Creativity: An Ingredient in Every Child’s Cupboard, Pt. II

As we discussed in last week’s post, experts who study creativity remind us that creativity is not a magical component bestowed to a lucky few children. By virtue of belonging to the human family, we are all innately creative. That means creativity can be taught and nurtured. But how do we do this?

Fortunately, there are countless ways to unlock and strengthen a child’s innate ability to be a creative thinker. Here are just three ideas.

1. Play the “What else can it be used for?” game.

Round up a common object, such as a stone, a leaf, or a pencil. Spend five minutes listing as many uses for this common object as possible. Not only can this be fun, but a recent study has found that this “alternative use task” can actually improve problem solving!

This finding makes sense. By making the familiar strange, we can see a common object (or problem) from various perspectives. We create fresh views and interesting connections when we imagine possibilities.

One tip: Have kid(s) do this independently. Some studies have found that brainstorming in a group actually produces fewer—and less interesting—ideas than listing them alone. (Brainstorming can still be a good thing for other activities.)

On your mark, get set, go!

2. Find the second right answer.

Roger von Oech, author of A Whack on the Side of the Head, says that “By the time the average person finishes college, he or she will have taken over 2,600 tests, quizzes, and exams. The right answer approach becomes deeply ingrained in our thinking. This may be fine for some mathematical problems where there is in fact only one right answer. The difficulty is that most of life isn’t this way. Life is ambiguous; there are many right answers—all depending on what you’re looking for. But if you think there is only one right answer, then you’ll stop looking as soon as you find one.”

Rarely is it the first idea that pops in our mind the best idea. Encouraging kids to look for a second, third, fourth, and even the twelfth right answer, stirs creativity. It builds receptivity to new ideas and considering problems from various viewpoints. Encouraging this type of open-minded thinking also offers a side-benefit: not falling in love with one particular way of doing something.

One simple way we can help kids search for a second right answer is to pay attention to the type of questions we ask. Do we frame questions so that they are open-ended and invite more than one answer?

Why else do you think that might be? What other reasons could there be for that? What other ways could this problem be solved?

[Bonus material: We get better answers if we ask better questions. For example, how many of us have turned to a child we love and asked, How was school today?   This terribly uninspiring question—asked by many well-intentioned grownups—tends to elicit responses like “Good.” Okay.” “Hmmphf.”  Can you think of a better way to ask this question? Let us know and if we get some interesting questions, we’ll test them out with kids and share their responses in a future post.]

3. Practice being impractical. 

Too often, as grownups, we can find ourselves in a “Be Practical” mindset. We shouldn’t waste time devoting energy to useless activities, right? We should be productive, right? For Von Oech, “Be Practical” is a mental block to creativity and can easily be knocked down by posing “What if?” questions. And the sillier, the better.

What if trees grew upside down, with their leaves in the ground and their roots in the air?

What if we walked backwards all day?

What if you could fly for one hour every day?

Asking silly “What if?” questions and answering them (there is more than one right answer!) stretches the imagination. Kids love coming up with these types of questions and answering them. At the same time, it prepares their young minds for asking/answering questions and generating fresh ideas to challenges (both big and small) that will arise throughout their lives.

Remember, each one of us and our 12,000+ kids has creativity as an ingredient in our cupboard. We just need to take it out and use it. We’ve just shared three recipes. Now get cooking!

 

Creativity: An Ingredient in Every Child’s Cupboard

We recently ran a post, “Curious about Curiosity? noting that, among other things, curious children are better able to grasp basic math and reading than their less curious comrades. Another success ingredient, closely linked to curiosity and also associated with higher academic achievement, is creativity.

What do we mean when we speak of creativity? While uninspiring definitions abound, consider these three definitions on creativity and creative thinkers:

  •  “…. imagining familiar things in a new light, digging below the surface to find previously undetected patterns, and finding connections among unrelated phenomena.”  -Roger von Oech, author of A Whack on the Side of the Head
  • “… a process of becoming sensitive to problems, deficiencies, gaps in knowledge, missing elements and disharmonies as well as identifying, searching for solutions, making guesses or formulation of hypotheses, and possibly modifying and restating them, and experimenting to find results and finally communicating the results.” -John E. Penick, researcher who has studied the relationship between academic success and creativity, author of Teaching with Purpose: Closing the Research- Practice Gap
  • “… the process of bringing something new into being. Creativity requires passion and commitment. It brings to our awareness what was previously hidden and points to new life. The experience is one of heightened consciousness: ecstasy.” -Rollo May, existential psychologist and author of The Courage to Create

Neuroscientist Tina Seelig teaches courses in creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship at Stanford. Too often, she says, the creative process is viewed narrowly, associated with only the arts. She has developed an “Innovation Engine model” to help us think about creativity as both an internal (attitude, imagination and knowledge) and external (resources, habitat, and culture) process. She also offers several intriguing ideas to unleash creativity. You can watch her “Crash Course in Creativity” TEDx talk here.

