My wife’s dad was born in China around 1916.
I say ‘around’ because no one’s exactly sure.
In 1922, when he was a small boy, a massive flood obliterated the entire region.
It destroyed all the villages, and drowned everyone who lived there.
It was know as The Great Typhoon Of Swatow.
They estimate up to a hundred thousand people died.
Again, they don’t know exact numbers.
All my father-in-law remembered was that for three days and nights he clung to a tree.
A little boy on his own.
All he could see was water, as far as the horizon in every direction.
Eventually he was rescued and taken to an orphanage.
He thinks he was somewhere around five or six years old.
His entire family had been wiped out along with everyone else.
But after a year or so an uncle came looking for him.
This uncle had missed the floods, because he was away working on the rice boats between Thailand and Singapore.
So at about eight years old, my father-in-law went with him to work on the rice boats.
After a few years he decided he liked Singapore so much he stayed there.
Working at anything that came his way.
Buying and selling things, fixing things, transporting things.
Whatever wanted doing, he would do it.
Everything was an opportunity.
Despite the fact that he couldn’t read or write, mechanical things made sense to him.
He trained himself in electrics, plumbing, engines, building, drainage.
He just looked for every opportunity and did it, whatever it was.
He never read a book, or passed a test, or studied for a qualification.
How could he?
He’d never been to school so he couldn’t read or write.
Eventually he opened his own company, a plumbing contractor.
He didn’t do the work to industry standards.
He’d never learned anyone else’s standards.
He did it to his own standards, how he thought it should be done.
It turned out his standards were higher than anyone else’s.
And his company became one of the biggest in Singapore.
He decided his suppliers’ quality wasn’t good enough.
So he started making whatever he needed, himself
He opened a stainless steel factory and a cast-iron foundry.
His business had grown so much he needed bigger offices.
But he couldn’t find a builder he thought was good enough.
So he did it himself.
He built a massive office block for his company headquarters.
Without being able to read or write he’d somehow assembled a huge plumbing and building conglomerate.
All because he looked at what everyone else was doing and decided it wasn’t good enough.
Even though he’d never been taught how to do it.
In fact, because he’d never been taught how to do it.
I believe that was his strength, that he had no training.
He couldn’t read and write, he’d never been to school.
He’d never had anyone else teach him the right way to do it.
He had to work it out for himself.
Sort out what made sense to him and what didn’t.
He wasn’t just another product of the educational conveyor-belt.
Where someone else tells you exactly what can and can’t be done.
What the limitations are.
What’s acceptable and what isn’t.
Creativity must be about questioning the way things are and doing them differently.
You can’t do that if you’ve had all questioning knocked out of you.
If your brain has been turned into a receptacle for current wisdom.
If all you’ve learned is to regurgitate the expected answers.
The academic world doesn’t have the same opportunities as the real world.