As globalisation continues its onward march, pushing into far reaching areas of the world never before at risk to such competition, companies are faced with stark contrasts— innovate or perish. The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) makes Kenya susceptible to manufactured products from Egypt, especially, Japanese secondhand car imports make it harder for us to compete with our local car companies like Mobius, big American consulting brands crowd out our Kenyan homegrown consulting firms with valuable indigenous knowledge, and cheap Chinese imports bash local home goods makers.
How can we compete in such trying times? Should we raise our trade tariffs and block off entry into our markets hoping that Kenyan industries can start competing? The United States under President Trump ignited a trade war with China to protect its domestic markets. But the effects have not been desirable as consumers and American importers bear the brunt and pay higher prices. Also, under former President Moi, Kenya tried isolationist policy with steep tariffs that only ended up harming our economy. So, then what should Kenya do?
One of the answers lies in boosting our creativity in Kenyan organisations. Kenyans know best the nuances of what consumers need and desire here. If we will combat the onslaught from external global competition, we must foster our own Kenyan creativity using these four methods.
First, modern worklife over-emphasises group work. Groups, teams, committees and meetings punctuate much of our professional workdays. But group work diminishes creativity. Time in groups overemphasizes socialisation and listening to the loudest and highest paid members of the team rather than creating space for creative thinking. Creativity comes, instead, largely from individual time.
Second, another downfall of modern life includes over stimulation. Everywhere from our phones, to our televisions, to billboards all over our roads, everything clamours for our attention. Our brains developed over millennia in order to react to stimuli for survival purposes. But now stimuli are built to make us purchase different goods or services tricking our brain. Eliminating all external stimuli for periods of three hours or more gives significant boosts to our individual productivity.
Third, psychologist Seth Gillihan highlights the surprising healing effects of green spaces and gardens in his research. Humans hold a deep evolutionary basis for craving and needing green spaces. Our brain developed over thousands and thousands of years to know that when green abounded, then food could be found and therefore humans could relax, not worry, and think of more desirable ideas than mere survival. White, brown, and gray surroundings, which are typical in an office, put us naturally at unease because in the wild that means finding reliable and consistent food sources would be more difficult. On the flip side, wild office colour schemes without splashes of green make us over stimulated for danger, such as fear of imminent fire. Green spaces make us feel more in touch with our surrounds and more honest and authentic. So, while incorporating the other three methods of creativity, include green in office colour schemes from numerous plants in workplaces, to green paint, to team building out in nature rather than work compounds.
Fourth, in Kenya, research by this author funded by USAID through Global Communities and USIU-Africa shows that we tolerate more uncertainty and plan less for the future than other countries. These Kenyan traits help lead to a culture less likely to speak up when we see something wrong or inefficient in our workplaces. But modern Kenyan organisations must provide explicit freedoms for employees to speak up without fear of retribution. Then firms should not just champion the winning creative idea, but also reward and thank individuals and teams who come up with higher quantities of ideas. We need to get into the pattern of thinking of multiple solutions to problems instead of conformity, towing the line, and following what everyone else does.
Through fostering Kenya as a hotbed of creativity, we can stand together and compete in the global market.