Before we help kids unlock their creativity, it makes sense to first consider our own relationship with creativity. Here’s some questions to toss around. You can ask these questions in the context of yourself, your team, school, family, or business.

  • Do I/we value creativity?
  • How do I/we think of creativity? Do I/we need to expand my/our view of creativity?
  • When asking a question of others (or ourselves), do I/we wait for that second, third, or fourth right answer?
  • Do I/we tend to explore or judge/shut down unique and odd-ball ideas and questions?
  • How do I/we model creativity? (This doesn’t mean breaking out the oil paints and creating the next Mona Lisa. Rather, dragging out questions like: Do I allow myself to play with questions? Do I ask open-ended questions? Am I willing to take risks with sharing ideas, even if they seem a bit whacky?)
  • Do I/we reward creativity? If so, how?
  • What am I/What are we doing to nurture a culture of creativity in within the home/school/business environment? Am I/Are we doing anything to stifle creativity?

Come back next week, and we’ll offer specific strategies for strengthening children’s innate ability to be creative thinkers. Who knows, you may even reclaim the creative genius locked away inside yourself!

Creativity: A Path for Future Generations

The majority of students today will be employed in jobs that haven’t even been invented yet. The predictions for this range anywhere from 65-85%. So what is a parent, a grandparent, an aunt or uncle to do? How can we prepare our kids for life and work in these increasingly uncertain and rapidly changing times?

One thing we can do is to encourage their creativity. Creativity has been linked with positive academic achievement and it can help young learners successfully navigate and thrive in this ever-changing world.

But just what is creativity? According to Paul Collard, who runs the UK-based organization Creativity, Culture & Education, creativity is “a wider ability to question, make connections and take an innovative and imaginative approach to problem solving.” Collard believes it’s important to explicitly teach creativity. “Creative skills aren’t just about good ideas, they are about having the skills to make good ideas happen.”

Those who study creativity agree. A number of organizations in Scotland worked together to look at creativity across learning environments and identified core creativity skills such as:

-Constructively inquisitive (by being curious, flexible, adaptable, and exploring multiple viewpoints).

-Harness imagination (by playing, exploring, generating and refining ideas, inventing).

-Identify and solve problems (by demonstrating initiative, persistence, and resilience).

These type of creative skills which help kids (and grown ups, too!) play with ideas, look at things with fresh eyes, learn from mistakes, adapt to changed circumstances, stay focused, meet new and unanticipated challenges, and much more, really resonate as true.

Ask Me About My 12,000+ Kids interviewed two business people who also serve on the CIS board in Kalamazoo. They both touched on the importance of creative skills. When we asked Dave Maurer, President of Humphrey Products, what parents can do to help prepare their child for today’s labor force, he told us that we can help them persist. He also talked about the importance of developing new ideas. (You can read his interview here.)

Mike Stoddard, chief operating officer of BASIC, talked about the importance of being nimble.  “It’s important to keep up and be flexible. In a blink of an eye, things change, particularly when it comes to technology.” (You can read his interview here.)

While there are a million ways to nurture creativity in our kids, here are two things we can easily do: One. Recognize that creativity is important to our children’s future success, both in life and in their future job, a job that may not even exist yet. Two. Help kids look for the second right answer.

A second right answer? In a classic book on creativity, A Whack on the Side of the Head: How to Unlock Your Mind for Innovation, author Roger Von Oech encourages us to shrug off what many of us have been trained to do: look for the one right answer. This approach, he says, is fine for some situations, but we shouldn’t give into the “tendency to stop looking for alternative right answers after the first one has been found. This is unfortunate because often it’s the second or third, or tenth right answer that is what we need to solve a problem in an innovative way.”

Let’s encourage our kids to wonder more and come up with different solutions to a problem. We can ask them questions. Have you thought of any alternatives? How else might this work?

We can read this article, “Tools to encourage kids’ creativity,” that says with a little nudging, kids can build creative skills by sharing stories, opinions, and their ideas. (It was this very article, passed along by CIS Executive Director Pam Kingery, that inspired today’s post!)

Remember, there is no one right answer for how to nurture our 12,000+ kids’ creativity. The important thing is to do it.