Friday, June 12, 2015

Problems: if you don’t have any…get some, quick!

Problems: if you don’t have any…get some, quick!

Ya gotta’ problem?  Let’s hope so. 
While we tend to think of problems as something wrong, another way to think about it is: a gap between where you are and where you want to be, or: a gap between what you have and what you want. 
In other words, you should always have some gaps. There should always be something you still want to do, be, achieve, obtain, invent, discover…always another dream of some kind. Or, more simply, always another gap. Think about it: we are always seeing gaps—all around us, and in our own lives and selves. 
We’re just not always honest about it. “Everything’s good, all is well!” 
And still: what of the gaps?  They’re there, if we choose to see them. In fact, the more you tap into your creative spirit, the more gaps you’ll see. Or, another way to think about it is: the more dreams you’ll dream. The more futures you’ll envision. The more gaps you’ll want to traverse. This is, by the way, the way that humans are wired. There’s a reason that the Cro-Magnon survived while the Neanderthal did not: sensing and solving those gaps.
It’s the same for innovative organizations. Loaded with gaps. Both traditional problems that need to be solved, and those many broad problems: gaps to be spanned to reach that desired future. 
And when those are achieved, a few dozen more.  But I mean that in a good way.   It means there is good creative work to be done.   It means your organization is not dead. ’Cause, when there are no more gaps, it’s not because the thing is perfect; it’s because the thing is dead.
So: got any problems?

Monday, June 8, 2015

Teach: About Creativity, Creatively, For Creativity

Recently I have been teaching about creativity in education, spreading the message from Buffalo to  Saudi Arabia. On the surface, these workshops might seem to have a straightforward goal: to develop creative thinking abilities in students. That is, after all, the primary narrative circulating these days, from the Newsweek article “The Creativity Crisis,” to the book Creating Innovators, to name just two examples.
There are, in fact, three legs on this particular stool. Three components needed to make the concept stand up: understanding creativity, choosing to teach creatively, and making creativity skills and behaviors a content goal.
First, they learn about creativity.
An understanding of what creativity is forms the foundation for the rest of the conversation. In the workshop, we do this cognitively and then by discovery. To begin, everyone writes down their individual definition of creativity. Then, they break into groups and build a paper structure that represents their collective definition of creativity. 
During the report-out that follows, I whiteboard the pieces of their definitions, secretly categorizing them into four groups, which were first identified my Mel Rhodes 50 years ago as components of creativity: Person, Product, Process, and Press (pressures of the environment, climate, and culture). Nearly always, nearly every answer fits the Process or Product slots—how we create, and what we create—and rarely into Person or Press—who creates, and in what environment conditions do we create. 
The light of clarity shines in people’s eyes when the see what they are missing in their understanding of creativity. It is these missing parts that inform the rest of the conversation, about the other two legs of the creativity-in-education stool.
Second, they see that I have been teaching creatively (and that they can, too).
It is one thing to want students to learn creativity (behaviors, process skills, etc.). It is another for teachers to be creative while they do so. In these workshops, I modeled creative teaching methods, in at least three different ways. First, I began with a question rather than a statement. I could have said: here’s what creativity is. Instead, they discovered the answer together. Second, I had them collaborate on a single definition of creativity, because much creative work is done in teams. Third, I had them use metaphor (an essential creativity skill) by building a paper tower.
These are just three of many methods for teaching creatively. What’s required is that it’s desired: a teacher must consciously choose to apply their own creativity to their teaching methods and lesson plan development.
Third, they learn how to integrate creativity into their lessons.
There are at least three ways to teach creativity to students. First, creativity can be taught directly, of course. Teachers can take it on themselves to go outside the proscribed curriculum and add content on creativity skills and behaviors. A single lesson on Creative Problem Solving, for instance, goes a long way toward changing how students see problems and frame questions.
A second way is for the teacher to model the behaviors and use the skills. For instance, if the teacher were to always frame problems as questions (that is, statements that begin with “How to…” and “How might…”), students will learn to follow. 
A third way is to sneak the creativity content into other lessons, to embed it into the lesson plan. A simple example is the difference between telling students how to measure the volume of an irregularly-shaped object, and asking them to do it themselves, discovering in the process what are the right questions to ask.
The bottom line: it’s a decision.
Without even trying out any of these recommendations, teachers often say: I don’t have time for this. Which is, quite frankly, nonsense. It doesn’t take any time to model a creative behavior. It doesn’t make lesson planning longer, just slightly different. It might make a lesson take longer than simply lecturing, but why would one want to lecture, anyway? Do teachers even enjoy lecturing, or is it just easy? 

Countless times, teachers have been told me: once he or she begins teaching creatively and for creativity, teaching is easier, more effective, and more rewarding. Now, those are three legs we can all agree are worth standing on.

#creativity #creativityinteaching #teachingcreativity #teachcreativity #creativityineducation

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

If you want to get creative, create your creative space

Have you ever walked into a place, rubbed your hands together, and said to yourself, “I could really do some great work here”?

Artists and musicians have studios, craftsmen have workshops, professors and pastors have studies, and scientists have laboratories.  Sitting by the ocean or looking out of the window of my office at the pine trees in my back yard does this for me.

Where is your creative space?  Where do you go to do your best work?  One of my artist friends describes her studio as her sanctuary.  It is her “safe place.”  When she is in her studio, she is able to create, try out new concepts, and leave her work in progress. Her studio is filled with light; it’s clean and well organized and is just the right temperature for her.  It is her retreat from the hectic, outside world, a place where she can immerse herself in a private world of concepts and colors.

In his book, The Art and Science of Creativity, George Kneller described the unusual devices some creative people adopted for their working environments. Schiller loved the smell of apples, so he filled his desk with rotten ones; Proust worked in a cork-lined room; Mozart composed after exercise; Frost would write only at night.  The extreme case was the philosopher Kant, who would work in bed at certain times of the day with the blankets arranged around him in a specific fashion.  While writing The Critique of Pure Reason, Kant would concentrate on a tower visible from his window.  When some trees grew up to hide the tower, he became frustrated, and the city fathers of Konigsberg cut down the trees so that he could continue his work.

Now, we are not advocating that you stock your desk with decaying fruit or cut down the trees in your neighborhood.  But think about it for a minute:  What are the qualities of your optimal working/creating environment?  Think about it.  Write about it.  Draw it.  Then make it.

Remember, If you expect yourself to do creative work, then you need a place to do it.

Roger Firestien and Laura Ryan