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.