The movie Admission provides an interesting (though unintended) case study of the different types of creativity. I recently saw the movie Admission (2013). Admission features Tina Fey, Paul Rudd, and Lily Tomlin and is directed by Paul Weitz. The main character named Portia Nathan, played by Tina Fey, is a senior admission officer at Princeton University. Portia is organized and efficient and generally on top of her game.
But as the movie continues, Portia’s life falls apart in a comical manner. She is told that identity of Jeremiah, an unusual but brilliant student, is the son she gave up for secret adoption in college.
From time to time, Portia visits her mom Susannah, played by Lily Tomlin. Susannah is portrayed as a early feminist that epitomizes non-conformity. Susannah displays a typical creativity stereotype – a non-conforming individual that can’t be bothered with social conventions.
John Pressman, played by Paul Rudd, is the director of New Quest, an alternative learning school. John eventually becomes Portia’s love interest, though it is slow in developing. Paul displays another typical creativity stereotype – a restless person that can’t sit still for more than five minutes.
So what does “different types of creativity” have to do with the movie “Admission”?
While the movie Admission is your typical romantic comedy, it also serves as a great example of the different types of creativity — adaptive and innovative creativity.
Different types of creativity
It should come as no surprise that there are different types of creativity. Creativity researcher Michael Kirton developed a creativity tool referred to as the Kirton Adaption-Innovation Inventory (“KAI”). KAI is a model using adaptive creativity and innovative creativity on either end.
Adaptive creativity is incremental in nature and tends to work within existing structures or processes. Adaptive creativity is focused on process improvement or unique strategies to carry out a routine objective.
In contrast, innovative creativity is focused on generating entirely new structures, systems, or processes. When people say to “think outside of the box”, they are referring to innovative creative. The “box” is existing processes and structures.
Both thinking “inside” and “outside” of the “box” have value in the right circumstances. Neither is superior to the other, but depend on the context.
Different types of creativity in the movie Admission
In the movie, Portia displays adaptive creativity. Portia is generally not a rule breaker, but follows existing social conventions. Many times her mom criticizes Portia for “living someone else life.”
In spite of this, Portia displays creativity in terms of working within the existing system. When needed, she makes peace with a long-standing rival in order to achieve her objective of obtaining the admittance of Jeremiah.
When Portia’s attempts at adaptive creativity fail, she resorts to increasingly drastic measures – innovative creative that tends to break rules. She breaks into the admissions office and switches the records of an admitted student with the file of Jeremiah.
In the end, both her adaptive and innovative attempts fail. However, Portia succeeds in finding love and a humble but improved new life.
SS Ideal X, the first container ship designed by Malcom McLean
Questions help frame the creative problem
For centuries, ship designers were endlessly looking for ways to design ships so as to reduce shipping costs. Designers focused on building larger, more efficient ships that could ship more cargo with less labor and fuel costs. The shipping industry changed gradually over hundreds of years but the basic idea was the same – larger ships with aquadynamic hulls and fuel efficient engines. However, it wasn’t until 1955 when Malcom McLean asked the right questions that the shipping industry was revolutionized. The answer was the modern container ship.
Rather than asking the age-old question of “how to design a more efficient ship”, McLean asked the more important question, “how to decrease shipping loading time?” Ship builders had been focusing on reducing the costs in transit, and ignored the largest of all costs – the lengthy loading and unloading time during which the cargo ship was largely idle.
Rather than taking several days to load large ship using expensive longshoreman labor, ships could be loaded in a matter of hours using automated cranes and other mechanical devices. McLean designed a system using large containers that were never opened in transit between shipper and consignee and that were transferable on an intermodal basis, among trucks, ships and railroad cars.
McLean worked with engineer Keith Tantlinger to develop the modern intermodal container that was designed to be efficiently be loaded onto ships and held securely on long sea voyages. On April 26, 1956, when American trucking entrepreneur McLean put 58 containers aboard a refitted tanker ship, the SS Ideal X (picture above), and sailed them from Newark to Houston.
