Strategies for Developing Creativity

What is Design?  Good Design Honors Great Ideas

What is Creativity?

An Ability. A simple definition is that creativity is the ability to imagine or invent something never before seen, heard or felt- a NEW IDEA. As we will see below, creativity is not the ability to create out of nothing, but the ability to generate new ideas by combining, changing, or reapplying existing ideas. Some creative ideas are astonishing and brilliant, while others are just simple, good, practical ideas that no one seems to have thought of yet.

Believe it or not, everyone has substantial creative ability. Just look at how creative children are. In adults, creativity has too often been suppressed through education.

How many of your remember the first or second grade student who could draw realistically? They were anointed the “art stars” and all the rest of  the students were “told” by the anointing that they were NOT creative.

Insider Information. Most truly creative people move on from realism quite early. “Ho hum”, we all think… if you want a representation –  take a picture!!!

Here is the good news for you and your students. Creativity can be reawakened! Often all that’s needed to be creative is to make a commitment to creativity and to take the time for it. Collect new data, watch UTube tutorials for technique lessons, and adopt a risk-taking ATTITUDE!

An Attitude. Creativity is also an attitude: the ability to accept change and newness, a willingness to play with ideas and possibilities, a flexibility of outlook, the habit of enjoying the good, while looking for ways to improve it. An eagerness to challenge your own worldview (this is harder than you might think!).We are socialized into accepting only a small number of permitted or normal things, like chocolate-covered strawberries, for example. The creative person realizes that there are other possibilities, like peanut butter and banana sandwiches, roasted grubs, or chocolate-covered prunes or even Lutefisk!.

A Process. Creative people work hard and continually to improve ideas and solutions, by making gradual alterations and refinements to their works. Contrary to the mythology surrounding creativity, very, very few works of creative excellence are produced with a single stroke of brilliance or in a frenzy of rapid activity. Much closer to the real truth are the stories of companies who had to take the invention away from the inventor in order to market it because the inventor would have kept on tweaking it and fiddling with it, always trying to make it a little better. Creative TEACHERS often have this challenge. We can always add ONE MORE THING to make the perfect lesson.

The creative person knows that there is always room for improvement. They are open to  changing their mind when new data comes in. In fact, they seek out new data at every opportunity!!!

Creative Methods

Several methods have been identified for producing creative results. Here are the five classic ones:

Evolution. This is the method of incremental improvement. New ideas stem from other ideas, new solutions from previous ones, the new ones slightly improved over the old ones. Many of the very sophisticated things we enjoy today developed through a long period of constant evolution. Making something a little better here, a little better there gradually makes it something a lot better–even entirely different from the original.

Discussion: Make a list of products which have evolved and the steps they took:

Lesson Plan
School Desk

The evolutionary method of creativity also reminds us of that critical principle: Every problem that has been solved can be solved again in a better way. Creative thinkers do not subscribe to the idea that once a problem has been solved, it can be forgotten, or to the notion that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” A creative thinker’s philosophy is that “there is no such thing as an insignificant improvement.”

Synthesis. With this method, two or more existing ideas are combined into a third, new idea. Combining the ideas of a magazine and an audio tape gives the idea of a magazine you can listen to, one useful for blind people or freeway commuters.

For example, someone noticed that a lot of people on dates went first to dinner and then to the theater. Why not combine these two events into one? Thus, the dinner theater, where people go first to eat and then to see a play or other entertainment.

People collect data in different ways.  Some are moved by audio input…music, lectures, radio, movies; others, will resonate with visual data…reading text, movies, art and still others need to put their hands on something and manipulate it.  Powerful teaching design makes sure to  use all the possible data input models Visual, Auditory and Kinesthetic. ! Re-visit the Paradigm Models!

Sometimes the best new idea is a completely different one, a marked change from the previous ones. While an evolutionary improvement philosophy might cause a professor to ask, “How can I make my lectures better and better?” (Instructivism) a revolutionary idea might be, “Why not stop lecturing and have the students teach each other, working as teams or presenting reports?” (Constructivism).

For example, the evolutionary technology in fighting termites eating away at houses has been to develop safer and faster pesticides and gasses to kill them. A somewhat revolutionary change has been to abandon gasses altogether in favor of liquid nitrogen, which freezes them to death or microwaves, which bake them. A truly revolutionary creative idea would be to ask, “How can we prevent them from eating houses in the first place?” A new termite bait that is placed in the ground in a perimeter around a house provides one answer to this question.

