The mobile factory

I’ve packed my bags in a flash. I’ve agreed to be at Fokko’s place at three o’clock, so there’s no time to lose. This is our second trip to Indonesia. If it is anything like the first, then I hope Fokko is taking along enough anti-diarrhea pills. We arrive at Amsterdam airport well on time. Like experienced globetrotters we wait in the business lounge for our boarding call. At a quarter past four there is still no word. We had carefully tuned our planning of alcohol consumption to the scheduled departure time, but alas. “The flight is delayed due to a minor technical problem,” a cheerful voice announces. “It may take an hour or so.” There is nothing we can do but wait. At nine o’clock at night the situation is still unchanged. The pleasant voice sounds through the intercom once again, to inform us that our flight is now canceled. “All passengers are requested to come to the information desk.” We are given a hotel voucher, as the plane will not leave until early next day. Our whole group is conducted to a bus like a herd of cattle. Everyone that is except us, because Fokko decides resolutely: “If I have to spend the night in Holland, then in my own bed.” So, while we should be on our way to Indonesia, we head back home instead.

By this time it is nearly ten thirty. As I am about to enter the driveway at Fokko’s home, he suddenly calls out: “Stop! Let me get out here. I want to surprise Carla.” I abide by his wish, agree a time for tomorrow morning and wish Fokko good night. Considering the delay, it is wise to let Harry in Indonesia know that we will not be arriving according to schedule. So I drive to the office, put a fax together, and am about to make my way home. I am hardly outside when the phone rings. What in the world is happening now? It is Fokko on the line: “You’ve gotta come now. The airport just called, the problem has been solved, and we are leaving in an hour and fifteen minutes.” Like a speed freak I race back to my fellow traveler. I ask him from the car to get some coffee ready. Only ten minutes later I am back at his house, still in one piece.

Creativity is like driving at night. You never see anything beyond your headlights, but that doesn’t prevent you from going the full distance.

E.L. Doctorow

Fokko and his wife Carla are having a big laugh about the ‘surprise’. “I’ll tell you about it in a minute,” he says as he gets in with a thermos bottle and two mugs… “I silently climbed up the rain pipe to the balcony and crept into the bedroom. There she stood in her nightgown, shivering and screaming. When the light went on, the surprise was complete.” “Such humor,” I respond, “you keep a shotgun in the bedroom, don’t you? It might not be such a smart thing to surprise your wife in that way. She might just as well have pulled the trigger and shot you off the balcony with a double load.” Fokko displays a sheepish look and says: “It was great fun though.” We have a good laugh about his practical joke as we now once more make our way to the airport.

My record time from home to Amsterdam airport was 55 minutes. This time I do it in just over 45. I park the car quickly, and in no time we’re at the terminal. As the plane leaves the ground, the journey at last starts for real. We take our shoes off and have a well-deserved drink. That’s the part of traveling we have by now mastered perfectly. Phase one is completed successfully. It doesn’t take long before fatigue sets in. Slowly we doze off, not to wake up until the moment when the pilot indicates that we are about to land in Singapore for a ‘minor repair’. What kind of airplane is this? I decide to go to the lavatory. When I return, I try to put on my shoes but without success. Have my feet swollen that badly? Fokko is all laughs as he watches me struggling to get the damn things on. “Those are mine,” he says proudly. “A small fast-change trick that I learned from an old mountain climber.” He is having a ball.

The landing goes smoothly. Once on the ground, we are not allowed to leave the plane. As I look outside I see a group of people clad in overalls feverishly running around. Two seconds later I see an airplane engine rolling by on a wheel frame. The folks in the overalls are pulling the hulk toward the wing. One overall has climbed on top of the engine and is giving directions. “Now look at this, they are replacing the engine. Didn’t that El Al Boeing crash the other day because the engine had come loose? I do hope that they’ll do a quick test flight without us.” But no test flight: fifteen minutes later the journey happily resumes.

If there is a way to do it better, then find it.

Thomas Edison

We land in Djakarta and Harry’s cheerful assistant Wa Wa steers us through customs. We need to proceed directly to another airport to catch our flight to Bandung. The trip has left us dead tired, but patiently we allow ourselves to be led along. An hour ago we still had a comfortable Boeing, even if powered by a somewhat less than perfect engine, but now we are sitting in some rusty Russian-made rumblebox. Our fellow travelers look like they have just come from the farmer’s market. One of them has his lap filled with chickens, someone else is lugging a meal of exotic fish. The engines are now revved up, and the rumble becomes a deafening roar. Seconds later we are leaving the ground, as the plane dances from left to right like a rather heavyset Russian ballerina, with a little jump upward every now and then. Rivulets of water are now flowing into the passenger cabin, even though not a drop of rain is to be seen outside. A bit strange, but it’s useless to ask if this is normal. Even if we could raise our voices above the roar of the engine, no one would understand us.