The modern container ship is often as large as 1540 feet in length and 200 feet wide – limited only by the depth of the Straits of Malacca, one of the busiest shipping lanes. Containerization has increased the efficiency of moving traditional break-bulk cargoes significantly, reducing shipping time by 84% and costs by 35%.
For a book review, I reviewed Creative Thinkering by Michael Michalko, who also authored Cracking Creativity: The Secrets of Creative Genius, and Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative-Thinking Techniques. Creative Thinkering is divided into two parts: Creative Thinking and Creative Thinker. The first part covers the brain’s tendency to self-organize diverse perceptions into recognizable patterns, creating new ideas by blending concepts; looking at problems from different perspectives; and prompting ideas using different stimuli. The second part covers aspects of creativity that are personal to individuals, including the power of intention; the linkage between speech, belief, and actions; and the importance of taking chances.
Summary of Content
The book starts with a proposition common to most creativity books, that as children we were all creative and that this creativity diminishes over time. The primary source of this decrease in creativity over time is formal education, overly focused on answers deemed “correct” by history, analytical ability, or arbitrary authority figures at the expense of generating and exploring alternatives:
We were not taught how to think; we were taught to reproduce what past thinkers thought. When confronted with a problem, we were taught to analytically selected the most promising approach based on history, excluding all other approaches, and then to work logically in a carefully defined direction towards a solution. (p. 3-4).
The problem with education is that it wires into our brains “thinking patterns [that] limit our imagination and inventiveness.” (p. 4). Michalko explains the brain’s tendency to organize information and perceptions into these thinking patterns:
When information enters the mind, it self-organizes into patterns and ruts much like the hot water on butter. New information automatically flows into the preformed grooves. After a while, the channels become so deep it takes only a bit of information to activate an entire channel. This is the pattern recognition and pattern completion process of the brain. Even if much of the information is out of the channel, the pattern will be activated. The mind automatically corrects and completes the information to select and activate a pattern. (p. 12).
To become more creative, one must find ways to break out of existing mental patterns and structures by adopting certain practices and attributes that facilitate creative thinking. Thus, “[o]ne of the hallmarks of a creative thinker is the ability to tolerate ambiguity, dissonance, inconsistency, and things out of place.” (p. 5). Throughout the book, Michalko describes different practices, techniques, and attributes that if adopted, will help people break out of thinking ruts and create novel ideas.
The main idea of the book involves what Michalko describes as “conceptual blending.” According to Michalko, “[c]reative thinkers form more novel combinations because they routinely conceptually blend objects, concepts, and ideas form two different contexts or categories that logical thinkers conventionally consider separate.” (p. 19). Michalko further states that “[i]t is the conceptual blending of dissimilar concepts that leads to original ideas and insights.” (p. 19). Michalko explains how this process works:
[W]hen two dissimilar subjects are conceptually blended together in the imagination, new complex patterns are formed that create new ideas. The two subjects cross-catalyze each other like two chemicals that both must be present in order for a new concept, product, or idea to form. This strongly resembles the creative process of genetic recombination in nature. Chromosomes exchange genes to create emergent new beings. … The new ideas are not only greater than the sum of their parts, but they are different from the sums of their parts. (p. 20).
This conceptual blending idea is one of the dominate themes of the book with much of the book showcasing specific and different ways to employ this practices. For instance, Michalko describes a process for generating ideas commonly referred to as “forced connections”, stating that you “will find inspiration for marvelous ideas if you look for random subjects to conceptually blend with your challenge.” (p. 55). Michalko describes a number of effective ways to generate forced connections – collecting interesting objects, pictures, or articles for use as an “idea drawer”, going into nature or for a walk and talking notes of anything that sticks out or is particularly interesting, or using your imagination to generate your own forced connections. Another interesting insight was to work on multiple ideas in parallel or simultaneously, allowing ideas regarding one problem to cross-pollinate and impact the other problems.