Revolution is not for the faint of heart! You must be willing to suffer criticism on a professional and sometimes personal level.

Reapplication. Look at something old in a new way. Go beyond labels. Using critical thinking strategies-collect the data…remove prejudices, expectations and assumptions and discover how something can be reapplied. Consider the stakeholders and the roadblocks. Find out WHY there is resistance and remove the concerns.

One creative person might go to the junkyard and see art in an old model T transmission. He paints it up and puts it in his living room. Another creative person might see in the same transmission the necessary gears for a multi-speed hot walker for his horse. He hooks it to some poles and a motor and puts it in his corral. The key is to see beyond the previous or stated applications for some idea, solution, or thing and to see what other application is possible.

For example, a paperclip can be used as a tiny screwdriver if filed down; paint can be used as a kind of glue to prevent screws from loosening in machinery; dishwashing detergents can be used to remove the DNA from bacteria in a lab; general purpose spray cleaners can be used to kill ants.

Changing Direction. Many creative breakthroughs occur when attention is shifted from one angle of a problem to another. This is sometimes called creative insight. Check your paradigm charts…also called Decentering. 

A classic example is that of the highway department trying to keep kids from skateboarding in a concrete-lined drainage ditch. The highway department put up a fence to keep the kids out; the kids went around it. The department then put up a longer fence; the kids cut a hole in it. The department then put up a stronger fence; it, too, was cut. The department then put a threatening sign on the fence; it was ignored. Finally, someone decided to change direction, and asked, “What really is the problem here? It’s not that the kids keep getting through the barrier, but that they want to skateboard in the ditch. So how can we keep them from skateboarding in the ditch?” The solution was to remove their desire by pouring some concrete in the bottom of the ditch to remove the smooth curve. The sharp angle created by the concrete made skateboarding impossible and the activity stopped. No more skateboarding problems, no more fence problems.

OR… how about creating a community project to create a skateboard park?

This example reveals a critical truth in problem solving: the goal is to solve the problem, not to implement a particular solution. When one solution path is not working, shift to another. There is no commitment to a particular path, only to a particular goal. Path fixation can sometimes be a problem for those who do not understand this; they become overcommitted to a path that does not work and only frustration results.



Robin Williams: The non-Designer’s Design Book

Brilliant student reflection:

Bonnie Magnuson

Being creative is hard work, being safe is much, much easier.

Creativity is risky because you open yourself up for criticism.  Criticism comes in many different forms.  If you’re creative in your personal life you may be “quirky, weird or eccentric,” especially if you take pains to limit your interactions with others so that they aren’t a drain on your energy.  If you do this while dressing normally you risk being considered a “snob,” especially if you have a college degree in an economically depressed area.

Creative in your job means that some fellow teachers want you to tame it down to keep everyone else from “looking bad.”  This actually happened to an acquaintance of mine when she started a 5th grade class newspaper who gathered stories from all around the school and community.  The kids were so excited and that’s a bit threatening for some teachers, especially those who have been doing it “their way” AND the same exact way for the last 20 years.

Administrators get worried about the curriculum and how what you’re doing may not be good for test prep.  They don’t always want to mess with the deeper meaning when the test scores may not be high enough. They worry about how to explain you to parents, too.

Parents might worry when they hear that their kids aren’t learning the same way they did.  I think that teachers really need to work with parents in terms of communication.  They seem to be much more willing to let you have a creative approach when you can explain the learning that comes with your activities.  I do identify with Frank McCourt and teaching as the teachable moments come up – I do it all the time – but it may have let him rest easier to send home something with the students explaining how his teaching related to their lives and how creative thinking could be good practice for living and the pursuit of life-long learning.  How doing it a different way could help them pay enough attention enough for each student to take something different from it.  He could have had the students help write the letter to the parents.

Students themselves can get a little uncomfortable when there may not be a right answer.  The ones who want black and white activites with a checklist aren’t sure how they are performing and might take a while to get used to a different method.

Finally, to be creative, each of us needs to be strong enough to resist all the negatives and try it anyway.  Set aside the fear and open up to the possiblities!  Unless you are doing something expressly forbidden being creative will probably not cause you to lose your job and quite likely will be more rewarding to all involved than many “safe” activities.  Failure is a possiblity but you will never know unless you try.