Fostering creativity

A little earlier I posted an article about the creativity crisis covered by Newsweek. They also posted a good practical article on fostering creativity called Forget Brainstorming. Here’s a summary of their points:

  • Don’t tell someone to “be creative.”
  • Get moving. Engage in aerobic activity regularly.
  • Take a break. This isn’t about stopping so much as a more effective approach to juggling multiple projects than multi-tasking.
  • Reduce screen time.
  • Explore other cultures. Cross-cultural experiences force people to adapt and be more flexible, and just studying a different culture than your own stretches your mind.
  • Follow a passion. “Kids do best when they are allowed to develop deep passions and pursue them wholeheartedly—at the expense of well-roundedness.”
  • Ditch the suggestion box. Formal suggestion systems actually stifle creativity.

What’s the hardest thing on there for you to do?

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Drop in creativity documented

Read between the lines of Newsweek’s report The Creativity Crisis, and you are likely to pick up the idea that America’s declining educational effectiveness stems, at least in part, from misguided federally-imposed standards.

The average person thinks “art” in its various forms when you say “creativity,” but as this article points out, creativity is much, much broader than that and fostered by disparate activities. Creativity involves bringing together divergent and convergent thinking–generating possibilities, then combining those possibilities and evaluating them for usefulness.

The age-old belief that the arts have a special claim to creativity is unfounded. When scholars gave creativity tasks to both engineering majors and music majors, their scores laid down on an identical spectrum, with the same high averages and standard deviations. Inside their brains, the same thing was happening—ideas were being generated and evaluated on the fly.

I’m impressed that the scholarship that has tracked a group of “Torrance kids” who were tested and then followed for 50 years to see how well the tests predicted creativity recorded more than the stereotypical accomplishments, recognizing the creativity required in a variety of life activities.

[S]cholars—first led by Torrance, now his colleague, Garnet Millar—have been tracking the children, recording every patent earned, every business founded, every research paper published, and every grant awarded. They tallied the books, dances, radio shows, art exhibitions, software programs, advertising campaigns, hardware innovations, music compositions, public policies (written or implemented), leadership positions, invited lectures, and buildings designed.

Only recently in looking at shifting patterns have those scholars been able to pinpoint 1990 as a year in which, for the first time, creativity scores among young people began to drop. Whatever the cause (and several possible are posited in the article) I find this paragraph to be one of the saddest observations of the situation:

Preschool children, on average, ask their parents about 100 questions a day. Why, why, why—sometimes parents just wish it’d stop. Tragically, it does stop. By middle school they’ve pretty much stopped asking. It’s no coincidence that this same time is when student motivation and engagement plummet. They didn’t stop asking questions because they lost interest: it’s the other way around. They lost interest because they stopped asking questions. [Emphasis mine: DK]

It’s not just the asking of questions but also the encouragement to ask them and then to seek the answers that seems to foster creativity. In many ways, colleges are now tasked with countering this trend toward decreasing creativity at the very time political and societal forces are pressuring them (us) to standardize curricula and move students through as quickly as possible into jobs. People need jobs, but I fear that we are completely misunderstanding the preparation required in order to be able to do them.

Creativity is hard to measure, and if we are to serve the needs of our nation and our world, colleges must resist the temptation and the pressure to engage in that which is easy to measure, simply because it is easy to measure.

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You must be willing to create crap…

…in order to find the good stuff. That’s sort of what Anne Lamott advised in her book Bird by Bird. One of her chapters was titled pretty much that (using a stronger term than crap).

Daniel Pink posits a similar idea in his piece entitled Why you should come up with at least 1 bad idea today, based on a Wall Street Journal piece by Dilbert creator Scott Adams. Believe it or not, Adams (not known as an optimist) puts an even more positive spin on the idea.

Lamott seems to me to be saying you have to write crap to get it out of your system, and if you’re willing to just let it flow, you will find amid the effluence some worthwhile material. Adams, on the other hand, says that coming up with bad ideas a) gets you started on the process of coming up with something good, and b) provides quality raw material for good ideas. Not just fertilizer, in other words, but seeds.

As I watch speech students struggle to come up with “the” right idea, right structure, right approach, I wish I could communicate this principle. Perhaps Mr. Pink will help do so.

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Author/speaker says schools kill creativity

This isn’t a new video, but it’s new to me, and has been getting a lot of attention in recent years. Sir Ken Robinson, a very entertaining speaker, makes solid points about the nature of the public education system and what needs to change about it. Take a look at “Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity” on TED.com.

Though the video dates from 2006, CNN just published an opinion piece by Robinson about the video’s impact.

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