Michalko has a number of interesting observations about perception. For instance, he states that “scientists and psychologists have proven that perception is demonstrably an active rather than a passive process; it constructs rather than records reality.” (p. 82). Some key insights include that “the perception of the observer depends on the observer’s own assumptions” and “[c]onsciously or unconsciously, we are anchored to our first impressions unless we actively change the way we look at the subject.” (p. 82, 87). Michalko then gives several ways to look at things differently – from the perspective of another or from a specific role or viewpoint; look at things from as many perspectives as possible; use metaphors to shift perspectives; pair opposite or paradoxical ideas to gain new insights.
In the second part of the book, Michalko shifts his focus from creative thinking to how creativity applies at the individual level. Michalko discusses the power of intention, stating that “[y]our brain becomes an extra-ordinary pattern recognition tool when you focus your intention.” (p. 157). When we focus our intention on something specific, “[i]ntention has a way of bringing to our awareness only those things that our brains deem important.” (p. 148). Thus, by focusing your intention on something, the brain filters out the non-important information and then brings the essential information – often the creative spark or ahah moment – the attention of your conscious mind.
The remaining chapters focus on becoming creative by the words we choose and the way we act. To be more creative, we should focus our thoughts on what we want rather than what we don’t want. Similarly, we should speak with the positive language of inclusion – describing things as they are or could be – rather than the negative language of exclusion that describes thing in reference to what they are not or cannot be. (p. 162). Michalko ascribes great power to the mind and imagination, stating that “you can synthesize experience, literally creat[ing] it in your imagination.” (p.186).
Creative Thinkering is an interesting blend of creative thinking techniques, puzzles and illustrations, thought experiments, and practical tips to improve creativity. Similar to Edward De Bono, Michalko applies a practical, anecdotal approach, rather than an academic, research-based approach. Even so, the result is a book that is entertaining, informative, and engaging and provides several actionable creativity tips. However, readers looking for a more systematic or comprehensive theory or approach to creativity will be disappointed.
Similar to Edward De Bono, Michalko’s strength is bringing creative thinking, especially creative thinking techniques and concepts to a popular, non-academic audience in digestible, entertaining fashion. Also similar to Edward De Bono, the weaknesses of his writing is that they tend to lack a unifying framework or theory. This makes placing his work within the taxonomy of other creative thinking theoretical frameworks difficult as well a veritable dearth of verifying and validity research.
The greatest contribution of this book to the field of creativity is in its description of several simple but powerful principles – conceptual blending; perception; intention; linkage between speech, thought, and actions; and the power of the imagination. Although most of these concepts are covered elsewhere in the creativity field, few books are as entertaining, practical, and immensely readable as Creative Thinkering.
I will be in Buffalo for a week this month at school. I can’t wait to see my creativity classmates. It is nice to find “people like me.” Here is a paper I wrote for class: Lateral Thinking Paper. Enjoy!
Edward De Bono’s Lateral Thinking Model
Edward De Bono, a leading creativity practitioner, developed two different models regarding creative thinking called “lateral thinking” and “parallel thinking”. De Bono developed his models over a number of years with his book, Mechanism of the Mind, being published in 1969. This book contained a key insight upon which the lateral thinking model is based:
De Bono’s research concluded that the brain is indeed a self-organizing system that routinely interprets inputs into patterns. It is not then inherently designed for creativity. However, if certain lateral thinking tools are applied, the brain can be encouraged or trained to become more creative. (Bailey, 2007, p. 46).
In 1970, De Bono published Lateral Thinking: Creativity Step by Step, detailing his lateral thinking model. Over the last 40 years, De Bono has continued to refine his theories and techniques, publishing numerous books and articles on related topics, and developing training materials, programs, and personnel to take his varied creativity and thinking courses to thousands of organizations and hundreds of thousands of individuals.
In 1985, De Bono published a second break-through book entitled Six Thinking Hats that extolled parallel thinking, “a technique for teaching the brain to look at a problem from a variety of angles” (Carter, 2007, p. 20). These six thinking skills (or “hats”) are aimed at exploring ideas and generating better outcomes, and provides an alternative to traditional critical thinking that mainly analyzes ideas with argument and counter-argument.
