I just finished reading fascinating article on creativity – what it is, how it can be measured, its decline in Western culture, and how it can be resurrected.
What I found to be the most interesting aspect of the article was its exploration of how creativity levels are falling in society (well US society, but I think this is equally applicable to any other Western nation, including Australia) – due to rigid school curriculums, and the emergency of video game/computer game addictions in youth.
Some highlights for me from this article:
The accepted definition of creativity is production of something original and useful, and that’s what’s reflected in the tests. There is never one right answer. To be creative requires divergent thinking (generating many unique ideas) and then convergent thinking (combining those ideas into the best result).
Creativity – and its very nature is something that has always interested me. I found that this was an excellent and importantly succinct and simply way to capture the essence of creativity.
Another I have always been attracted to was coined by George Kneller:
Creativity largely involves re-arranging what we know, to discover what we do not know.
From spending a fair amount of time reading about talent – what it is, and how to cultivate it I found the following interesting:
The correlation to lifetime creative accomplishment was more than three times stronger for childhood creativity than childhood IQ.
What is interesting, is that studies of talented individuals (that like this study have tracked development from a young age) have revealed that there are no differences in IQ between the talented individuals and their average counterparts. Perhaps, the answer lies in creativity? This study certainly suggests this is the case!
A recent IBM poll of 1,500 CEOs identified creativity as the No. 1 “leadership competency” of the future.
Without intending to sound cliched – given the globalisation push over the last decade, problems for companies and nations manifest on global rather than national and regional levels – requiring higher levels of creative solutions. Declining creativity should be a concern.
I have always felt that video games and school curriculum have stifled creativity.
One likely culprit is the number of hours kids now spend in front of the TV and playing videogames rather than engaging in creative activities. Another is the lack of creativity development in our schools. In effect, it’s left to the luck of the draw who becomes creative: there’s no concerted effort to nurture the creativity of all children.
Interestingly, I think part of the problem with video games is that unlike books, kids are not being challenged to use their imagination and create worlds – rather, the games create these for them, reducing the kid to a participant, rather than a creator.
In middle childhood, kids sometimes create paracosms—fantasies of entire alternative worlds. Kids revisit their paracosms repeatedly, sometimes for months, and even create languages spoken there. This type of play peaks at age 9 or 10, and it’s a very strong sign of future creativity. A Michigan State University study of MacArthur “genius award” winners found a remarkably high rate of paracosm creation in their childhoods.
If creating make believe worlds are indicators of genius – video games surely are having a negative impact!
There is some good news:
“Creativity can be taught,” says James C. Kaufman, professor at California State University, San Bernardino.
But how? It seems the answer does not lie in rigid school curriculum but in problem based leanring.
“The creative problem-solving program has the highest success in increasing children’s creativity,” observed William & Mary’s Kim.
A school in Ohio has developed a focus on teaching the curriculum but moving away from syllabus dot point driven focuses to problem solving. I found this fascinating, and it resonated with me in a couple of ways – both from my experience at law school but also from my experience starting and growing a business.
So what does this mean for America’s standards-obsessed schools? The key is in how kids work through the vast catalog of information. Consider the National Inventors Hall of Fame School, a new public middle school in Akron, Ohio. Mindful of Ohio’s curriculum requirements, the school’s teachers came up with a project for the fifth graders: figure out how to reduce the noise in the library. Its windows faced a public space and, even when closed, let through too much noise. The students had four weeks to design proposals.
Working in small teams, the fifth graders first engaged in what creativity theorist Donald Treffinger describes as fact-finding. How does sound travel through materials? What materials reduce noise the most? Then, problem-finding—anticipating all potential pitfalls so their designs are more likely to work. Next, idea-finding: generate as many ideas as possible. Drapes, plants, or large kites hung from the ceiling would all baffle sound. Or, instead of reducing the sound, maybe mask it by playing the sound of a gentle waterfall? A proposal for double-paned glass evolved into an idea to fill the space between panes with water. Next, solution-finding: which ideas were the most effective, cheapest, and aesthetically pleasing? Fiberglass absorbed sound the best but wouldn’t be safe. Would an aquarium with fish be easier than water-filled panes?
Then teams developed a plan of action. They built scale models and chose fabric samples. They realized they’d need to persuade a janitor to care for the plants and fish during vacation. Teams persuaded others to support them—sometimes so well, teams decided to combine projects. Finally, they presented designs to teachers, parents, and Jim West, inventor of the electric microphone.
Along the way, kids demonstrated the very definition of creativity: alternating between divergent and convergent thinking, they arrived at original and useful ideas. And they’d unwittingly mastered Ohio’s required fifth-grade curriculum—from understanding sound waves to per-unit cost calculations to the art of persuasive writing. “You never see our kids saying, ‘I’ll never use this so I don’t need to learn it,’ ” says school administrator Maryann Wolowiec. “Instead, kids ask, ‘Do we have to leave school now?’ ” Two weeks ago, when the school received its results on the state’s achievement test, principal Traci Buckner was moved to tears. The raw scores indicate that, in its first year, the school has already become one of the top three schools in Akron, despite having open enrollment by lottery and 42 percent of its students living in poverty.
I found that during my time at law school in Sydney, my creativity significantly improved through a focus on problem based assessments and tasks. We were commonly given a real life problem – and asked to advise the law to advice clients on both the likelihood of success and failure of pursuing a cause of action. I found that this problem solving focus really encouraged me to examine multiple perspectives, improved my focus on subtleties, and challenged me to think ‘outside the box’.
I also found that starting two business has also been a valuable tool in building my creativity. My perspective on business, is that a good business exists to solve a problem for customers. Business that survive and grow ultimately have found a way to excel at solving customer problems.Those that do not, never really found a way to solve customers problems in a meaningful way.
Therefore, the way I see it, is that starting a business, and running it – and learning on the fly is perhaps the best way to cultivate creativity – as the whole process in itself is really one of problem based learning.
For those interesting in checking out the article – it can be found at: