I’ve been doing an online course on Creative Thinking through the Uni of Minnesota. One of the resource articles caused a sensation back in 2010, and continues to resonate. Published in Newsweek, titled The Creativity Crisis, Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman report on the undisputed need for creativity. As an example they cite an IBM study of 1500 CEOs who identified creativity as the no. 1 leadership competency of the future. The authors note, however, that what is needed is not what is actually happening – creativity is statistically falling in the US.
Creativity, in the research literature from business, science, psychology and engineering, has become synonymous with problem solving, or as it is referred to – creative thinking.Once especially regarded the territory of the arts, though not exclusively so, the creativity of artists of every stripe has provided a leading edge to cultural development and change. Now, nations, such as China, understand the epic nature of looming problems and are making creativity a national priority. Apparently, there was no concerted effort, policy-wise, to nurture creativity in the US, while the opposite was happening in China and Europe. It doesn’t look so good for Australia.
Bronson and Merryman proceed to quote a most shocking suggestion Researchers say creativity should be taken out of the art room and into the home room. A number of points emerge from this ‘solution’ which demonstrates a belief in an implied unworthy and exclusive ownership of creativity by the ‘art room’, and a lack of researchers’ creative thinking. A thoughtful unpacking of the idea is worthwhile.
Firstly, creativity is not an entity that is in or able to be removed from the classroom. A mercurial human experience, creativity is a way of being and doing in the world that creates objects, ideas and solutions, through us. The oft-quoted EP Torrance, of Torrance Creativity Test fame (1966), wrote that creativity defies precise definitionCreativity is almost infinite. It involves every sense sight, smell, hearing, feeling, taste and even perhaps the extrasensory. Much of it is unseen, nonverbal, and unconscious. However, current scientific theory asserts that creativity is a skill. This disturbing assertion seems akin to the Cartesian split – take the skill, leave the ineffable.
As an artist, educator andresearcher, I can say, as would all my colleagues,creativity is not a skill, per se, rather creativity employs skills, depending on the task at hand. Creativity is inclusive of much more than skill as Csikszenmihalyi considers at length in his comprehensive text –Creativity (1996). Creativity, in its embrace of seemingly paradoxical traits, is linked with genius. Of course it is desirable, and sought after, and most people have far more potential to be creative than they will ever know.
Learning of skills help with the skill-base, as specificity of learning has shown.A focus of online courses on creativity is the DSD – ‘do something different’. The DSD is about demonstrating non-compliance, a feature of creativity noted by Torrance in the 60’s. However, there is much more. To start with, creativity also needs to be allowed.
Allowing might seem terribly simple, but it’s not always. Limiting beliefs, doubt, cynicism and control issues can be hobbling. Allowing creativity sometimesdepends on dismantlinginner barriers. See, creativity is seamlessly integrated with intention, inspiration, imagination, wonder, curiosity, desire, seeking, authenticity, openness, willingness, supported processes of learning, making, failure, flow, resistance, freedom to change direction, interruptions, being flexible, inventiveness, exploration of raw materials, persistingThere is a problem with all this these human qualities cannot be reliably measured.
Subjecting creativity to empiricism is tricky. Some scientists say if it cant be measured it doesnt exist. Black-and-white attitudes have caused our world a lot of problems, and ruthlessness undermines the very nature of humanitarian solutions sought. Lets move on. In the search for answers about creativity, artists have been observed, questioned and tested like interesting pinned creatures, however, their wisdom about facilitating creativity is not sought. Dont you think thats odd? A great athlete tells of her training regime what helps and hinders her There is a history to this strange state of affairs. The first is the dominance of rationalism and creative people have been labelled as irrational, if not mad.Possibly a second reason is the opinion of famous writers on creativity. Justone opinion in his book Six Thinking Hats, Edward de Bono, on wearing the green hat of creativity, dismisses artists as not necessarily being able to teach about creativity.
There is evidence that the great artistic geniuses had at least one teacher was a creatively active person. Artists who teach, and this is how many of us make a living, impart much about creative practice to students. This is well known, but uncharted, un-funded territory.
Let’s return to the art room for a more helpful solution… Alternative solution 1:Ask ‘what were the conditions in the classroom that allowed creativity to flourish?’
Answer: Freedom to have ideas, a framework to give direction, a range of available materials toexperiment with, andunhurried time to devote to making.
Might it be possible to allow this freedom, the encouragement to do something authentically different, not just for the sake of practicing non-compliance, but also for the sake of making something beautiful, grotesque, something useful perhaps, fired by inspiration and enthusiasm and nourished by enjoyment? This is living. Does not anyone care about feeling like they are alive?
