũng worries that he will pass away before he is able to transfer his knowledge to future generations.

"My real hope is to turn out a workforce, sufficient in number and quality to persevere and expand the methodologies (of creative thinking). Im afraid that I cannot live out my dreams, that one cannot hold out all ones life, that the tenacity cannot prolong from one generation of scientists to another," he told Việt Nam News.

According to Dũng, Việt Nam is still failing to invest substantially in the field of scientific and technical creativity. Although the question of creative thinking is raised daily in newspapers, little is being done to bring about a more practical and scientific approach to the creative methodologies.

Dũng is not only trying to spread TRIZ and other creativity methodologies that he learned in the former USSR. "In fact, we try to Vietnamise what Ive learned from Altshuller, I mean that we add lessons from actual experiences in learning and teaching, we better the courses and make them more accessible and effective," he explains.

When he says "we", Dũng is referring to his one young assistant. "In the USSR, only six Vietnamese students graduated from the Institute of Inventive Creativity", he recalls. "Most of us did not diffuse the creativity methodologies by teaching. In fact, many preferred just to apply those methodologies to their field of study and work," laments Dũng.

"Researchers say that the development of human society went through four waves. The first wave was an agricultural one, when men made rapid progress in farming; the second wave was industrial and the third, IT. Now were preparing to initiate the fourth, so-called "post-IT era", where theres a tremendous boom in mankinds creative activities."

Việt Nam should export its creative "softwares"

Việt Nams neighbours are becoming aware of the upcoming "fourth wave". According to Asiaweek magazine, Singapore has invested $1 billion to consolidate a number of special programmes aimed at intensifying creative thinking in its schools.

Malaysia has also set aside some $4 billion to ameliorate its scope of education and training, including creative thinking, from now to the year 2000. The Malaysian Minister of Education, Dato Sri Mohd Najib, asked Dũng for the loan of documents on Vietnamese methods of creative thought.

Dũngs lectures at the special seminar on "The Renewal in Creative Thinking Processes for Problem Solving and Decision Making" in Malaysias Genting Highlands have left their seeds, as the relevant ministry has asked him to form a special complementary course in Việt Nam for a Malaysian team.

Dũng has somewhat delayed the course as he wanted to rearrange the two unique small rooms at his CSTC. Nonetheless, he sees a bright future for his favourite discipline.

Last April at the fifth European Conference on Creativity and Innovation organised in the Netherlands, the international audience appreciated Vietnamese papers presented by Dũng.

And last August at the conference on Education and Human Resources organised in Thailand, where presenters from 12 countries lectured on creativity, Dũng also captured special attention when he spoke about his works.

If things go according to plan, the Seventh International Conference on Thinking in Singapore will also learn about Việt Nams creative methods.

In the meantime, Dũng continues to teach creativity to everyone, from a Vietnamese school-boy to a Western expat.

When asked whether his obsessive need to teach was an occupational hazard, Dũng explains, "If we do not invest in human resources in time, catching up will be very hard."

"Every one of us was born with a free wonderful thinking device: our brain, which can be compared to a computers hardware. And every one of us differs from each other in our way of thinking. Now the science of creative thinking is like our brains software, and I think we can sell, and export this marvelous software," he suggests.

(Báo "Việt Nam News", ra ngày 20/1/1997)