Different Types of Thinking
One of De Bono’s many contributions to the creativity field is his identification and development of three types of thinking – vertical thinking, lateral thinking, and parallel thinking. The best way to understand vertical and lateral thinking is compare and contrast them side-by-side:
Rightness is what matters in vertical thinking. Richness is what matters in lateral thinking. Vertical thinking selects a pathway by excluding other pathways. Lateral thinking does not select but seeks to open up other pathways. … With vertical thinking one is trying to select the best approach but with lateral thinking one is generating different approaches for the sake of generating them. (De Bono, 1970, p. 39).
Other comparisons between vertical and lateral thinking include:
Vertical thinking moves only if there is a direction in which to move, lateral thinking moves in order to generate a direction. … Vertical thinking is analytical, lateral thinking is provocative. … Vertical thinking is sequential, lateral thinking can make jumps. … With vertical thinking one has to be correct at every step, with lateral thinking one does not have to be. … With vertical thinking one concentrates and excludes what is irrelevant, with lateral thinking one welcomes chance intrusions. … With vertical thinking categories, classifications and labels are fixed, with lateral thinking they are not. … Vertical thinking follows the most likely paths, lateral thinking explores the least likely.… (De Bono, 1970, pp. 39-43).
Vertical thinking and lateral thinking, when practiced together, end up being one complete creativity “thinking skills” model. A completely separate way to view creativity in totality is through the parallel thinking model. In this model, De Bono describes six types of thinking (or “hats”) that taken together, comprise creative thinking (just like the thinking skills model of creative problem solving (CPS)). The six types of thinking include blue hat thinking (process and control), white hat thinking (facts, information), yellow hat thinking (benefits of an idea), black hat thinking (weak aspects of an idea), red hat thinking (emotional or feeling), and green hat thinking (new ideas and creativity) (Carter, 2007, p. 20).
Description of the Model
De Bono’s model of creativity can be described as disrupting linear pathways and creating asymmetric ones. All around us is vast amount of information, data, ideas, and images that we process through our five senses. Our brains are highly developed pattern-recognition machines, and thus process this information into a handful of recognizable patterns (De Bono, 1992, p. 151). Over time, these patterns form into dominant neural pathways that we tend to resort to automatically. If left unchecked, the brain’s pattern forming tendency discourages creativity because thinking is instead channeled down dominant pathways.
The way to develop creative thought, according to De Bono, is to disrupt these linear pathways, and thereby discover asymmetric ones (ones that are not readily apparent in foresight, but are logical in hindsight). Rather than moving along the pattern in traditional logical, “vertical” thinking, the key is to use lateral thinking to move across the pattern and thus, to break out of the dominant pathway rut. Once outside of the dominant pathway, a person is free to experience different thoughts and hopeful reach some new, useful ones.
De Bono’s approach to creativity is identify, develop, and use a number of techniques that help overcome the brain’s pre-existing mental patterns and thus facilitate lateral thinking. In Serious Creativity, De Bono states that he will “be covering the three broad approaches to lateral thinking: (1) Challenge; (2) Alternatives; and (3) Provocation” (De Bono, 1992, p. xii). But then he does little, if any, to explain the differences between the approaches or to develop a taxonomy of lateral thinking techniques, leaving the reader to figure out the connections (if any) between the approaches. Even though De Bono spends little time developing a satisfactory unifying theoretical framework (other than you need lateral thinking to “think outside of the “box” of confining mental patterns) in regards to his techniques, the techniques themselves can be powerful and effective.
The technique that most distinctly captures the essence of De Bono’s model of creativity is his “provocation” technique. A provocation (abbreviated as “PO”) is a temporary idea that is used to encourage new perceptions and patterns and is “used for its movement value” (De Bono, 1986, p. 58). Thus. the goal is to “move on from the provocation to end up with useful ideas” and the provocation itself is only a “temporary phase” (p. 58). The provocation serves to take us out of the comfort of an existing pattern (De Bono, 1995, p. 18).
For instance, if my focus (objective) is to improve a new car model, and my PO is “dolphin”, I would think of ideas brought to mind by the word dolphin (sleek, fast, intelligent, dorsal fin, communicates with others), and then apply those ideas to the focus: intelligent cars, cars with aerodynamic fins, cars that communicate with other cars or traffic lights and so forth.
Many of De Bono’s numerous techniques for applying lateral thinking are briefly described in the chart below:
“[F]ocus is a deliberate effort to pick out a new focal point.” (De Bono, 1992, p. 92).
“The creative pause is the willingness to pause during some thinking or discussion to pay creative attention” to what is going on. (p. 92)
“The creative challenge simply refuses to accept that the current way is necessarily the best way.” (p. 105).
“Is there another way?” “What are the alternatives?” (p. 119).
The Concept Fan
“We go from an idea … to a concept which becomes the fixed point for other ideas. But we also go from the concept to a ‘broader concept,’ which then becomes the fixed point for alternative concepts.” (p. 129).
“In general, it is difficult to work at the concept level. So it makes sense to work at the idea level and then keep ‘pulling back’ to find the concept. What is the concept here? What concept is being carried out by the idea?” (p. 139).
“The general ‘sense’ of movement means the willingness to move forward in a positive exploring way rather than stopping to judge whether something is right or wrong.” (p. 153).
“[O]btain a word which has no connection whatsoever with the situation and hold the two together. … From this juxtaposition we seek to develop new ideas.” (p. 177).
“The purpose of sensitizing techniques is to feed ideas into the mind in order to allow our thinking to take new and creative lines. … A ‘stratal’ is a number of unconnected statements put together solely to form a stratal. The purpose of a stratal is to sensitive the mind so that new ideas can come forward.” (p. 184).
While most of De Bono’s work is focused on generating ideas as part of the divergent stage of the creative cycle, some of his work deals with the convergent stage of creativity.
“In any creative thinking session, there are at least three purposes: 1. To find the magic idea; 2. To produce new ideas that can be shaped into usable ideas; 3. To stock the mind with a repertoire of concepts and ideas that may not be useful at the moment but that will enrich any future thinking on the same or related matters (and even on other matters). With poor harvesting, the second and third of these purposes is ignored.” (p. 211).
Treatment of Ideas
De Bono reviews multiple ways of evaluating ideas including: quick rejection of ideas, shaping ideas, tailoring ideas, strengthening ideas, reinforcing ideas, take-up of ideas, comparison, faults and defects, consequences, testability, and evaluation. (pp. 216-223).
De Bono suggests the disciplined use of time, focus, and technique enhances creativity sessions. In addition, the output of the session should be formalized into writing that includes the focus, concept, and idea for all the output in the sessions. (pp. 224-228).
Analysis of the Model
A strength of De Bono’s model is that it provides a logical, common sense approach to creativity. In addition, there is minimal amounts of jargon to learn other than a few words which De Bono invents (vertical, lateral, and parallel thinking; provocations, etc.) In essence, his model states that the brain organizes information into patterns, which needs to be disrupted in order to encourage novel ideas. Vertical thinking tends to perpetuate the existing patterns. In contrast, lateral thinking provides numerous opportunities for disrupting existing thinking patterns and moving towards new ones. De Bono’s lateral thinking becomes an effective complementary pairing to “vertical” thinking.
A second strength of De Bono’s work is its accessibility to lay persons. Once De Bono teaches the difference between vertical and lateral (and parallel thinking), a lay person can quickly master some or all of his techniques and implement lateral thinking as a way to disrupt vertical thinking. Once his techniques are applied, some new ideas quickly follow and thus, De Bono’s work continues to gain support and widespread commercial appeal and significant though anecdotal support.
A third strength of De Bono’s work is its explanation of the need for creativity. While the trite phrase “think outside of the box” is in some circles synonymous with creativity, De Bono’s theory does explain that there is actually a box (the confines of the mental patterns organized by the brain) and then proceeds to give effective tools for “thinking outside”, or rather across, those patterns. De Bono’s model (mental patterns) also explains why people new to a domain (not limited by mental patterns of perception) often create more break-through ideas than experience practitioners within the domain (limited by experience).
A limitation of De Bono’s model is its inherent squishiness. In contrast to other creativity models, De Bono’s model places little emphasis on the different aspects or phases in solving a problem (in contrast to the Four Sight model) or meta-cognition (where am I in this process?). Thus, his model, while effective at generating new ideas, is difficult to apply in a coherent, systematic fashion. In addition, while his techniques could be used during any phase of CPS, they are most effective as ideational techniques.
Another limitation of De Bono’s work is its disconnected nature. While De Bono creates overarching framework regarding why creativity is needed, he spends little time developing theoretical connection s between the different techniques and the model. Thus, one is given a number of tools to “think laterally” but De Bono spends little time trying to explain or categorize lateral thinking to explain the different types of lateral thinking. De Bono likely considers this to be unimportant because, within lateral thinking, “[c]lassifications and categories are not fixed pigeonholes to aid identification but signposts to help movement.” (De Bono, 1970, p. 43).
The significant limitation of De Bono’s work is the dearth of research in support of his work in spite of the fact that his work has reached a wide commercial audience. While there is some literature that either applies or supports lateral thinking, not a single study was found conducting experiments whether lateral (or parallel) thinking was effective as a creativity enhancement tool (in contrast to CPS which does has this support in the research). A possible explanation for the lack of research supporting De Bono’s models may be his personal tendency to portray himself as a distinct creativity brand and creator of the lateral and parallel thinking models, which makes it difficult to discern where the man ends and his models begin. In addition, De Bono’s commercial showmanship may have discouraged researchers from studying whether his training methods can produce lasting, measureable increases in creativity.
Supporting the Model
A significant strength of De Bono’s work is the sheer volume of books on the subject and the availability of training on his programs and techniques. De Bono has authored at least 75 books, several training programs, and trained hundreds of certified trainers worldwide, though the exact nature of the training programs are difficult to determine as there are conflicting claims among magazine articles and internet websites (De Bono’s and others). Some of De Bono’s training programs including Six Thinking Hats, Lateral Thinking, CoRT Tools, DATT – Power of Perception, Simplicity, and Six Value Medals (www.edwarddebono.com, 2012).
While there was not much (if any) research explicitly assessing the validity or reliability of De Bono’s models, there a handful of articles that recognized the value of his ideas and used them in other areas. For instance, Tanner applied De Bono techniques in the consumer marketing and product development contexts including two provocation techniques (random word and escape) to find new applications for existing products (spandex) and to shorten the time-to-market for a new product (1993, p. 22).
Other favorable references to lateral thinking include where Kuesten states that lateral thinking can be its own leadership style and that a “lateral leadership style … includes soliciting suggestions, delegating, treat staff as colleagues, looking for ideas from everywhere, using lateral thinking, and sharing exposure with the team” (2008, p. 35). Finally, Braunstein puts lateral thinking in a historical context and posits that the information overload in past forty years has increased the value of lateral thinking (ability to form connections among remote associates) and its prevalence as the natural result of exposure to huge amounts of information (1999, pp. 15-17).
In summary, Edward De Bono’s lateral thinking model has good explanatory value regarding why creativity is required and then provides valuable tools for generating ideas on demand. However, the lateral thinking model unfortunately lacks research in support of its validity and reliability. In addition, the lateral thinking model is relatively formless and does not provide a clear framework for solving challenges (in contrast to CPS or other models).
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De Bono, E. (1992). Serious creativity: Using the power of lateral thinking to create new ideas. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.
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Kuesten, C. (2008). [Review of the book The leader’s guide to lateral thinking skills: Unlocking the creativity and innovation in you and your team, by P. Sloane]. Journal of Product Innovation Management, 25, 303-310.
