If the next generation is go face the future with zest and self-confidence, we must educate them to be original as well as competent. Csikszenthmihalyi
Too often we think of creativity as the same thing as genius. Creativity, unlike genius, can be encouraged, and a process can be taught. We are all creative. We are not all geniuses. Mihaly Csikszenthmihalyi in Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention studied over 80 contemporary people in all disciplines from the arts, humanities, sciences, business, politics, and inventions.
He shows that creativity is not confined to the arts. We are all creative even if we can’t draw, act or write a poem. Creativity involves a new way of looking at old information. What if we helped our kids be more creative?
Genuine creativity is rarely the result of a sudden insight and usually comes after much hard work. Creativity is not the one sudden thought that changes the world. Inspiration happens after we immerse ourselves in a particular study or problem.
Three elements in the creative process:
Study everything about the subject and look at the data in as many ways as possible.
Pull back from the study, work on some other activity and do not consciously think about the problem. This allows the mind to relax and provides a chance for new ideas to germinate.
Wait for the inspiration or clarity. This may be a sudden “aha moment” or just a fresh way to view the information after taking a break from it. This step cannot be forced. If the problem is particularly challenging, days may pass before any illumination occurs. Being aware of surroundings, dreams, things others say, or some event may provide a clue to the solution. An answer will present itself if given the chance. This may not happen without the two steps of immersion and incubation. Creativity doesn’t happen on demand. It will just occur.
There are certain characteristics of creativity that can be developed:
An insatiable curiosity means always wondering about everything and enjoying learning. Schools and the workplace can squelch this curiosity if studying or work is boring. Many who do poorly in school or at routine jobs are some of our most curious and imaginative people.
A willingness for ambiguity is a good characteristic to learn since our world does not pose clear-cut problems. Most issues have many sides and are complex. Things may seem unclear at times and that is acceptable. Creativity is living with ambiguity while trying to find a solution instead of forcing a solution too early.
A willingness to learn from mistakes is crucial. Problems can arise when people are too stubborn to admit ever making an error. We can’t learn from mistakes without acknowledging them. Society doesn’t seem to encourage people to take responsibility for their actions. This leads to blaming others. Creativity needs an ability to admit defeat. Failure is a strong teacher. Fear of it is unnecessary and counterproductive.
Encouraging creativity in our youth may assist them in aspiring to be better people.
This material is revised from Chapter 5 of my book, Don’t Fall Off the Bicycle: Balancing Chaos and Order in our Lives (2002).