When we arrive in Bandung, Harry is waiting for us full of enthusiasm. We have to come along right away and continue our journey by car toward Tegal. He is talking a mile a minute. Although we have not seen each other for over a year, it is as if we have only been out of his sight for a minute or two to change our clothes. We drive like maniacs over country roads, up and down the hills, each valley even prettier than the one before. Harry drives like there is no tomorrow. We are on a mission, our mission!

First make sure that you are known as a creative genius. Then surround yourself with partners who are better than you. Leave the rest to them.

David Ogilvy

“I have received the samples,” Harry tells us. “The machine works well, doesn’t it? I managed to buy a nice piece of land for next to nothing. It’s located near three big farms.” Without having to say it out loud, we all think the same. Success is staring us right in the face, nothing can hold us back anymore, this invention is bound to make us rich. “Harry, I’ve got everything ready to be shipped. The generator can be placed on the terrain vehicle, and the press is mounted on a heavy support. If this works, we can go from farm to farm with the combination. I thought about how the manure granules could be dried more efficiently, but I think it’s best to just let the sun do its work. That’s free and in plenty supply. We’ve got to keep it simple. And by the way, I have also made some pressing sheets. In that way we can also press briquettes that can serve as fuel. In Holland it’s no longer allowed for ecological reasons, but here I don’t think anyone will cry foul. Whatever we make of it, it’s always better than letting the goodies flow into the river.”

On the way we pick up old mister Wee, the landlord of the apartment complex where Harry has his office. Mister Wee can simply not be left out on a trip like this. He takes care of the ‘discount philosophy’ and the entertainment. He has even managed to get hold of a radio for a few bucks. The musical whining lifts the party atmosphere, and as we sing along I can’t help but think of those old school trips to Disneyland and Six Flags.

We live in a time in which no one should rely on his ‘expertise’. Striking power lies in improvisation. All those decisive blows were given with the left hand.

Walter Benjamin

Once in Tegal it is as if we have arrived on another planet. The locals are all out to gawk at the whites. This they’ve surely never seen before: one gentleman who is about three feet taller than the average Tegalese, and another one who steals the show with a head full of gray hair, which must be a very special feature around here. We are the big show of the day. Like a professional tour guide, Harry informs us of the local customs and indicates how we need to behave. We drive directly to our destination … the promised land.

We peer over a vast field. “This is it,” Harry says. Every field looks alike and there is no lack of space. After examining this oversized golf course, energetically stepping back and forth a couple of times and studying the ground critically, just like banging on the tires of a car before buying it, I can only conclude that there is nothing wrong with this. The land gets our blessing. As I look at this piece of paradise, I envision a good many vacation homes, but all right, a manure processing plant to start with isn’t bad either. “Looks fine, Harry,” is the confirmation that he has made a good deal.

There is no creative labor without tradition. Novelties are always variations to what already exists.

Carlos Fuentes

A voluminous gentleman now appears on an old moped. Harry informs us that this is Mr. Organizer in person, the man that we need to do business here. In addition to manifesting himself as the town realtor and part time keeper of the law, he offers his services to arrange just about anything for us. We go to his home to drink to our newly established friendship. You sure make friends quickly around here when you bring along some money. As new members of the Tegal business club, we are granted the honor of sponsoring the evening dinner for Mr. Organizer and his entourage of ‘deputy sheriffs’. This sponsorship not only involves the barbecue with goat meat, but part of the deal, we are made to understand, is that we offer the gentlemen a pleasant evening at the local escort club. That appears to be a standard component of the commission. For a backward village in the middle of the jungle, these people sure are well informed about business etiquette.

Without creativity no person has ever been great in his profession.

Niccolò Machiavelli

The next day, after a restful night at the Tegal ‘Holiday Inn’, we proceed to discuss our business plan. “What about the manure, Harry?” “That’s true…, that’s something we haven’t discussed yet,” he replies. “There is just one small problem. These people are rather religious, and they are not really allowed to touch pig manure. If they have been in contact with the manure, they have to wash their hands at least three times and then pray. That is why until now they let the manure flow into the river.”

I can’t believe my ears. “Harry, you mean to tell me that I’ve been involved with this for over a year, developing a manure press, testing the product, and it works, building a trailer truck including a generator to operate as a mobile factory, that I’ve got the whole kit and caboodle ready to be shipped and have now traveled across half the world at the risk of my own life, that I’ve got to fill everybody’s pocket to do business here, while you buy land with our money, just to find out that there is not a soul who is prepared to come to work here?” Silence descends and Harry answers resignedly: “I thought you might come up with a solution for this.”

