Creative thinking is a vital element in healthy and growing people and cultures.
As The Cambridge Handbook of Creativity puts it, “We live in a society where those who do not creatively innovate risk failure in any of several domains of life.”
The book adds that “Legendary thinkers throughout time, from Aristotle to Einstein, have pondered what it means to be creative.
“There are still debates, after more than six decades of intensive research, on how to measure, utilize, and improve it.”
One of the most widely used evaluations of creativity is the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (TTCT), which includes scores on four scales:
Getting flashes of creative insight or inspiration can solve real problems. But be wary of thinking you have to wait for them to be creative.
Psychologist R. Keith Sawyer says creativity researchers refer to “the three Bs—for the bathtub, the bed and the bus—places where ideas have famously and suddenly emerged.”
The photo shows an un-corrected Hubble telescope image at the left, next to an image at the right made with corrected optics.
Sawyer explained in a magazine article that in 1990 a team of NASA scientists “was trying to fix the distorted lenses in the Hubble telescope, which was already in orbit. An expert in optics suggested that tiny inversely distorted mirrors could correct the images, but nobody could figure out how to fit them into the hard-to-reach space inside.
Assurance, backbone, boldness, brashness, daring – engaging in a creative endeavor takes confidence.
Large scale collaborations like movies often take years to develop, requiring intense commitment on the part of writers and directors and other filmmakers.
A bit of hypomania and creative obsession can help.
Individual creators also need that kind of energy, motivation and confidence to keep working at projects for long periods.
This is a photo of “Fallen Star” by artist Do Ho Suh – a small house, with a sloping floor, installed onto the top floor at the Jacobs School of Engineering at UCSD.
You can see more photos at the Stuart Collection site.
An article notes it took “Fallen Star” seven years to be realized.
Einstein was expelled from school for “undermining the authority of his teachers and being a disruptive influence.”
I was reminded of that item when reading the article Can Innovative Thinking Be Learned? (Forbes mag.), in which writer Erica Swallow lists several “disruptive innovators”: Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson and Pierre Omidyar, referring to the book “The Innovator’s DNA” – which fortunately also includes a number of women innovators.
She writes that they think and behave differently, and “possess a suite of skills that enable them to connect dots that the rest of us don’t usually perceive.”
In Part 1 of this post, I mentioned two articles that refer to multiple research studies; here are more excerpts from those articles, plus additional material.
In “The science of creativity,” Amy Novotney notes a study at Harvard Medical School in which creativity researchers suggest sleeping on a problem.
Psychologist Deirde Barrett, PhD “asked her students to imagine a problem they were trying to solve before going to sleep and found that they were able to come up with novel solutions in their dreams.
“In the study, published in Dreaming (Vol. 3, No. 2), half of the participants reported having dreams that addressed their chosen problems, and a quarter came up with solutions in their dreams.”
“We’re in a different biochemical state when we’re dreaming, and that’s why I think dreams can be so helpful anytime we’re stuck in our usual mode of thinking,” Barrett says.
There may not yet be a “unified field theory” in the science of creativity that definitively explains what it is and how the creative mind operates (see my previous post Do We Have a Science of Creativity?), but a number of research findings provide information in support of developing our creativity and innovation.
In her American Psychological Association article “The science of creativity,” Amy Novotney notes psychologist Robert Epstein, PhD. considers stress and time constraints as inhibitors of creativity.
“When you’re in graduate school, there are so many constraints on you. It’s detrimental to creative expression,” says Epstein, author of “The Big Book of Creativity Games.”
Novotney continues, “Yet it’s almost impossible to conquer any graduate school activity without at least some innovative thinking.
“Collaborating with other researchers, finding a subfield that excites you, maneuvering your way through an unexpected set of findings, and balancing the demands of your work and home life all require creative problem-solving.”
In a recent article on The Creativity Post site, Milena Z. Fisher gives some thoughtful and stimulating responses to the acclaimed Jonah Lehrer book “Imagine,” and comments about the state of creativity research.
[Fisher is a philosopher (Nietzsche scholar), entrepreneur, and co-founder of The Creativity Post.]
She notes there is no absolute definition, that nobody knows exactly what “creativity” really is, and that while Lehrer “elegantly and effortlessly skims through different aspects of creativity” and though his book is “charming and engaging,” it is also “disappointing that along with this beautiful literature some of his claims aren’t very well supported.
“Lehrer worked in a neuroscience lab, so he should know better that we are far, far away from the real ‘science of creativity’ and even more importantly we are probably not on the right track yet.”
Tom Kelley, general manager of award-winning industrial design firm, IDEO, writes about a common form of response to creative ideas in a “pivotal meeting where you push forward a new idea or proposal you’re passionate about.
“A fast-paced discussion leads to an upwelling of support that seems about to reach critical mass. And then, in one disastrous moment, your hopes are dashed when someone weighs in with those fateful words: ‘Let me just play Devil’s Advocate for a minute . . .’
Kelley notes the speaker “now feels entirely free to take potshots at your idea, and does so with complete impunity. Because they’re not really your harshest critic.
“They are essentially saying, ‘The Devil made me do it.’ They’re removing themselves from the equation and sidestepping individual responsibility for the verbal attack. But before they’re done, they’ve torched your fledgling concept.”
An article in Fast Company magazine notes the advice by consultants to “think outside the box” is “about as cliched as it gets,” according to Jesse Sheidlower, editor-at-large of the Oxford English Dictionary.
The origin of the ubiquitous phrase, the article says, “is generally attributed to consultants in the 1970s and 1980s who tried to make clients feel inadequate by drawing nine dots on a piece of paper and asking them to connect the dots without lifting their pen, using only four lines.
“(Hint: You have to think outside the — oh, you know.)”
From “Outside the Box”: The Inside Story, by Martin Kihn | June 1, 2005, Fast Company.
“Only one set of skills can ensure this generation’s economic future – the capacity for innovation.”
That quote comes from the website of the new book “Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People That Will Change The World” by Tony Wagner, which declares that nurturing creative thinking is crucial and that “only one set of skills can ensure this generation’s economic future: the capacity for innovation.”
The book asks, “What do the best schools and colleges do to teach the skills of innovation? What are some of the most forward-looking employers doing to create a culture of innovation?”
In his review article, Jonathan Wai, Ph.D. notes he shares author Wagner’s interest “in what constitutes a meaningful science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education.”
Wai writes that the book profiles five STEM innovators and three social innovators, and that “These stories are worth learning from and developing hypotheses from,” but warns “it is important to remember that the plural of anecdote is not data.”
He continues, “In addition, the STEM innovators he profiles are very much entrepreneurs.