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Quite recently I came across a story about a science teacher in rural Madhya Pradesh. Mr. Raghuvanshi teaches in a school with small rooms (12 by 18 feet for 47 students) which contain just a blackboard and a few chalk pieces.

Further constrained by local educational bureaucrats, he’s strictly required to teach from the approved textbook (incidentally described as “barely comprehensible to the students and often left a native Hindi speaker … flummoxed” by an observer).

But Mr. Raghuvanshi manages to work within these constraints, often teaching without explicit reference to the textbook and instead using his students’ everyday experience. For example he uses their familiarity with electrical farm machinery to show the difference between direct and alternating current.

In a further example he improvised an electrochemical cell from a lota, a water purification candle and chemicals. He demonstrated this caused current to flow by placing a magnetic needle close to the circuit and showing the students that it twitched.

Mr. Raghuvanshi’s teaching is a great example of ingenuity. Over the last few months (as Matthew recently blogged) RSA Projects have been exploring the concept of what it means to be ingenious, and how to enhance people’s ability to be ingenious.

This week we publish How to be Ingenious, our first pamphlet in this field, which draws on our research to outline a fledgling definition of ingenuity. Our definition has three elements at its core:

  • an inclination to work with the resources easily to hand
  • a knack for combining these resources in a surprising way
  • and in doing so, an ability to solve some practical problem

But beyond simply defining the word, our pamphlet advances principles and specific methods that could enhance the ingenuity of individuals and teams within government organisations, businesses and communities.

The ability to do unexpectedly more for less in the face of constrained resources is a timely concept to be exploring. The public and third sector are moving abruptly from plenty to austerity, making the ability to cope on tiny resources mandatory. Although the business world had their downturn a couple of years ago, the economy is still shaky – described as “substantially more volatile, uncertain and complex” by CEOs.

Though still theoretical, we hope to develop our understanding of how to be ingenious when faced with constraints in future practical project work. If this sounds interesting, then do read the pamphlet, and feel free to get in touch.


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