“Creativity is inventing, experimenting, growing, taking risks, breaking rules, making mistakes, and having fun.” – Mary Lou Cook
“Stay young, stay foolish.” – Steve Jobs
Newsweek believes that there is a crisis in creativity, reporting the decline in the Torrance creativity index (in the US). After 50 years, Torrance’s index has proven to correlate very highly between children’s performance in the test and “creative” accomplishments in adult life – those scoring highly in the test often grow into entrepreneurs, inventors and other creative professionals. Although sometimes called CQ (creativity quotient), CQ is a very different measure to IQ in one very important respect . Average IQ has crept relentlessly upwards (about 10 points per generation), reflecting enriched environments (including imrpvements in education). CQ also initially rose from it’s first use until around 1990, but now continues to decline from a peak around 20 years ago.
The reasons for this may be linked to a reduction in creative play time by children, both at home (TV is now often preferred to other more actively creative pastimes) and at school. We all know that children love to ask questions, although I have read and often experienced that questioning declines, especially once they get to school. This is shame, as curiosity is what drives imagination.
Jocelyn Glei writes about what we can learn from babies (the importance of asking why!), focusing on how experimentation and failure are the key to learning and development. She also discusses at length the importance of insight tripping, through which relaxation of the mind, taking our mental focus away from the specific problem and desired outcome, helps us to unconsciously find the mental connections to help us solve the problem in a hypnagogic state where the mind is free to associate more freely and productively. She finds parallels with the way that babies explore the world, in a state of excited and unrestrained “flow”, unrestricted by pressure, deadlines, plans, goals or other constraints. Babies simply don’t care about failure: an ideal state for creative learning!
Unfortunately, most of us start to care about failure far too much as we grow older and lose this ability to engage with problems with such freedom and lack of constraint. The most successful innovators and creative minds, manage to keep this ability and embrace failure, Thomas Edison and James Dyson being two such examples (Dyson produced 5,126 prototypes of the vacuum before he got it right!).
Their example can be followed, and Newsweek cites great examples of how education can develop creativity in all of us, by designing learning programs which reflect theories of adult learning (after all, adults are just big children!) and behavioural psychology. Dan Pink writes in Drive about three key drivers of motivation: autonomy, mastery and purpose (self-direction and self-improvement with a mission).
At the National Inventors Hall of Fame School in Ohio, pupils were empowered to use autonomy, mastery and purpose to solve a real problem: how to reduce noise in the school library. They were tasked to come up with proposals in four weeks, which meant they had to do real research on the problem: for example, how does sound travel and what are the properties of different materials (learning physics was never so interesting)? They then had to come up with as many ideas as possible to solve the problem, and then review these ideas based on their feasibility, cost, aesthetics and effectiveness! They prototyped solutions, worked with others at the school who would need to be involved in the solution, and occasionally worked with other teams on joint solutions. Finally, they all presented their solutions to the school and to Jim West (inventor of the electric microphone).
The results of this should be an inspiration for anyone involved in learning and development. Those involved enjoyed school more than they have ever done, exam results improved leaps and bounds, and not only have the pupils learnt the principles of physics in a way in which they will remember them, they have learnt how to solve problems, something which will help them to continue learning and improving throughout their lives and well beyond the day they leave education.
Next time I struggle for creativity, I will be getting out my crayons and playing!
Drive by Dan Pink (2010)