Let's fight the dark side of creativity as we innovate

young hacker
In Kenya, young hackers drained banks and companies of millions of shillings through elegant but dangerous code that went undetected for years. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

The world craves creativity. Numerous articles and books champion the need for innovation and the benefits thereof. MBA programmes internationally use M-Pesa case studies holding up Kenya as a launchpad of creativity.

But as people of good faith use inventiveness to bring better medicines to our hospitals, greater scientific discoveries, more usable technologies, and ever greater efficiency to companies, there also subsides a more sinister often less discussed aspect of creativity.

Researcher Hansika Kapoor terms the downside of creativity as "dark creativity". She highlights that dark creativity benefits the creators' key stakeholders rather than also the common good.

Examples include the Russian government's darkly creative global social media manipulation to sway elections in other countries. The Chinese government's millions of facial recognition cameras all over their country to control and rate their citizens.

On the corporate level, the world suffered from the dark creativity of Cambridge Analytica with hyper-creativity in mind manipulation used in elections here in Kenya, the United States, and over a dozen other nations across the globe.


In Kenya, young hackers drained banks and companies of millions of shillings through elegant but dangerous code that went undetected for years.

However, social scientists David Cropley, Arthur Cropley, James Kaufman, and Mark Runco also delineates some upsides of dark creativity. When evil creatives strike, good intentioned people often respond and create innovative possible solutions as a counter.

Such solutions birthed as a reaction to dark creativity include double verification sign-ins on the world's favourite e-commerce sites, high security buildings implementing biometric security measures, GPS geotagging of logins, posts, and social media tagging, and the modern home alarm systems with integrated webcams.

Here at home in Kenya, in large part as a result of corruption and fraud fears of dangerously innovative people, Kenya has grown vibrant indegenous teams of programmers who develop fantastic local enterprise resource planning software with higher fraud prevention than many international options.

Also, Kenyan accountants are famous the world over for being excellent at developing stricter processes, policies, and internal controls than elsewhere in the globe. It is not unusual to see Kenyan accountants in nearly every country where one can travel. Further, innovative tech start-ups in Kenya have developed sensing devices to put all over national forests to detect illegal logging. Additionally, many government services have gone online with security redundancy features such as the NTSA's (National Transport and Safety Authority) car ownership transfer system trying to correct many dark creative agents erroneously transfering logbooks without owner consent.

Finally, banks in Kenya provide dramatically more technology solutions with double and triple verifications than most Western banks by including generated tokens, text messages, and emails all for the same transaction.

But Hansika Kapoor mentions gray areas where the usefulness versus harmful intentions prove less clear. What about supposed ethical hackers? What about whistle-blowers? When does the quest for corporate competitive advantage go too far? Francesca Gino and Dan Ariely found that sometimes the most creative talent and minds can also be the most dishonest. Societies must decide if the benefits of such creativity justifies the costs.

What instances of dark creativity do we see in Kenya? Are we developing enough innovative solutions and an ethical ecosystem of creative minds to tackle the onslaught of divergent emerging threats in the future?

Let us not clamour for creativity just for the sake of creativity. There exists deeply harmful sides to creativity born out of a lack of transparency, rules, and oversight. We must frame the type of creativity we seek in our firms and government.