“They wondered if that capacity for creativity they remembered from their youth would or could ever return.” Lisa Rivero
How can we successfully hold on to the creative thinking and passions we had earlier in life?
Ken Robinson and many other writers and leaders warn that too many children are having their intellectual and creative abilities eroded by educational institutions.
We may find inspiration to be more creative in art classes and writing workshops – but what if our very sense of being creative has been eroded by ordinary schooling?
In his acclaimed TED conference presentation in 2006, Ken Robinson referred to the “really extraordinary capacity that children have, their capacities for innovation…” – but added, “And my contention is, all kids have tremendous talents and we squander them, pretty ruthlessly… creativity now is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.”
He related the story of a 6 year old girl in a drawing lesson: the teacher asked, “What are you drawing?” and the girl said, “I’m drawing a picture of God.”
And the teacher said, “But nobody knows what God looks like.” And the girl said, “They will in a minute.”
From Do schools kill creativity? – transcript of TED conference video presentation by Sir Ken Robinson.
“Intro Video” – adapted from Sir Ken’s 2006 TED talk by Nick Egan, (and listed on Ken Robinson’s YouTube channel).
Lisa Rivero is the author of several books about creativity, education, and giftedness, and teaches creative thinking, humanities, and writing at the Milwaukee School of Engineering.
Losing something deeply important in school
In a post on her blog Creative Synthesis, she writes about sharing a video by Ken Robinson with her class of engineering students, and asking them to talk about the impact of their many years of education on their creative thinking:
“As much as they realize the need to have honed their convergent thinking and executive functioning skills as they look toward entering a competitive workforce, they also spoke of a deep loss of something integral to who they are, and a few wondered if that capacity for creativity they remembered from their youth would or could ever return.”
She adds, “Rather than disheartened by their comments, I am excited to show them over the next ten weeks a few ways that they can begin to reclaim their creativity and that parents and teachers can encourage creative thinking at home and school.”
And looking at the research on creativity in children and young adults, and how to encourage creative thinking, can be very relevant to us as adults, no matter our occupation.
Rivero notes Ken Robinson is careful to point out that divergent thinking is “not the same thing as creative thinking” but that it is an “essential capacity for creativity.”
She says, “We can help children to practice skills of divergent thinking as they grow by helping them at least some of the time to aim for quantity over quality, without pre-emptive judgment. This can be done in ways that are more applicable to their daily lives than asking how many uses they can think of for a paper clip.
“What are all the meals we can make for dinner with the ingredients in the refrigerator, even (and especially) combinations that are new or strange? While they answer, we can be alert for the ‘yes, but’ voices in our own heads that want to butt in and stop the divergent flow of ideas.”
Those ‘Yes, but’ voices are, of course, an issue for us at any age. We may pick up many of them from hearing or reading adults who are supposed to be authorities. But even a professional – a psychologist, teacher, manager, expert, etc. – is still only human and may not always know what is best, or what ideas have real merit.
Lateral thinking and a complex personality
Rivero notes the related concept of lateral thinking, a “phrase coined by Edward de Bono, can spur creativity by introducing the unexpected.
“De Bono explains that being able to think laterally is important because, most of the time, when we are stuck on a problem, we simply try harder in the same direction. Lateral thinking is not about trying harder but trying differently, changing directions, sometimes in ways that seem illogical or impractical.”
Rivero refers to the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who studied many creative producers and thinkers, and found that “the creative personality has no template. Being adaptable is key to using our creativity effectively, so we cannot expect even our own personality to be the same from one creative venture to the next.”
She notes, “He summed up his findings by presenting ten pairs of what we usually think of as antithetical traits that highly creative people ‘experience both with equal intensity and without inner conflict.’
“Our temptation to label and pigeonhole others is often for reasons of our own comfort and efficiency.
“If we know Johnny is an extrovert, we know, or we think we know, what to expect from him and what his needs are. However, to encourage children to give themselves more options for how to feel, think, and act, we can refrain from typecasting them as either/or and, instead, give them permission to be both/and: Both extroverted and introverted, both playful and disciplined, both feminine and masculine.”
From post Be More Creative Today – Five ways to sustain creativity at home and school, by Lisa Rivero in her blog Creative Synthesis.
Also see article The Creative Personality: Ten paradoxical traits of the creative personality, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.
We can release more of our own creativity and depths of talent by applying these ideas to ourselves: rejecting or toning down our self-judgements about being “scattered” or “inconsistent,” for example, or thinking of ourselves (or children) as exclusively “male” or “female.”
[Art class image from Maryland Higher Education Commission site.]
Continued in Part 2.