With regard to designated ‘free’ time, in her talk titled Nine Lessons Learned about Creativity at Google – Marissa Mayer discusses their 80:20 rule where Google employees have 1 day per week to spend on whatever project they like. Mayer reports the finding that 50% of overall productivity happened in that 20% of free time. It is possible for disciplines interested in innovation and creativity to engage with the arts and find out more about what remarkable things artists are doing despite the odds, despite the marginalisation by the over-culture of rationalism and associated superstition of science being able to fix everything, as noted by Wendell Berry.
Artists solve a myriad of problems every day. They are old hands at dealing with failure. They can teach a thing or two about creativity. And so I propose alternative solution 2 – Why not make the art room the home room? Consider the great polymaths and how there was no separation between the arts and sciences for them. Regardless of whether da Vinci was looking at eddies of water, the wings of a bird or the composition of a painting, his mind was inquiring. There was no separation in his inquiry. While painting he may have found the solution to an anatomical problem; while dissecting, an answer to a question about a painted figure’s posture. As an artist and a science major, I drew and painted my dissections, noticing the direction of muscle fibres and later ‘saw’ them in my mind’s eye as I palpated an injury.
Irrelevance is actually important, given that the greater the range of experience, the more vast is the information from which to make neural connections with. Use of the body and senses provides billions of bits more information than thinking alone to add to ‘the pot’ – the brain’s raw material. This is very much supported by the famous Secrets of the Creative Brainresearch of Prof. Nancy Andreasen. Visual art students generally develop a high level of visual literacy. Visual thinking, requiring visual literacy, is a highly effective method of problem solving. There is a visual thinking revolution currently happening – see the work of Sunni Brown, founder of Doodle Revolution. Doing other stuff besides thinking and ‘nutting out a problem’ is important – the brain likes ‘changing channel’ if you will.
The wisdom of the body can contribute enormously to problem solving – human hands were designed to make things. Children, and learners of all ages, benefit from opportunities to physically develop and materially explore, re-wiring the brain and facilitating new connections for the possibility of extraordinary innovation. Using our hands is imperative, in the view of the great leader of the crafts movement in Japan, S?etsuYanagi. Here are some of his highly resonant thoughts:
S?etsu Yanagi, The Unknown Craftsman a Japanese Insight into Beauty. New York: Kodansha, 2013, p.90-91
In summary, my suggestions for increasing creativity at work –
– ALLOW: address what ideas stand in the way of being creative through education and coaching.
– FOSTER: allocate time and a pleasant place with materials to make things; to do things that are not just different, but enjoyable, calming, and without attachment to outcome. This really takes the pressure off, reducing stress rather than demanding staff to ‘be more creative’.
– EDUCATE: Education and coaching can assist greatly with allowing and nurturing creativity.
Coming soon….free talk and ’10 ways to nurture your creativity’ postcard! 🙂
Recently, an academic asked me whether an individual’s creativity was a limited resource. A good question given there is so much in the media about limited resources. Sure, neither is creativity a fossil fuel, nor is it a tank that runs out of fuel. Nevertheless, it can feel that way sometimes! Note the link between creativity and vitality? When tired, one rarely feels like being creative. When immersed in making of some kind, however, there is a vitality that comes in too. They are linked.
On my Home page, I cite the vital Martha Graham speaking of a channel for creativity and keeping that channel open for creativity to flow through. I like the idea that creativity is unlimited…and in the flow of making it certainly feels that way. One feels part of something much larger. The way creativity is spoken of by scientists is that it is a skill demonstrated by divergent thinking and that it can be developed. They are speaking of creative problem solving skills and as such, they leave a lot out….problem solving skills can be taught – that’s the easy part. Enhancing access to one’s authentic freedom of expression is a different proposition. This is the path of a person seeking. Coaches are guides for this kind of empowering personal work.
Creativity is life-force, generative and continuing. Keeping ‘the channel’ open is our challenge. What does this mean in practical terms? Caring for one’s mind by dismantling limiting beliefs and opening up to possibility; caring for one’s body and caring for the inner life, or soul by acknowledging and allowing feelings, reflecting on ones choices an actions and unfurling one’s gifts.
This is not a conclusive list by any means. Creativity is an infinite resource with many signposts and many paths. The founder of the Japanese Craft Movement S?etsu Yanagi wrote of how
All of life experience provides a rich and unique collection from which to draw endless connections for creative thinking and being – reminds me of the small box I found crammed full of my Nanas embroidery threads…