“What do you mean, come up with a solution?”

The only boundaries, as always, are those of vision.

James Broughton

Be creative

You have the gift of creativity from the moment that you enter this world as a baby. Your knowledge and skills may be limited to thrashing about with arms and legs and producing odd sounds, but you can accomplish something with that. When you are hungry, you can throw those talents into the battle. Just try it out. Choose the right action, thrash your arms about, scream plenty, and see what happens. Soon enough you discover that mother dear, your greatest supporter at that moment, joins the game of cause and effect. And lo and behold: the best food and drink in town arrives, and not a minute too late! You could set the clock that way. And this is no coincidence. It’s a perfect little system and apt for repeating.

Quickly you learn that this trick works for just about everything. You become inventive and consciously creative. “Look how sweet I am, so what do I get now?” Sure enough, you’ve learned another trick. With more ingenuity and more creativity the results get better all the time. Now you shouldn’t forget this lesson when you change from breastfeeding to the stuff in those little glass jars. That is a setback, but all right, life can be hard at times. You’ll get back at them when you are big and strong. For now, out of protest you start to break down your playpen. The rest of the world will follow…

You see things and say, “Why?” But I dream things that have never been and say, “Why not?”

George Bernard Shaw

Architecture, more than any other profession, is the field where the creative form of “lending from others” is very prominent and triumphs. Inventive spirits that have conceived both wonderful and not so wonderful constructions will do anything to protect their creations: “This is my design and let no one dare to imitate it!” But does anyone ever stop to consider that a building is merely a cluster of components that have each been invented before? There is nothing new to it, other than that the materials and applications have been assembled into a new synthesis. The composition is always unique, the individual parts never. The architect makes no secret of it that he has been inspired by a certain style, by earlier buildings, or by the ideas of others. This is top-grade thievery. The ideas of others were simply stolen, and it’s no use denying that! There is nothing wrong with this at all. I can only applaud it!

The creativity of the architect or any other creative spirit consists of the further development of what has been thought out earlier, from choosing selectively the aspects that work and are beautiful, and from leaving away the aspects that don’t work or that lack beauty. No one would even dream of imagining that a person might wake up and invent a space shuttle, an atomic bomb, or a cure from cancer. Those things have been developed. Creative spirits gratefully steal and apply what others have already invented.

Creativity is based on knowledge, techniques, and ideas that already exist. Even Picasso did not nail a piece of canvas onto a wooden frame on some deserted island, prepare his paints, and then produce an exceptional work of art. Even if this were possible, then what he painted had to be based on something, if only on a banana tree. He too copied. It is true that we are not all equally talented, and few of us possess Picasso’s gift of outstanding creativity. We are therefore quickly inclined to set conditions for creative talent, saying that “you’ve either got it or you don’t.” That is nonsense, for creativity lies in us all. The first human being without creativity is yet to be born. When confronted with a problem, your mind comes into action. Using your skills and knowledge you try to arrive at a solution by trying something out, something that you still don’t know. You cannot possess and develop creativity without a basis of knowledge and skills. Greater knowledge produces greater possibilities for creativity. Why? Simply because, with more knowledge and skills, you can come up with more solutions to produce combinations of everything that falls under the categories of knowledge and skills. Obviously, there are also factors such as genetic ability, talent, and the possibility to develop creative capacity that might find their way into the equation. For you, however, the indication or recognition of the ease or lack thereof with which certain people should be able to use their inherent creative potential is of limited value. It may be nice to know, but it doesn’t help you. The absence of a Picasso talent should not be used as an excuse to assert that you just aren’t creative. Not being able to learn without some effort does not mean that you would do just as well not to learn at all.

Imagination is more important than knowledge.

Albert Einstein

Creativity is important for everyone. It determines whether you will be able to use what you come across on your journey for the attainment of your objectives. It ties everything together. Creativity allows you to make optimal use of the contents of your filing cabinets. Through creativity you establish links and arrive at solutions. Many of those solutions can be determined by reasoning, but for many that won’t work. Creativity is often viewed in relation to experiments. Is there such a thing as rational creativity, or is it by definition irrational? Do we arrive at creative solutions in some magical way, without being able to indicate exactly how? I believe that we should not regard the rational and the irrational in isolation from each other. It is undoable, however, to indicate the boundary where our reasoning stops and where the hand of mystery takes over. Trying and simply doing are part of the creative process. This does not detract from the rational element. Even Picasso did not sit with a cup of coffee in his right hand, watching how the woman next door mowed the grass, while his left hand mechanically produced a work of art. In a creative process, the irrational, that which cannot be reasoned or understood by the mind, takes place by necessity from reasoned action. Creativity is not an instinctive reaction like a reflex. Creativity arises from conscious action. The motive for such action is the fusion of motivation, personal will, and confidence. It is a positive frame of mind, based on the expectation, even the firm conviction, that personal goals can actually be achieved. If you don’t believe this yourself, you are doomed to fail. Without the conviction that you are going to succeed you will already have lost.

Never did a genius exist who was not slightly crazy.


Motivation, personal will, and confidence are not absolutes. They are not permanently present and do not form a constant. They come in dosages, in portions, with ups and downs. Measured over a period of time, however, the result of the three must always be positive. We must have drive, the urge to move ahead, to move toward a goal. Doubt and the fear to fail, rooted by the limitations or even lack of success, impact the ability to act creatively. The urge to move forward is an essential part of the process. It enables you to consider his options, to assess the benefits of actions, and using that knowledge, to develop new initiatives and to take advantage of opportunities. You have to keep faith. If you don’t succeed right away, then try again.

Knowledge of time, cause and effect, coincidence, learning to learn, supporters, choices, creativity, fun or inspiration, just to name a few things, all these are worthless if you are unable to use them in relation to each other. Creating solutions is a must. Those are not presented on a silver platter. You need to come up with them yourself. There is no travel guide to ’take you by the hand’ and lead you on your way from start to finish. You may be able to get a lot of help, but ultimately you have to take the initiative yourself to get things done. That calls for faith in yourself. You have to believe that you can and will overcome the barriers that stand between yourself and your goal. It is the faith that there is always a solution, that no problem is too great and no goal unattainable. Failure is not an option. You have to want to succeed. You must choose for success and act accordingly. It is the attitude whereby you take hold of the creativity that you possess.

Logic gets you from A to B; imagination gets you everywhere.

Albert Einstein

Creativity occurs when the understandable and the controllable must be left behind, when the method of trial and error is applied to arrive at solutions. This involves the debate about whether or not coincidence exists. The rejection of coincidence (or call it fate or chance) is not sufficient to explain events and circumstances. Analytic thinking that is based on proven facts and strict reasoning seldom leads to the perfect solution. Solutions must be created. This calls for a power of imagination that reaches beyond everyday logic and that which is comprehensible.

We must distinguish between the comprehensible and the imaginable. Those two ensure that logic can be combined with our imagination, dreams, and wishes. The result is creativity. Without the ability to distinguish between the comprehensible and the imaginable, purposeful action becomes impossible. If everything is a mere succession of experiments that are performed at random, then the chance of success is just as arbitrary. The result will be altogether random and will bear no relation to a purposeful action to achieve a defined goal.

The power of imagination must be applied through intuitive action. Confidence and the power of imagination are kept on course through intuitive action. Intuitive action is a special form of choosing. It is choosing on the basis of your emotions and feelings, of faith and confidence. Certainty and uncertainty go hand in hand in this. If certainty is too much in control, opportunities will not be exploited to the full. It will lead to lethargy. Uncertainty is the feeding ground for opportunity. But if there is too much uncertainty, then the route toward our goal will lack direction and bewilder us like a complex labyrinth. In the field where you go from the certain to the uncertain, goal-oriented entrepreneurship is the only solution to get ahead and to achieve something.

Overcome one problem and with it keep a hundred at a distance.

Chinese proverb

Creativity is entrepreneurship. Creativity is the enabling factor to explore the unknown, to browse through it and feel comfortable in it. To experiment with it. Creativity means taking advantage of opportunities.

Only by being open to circumstances that differ from your own view of reality are you able to adjust that view. That gift belongs to everyone. Circumstances do not adjust themselves to us. All of us run into situations where we have to create solutions. Only a free spirit can thrive in this environment. This is your cosmos, the world that you must enter and live your life. Letting go means being free from subjection to control, if only every so often. This letting go is ‘laissez faire’, to let things happen and allow freedom.

The people who succeed in this world are the ones who seek out the circumstances that they wish and who create them if they cannot find them.

George Bernard Shaw

Creativity is the glue that fixes the individual pieces that lie around into an artful mosaic. That requires juggling and a good bit of trial and error. Sometimes you have to put a piece away, at other times to cut one to the right size.

Creativity enables you to overcome barriers and to achieve the imaginable. It enables you to realize every goal.

The human being is an inventor. Inventor of the self, to start with. That must be an old discovery, dating from the time before the first tools.

G. Gils