Tanner, D. (1993). Applying creative thinking techniques to everyday problems. Journal of Consumer Marketing, 9(4), 23-28.
De Bono, E. (1967). New think: The use of lateral thinking in the generation of new ideas. New York, NY: Basic Books.
De Bono, E. (1985). Six thinking hats. Boston, MA: Little, Brown & Co.
De Bono, E. (2008). Creativity workout: 62 exercise to unlock your most creative ideas. Berkeley, CA: Ulysses Press.
The premise or thesis of this book is that creativity is most often accomplished at the intersection of hard work and habit. While there are sometimes some seemingly mystical and mysterious aspects of creativity, more often than not great creative works are the results of hard work and a diligent application of a creative process. Throughout the book, the author gives her readers specific tools for overcoming certain challenges associated with creativity such as getting started, getting an idea, organizing ideas, making a coherent, meaningful creation, getting out a rut, and dealing with failure.
Routine & Preparation:
The author starts by sharing her experience as a choreographer – starting with an empty room – as a metaphor of the difficulty in facing the “blank canvas”, the empty creative space. She states that “[s]ome people find this moment—the moment before creativity begins—so painful that they simply cannot deal with it” (5).
The key, according to the author, is to establish daily routines that facilitate the creative work to be accomplished. A writer might have a daily routine of getting up early and staying at the computer until 2000 words or more have been written. The author discusses the age-old controversy surrounding creativity— whether it is the result of a mysterious, uncontrollable process (i.e., “god” inspired), or of hard, laborious work. The author is of the later opinion.
In order to overcome the difficulty of getting started, the author recommends developing “rituals—automatic but decisive patterns of behavior—at the beginning of the creative process, when you are most at peril of turning back, chickening out, giving up or going the wrong way.” (15) The author’s ritual for getting started in her chorographic work is getting coffee and then catching a cab at 5:30am in the morning to take her to her NYC dance studio. The benefits of a preparation ritual is that it pushes you get started, even when you don’t feel like it, thus helping your overcome the “blank canvas” or your particular feelings at the moment.
The author makes an interesting assertion – that artists and creators each have particular “strands of creative code hard-wired into our imaginations.” (37) This is why some artists always paint nature scenes, others paint portraits, while yet others paint abstractly. Some paint close up scenes while others paint from a distant vantage point.
Once one understands their “creative DNA”, they can use this self-awareness to their advantage. Straying too far from what is comfortable, usually results in frustration, slows progress, and causes confusion. Understanding the common elements of your work helps you create more effectively by helping you know when and where you should “push the envelop” and when you should “stick to your knitting.”
The author recommends having an organizational system to collect and organize creative ideas and projects – the “raw index of your preparation.” (88) Her system is a cardboard box filing system in which she puts every thing – items, clippings, videos – used in the preparation and performance of her various choreographic performances. Thomas Edison and Leonardo da Vinci kept elaborate notebooks containing their writings and ideas. Having an organizational system gives you easy access to a lot of good material – the building blocks of new creative ideas. A system also lets you look back on the process by which you arrived at your now-complete creations.
The author describes how she finds ideas literally everywhere including in every day conversation, the work of other artists, and even nature. She notes that reading is an especially powerful way to search for ideas because when you are reading you are literally filling your mind with ideas. She also noted that it is helpful to “scratch furiously” (with urgency and persistence) for an idea as well as to search among the best sources, the “masterpieces” in every field.
Planning and preparation are very important to creativity, but it is also important to leave room for the “happy accidents” often get associated with creative endeavors. The more prepared one is, the more they are ready to get “lucky” as their preparation helps them recognize the particular advances that are brought forth by luck or circumstances. She also mentioned things which can thwart creativity and modify creative plans including other people, perfectionism, bad structure, sense of obligation to other people or art, and using the wrong materials.
The author next introduces the concept of “spine”. (146) According to the author, the creative “spine” is the artist’s concept of the work that helps guide the process of making the creation. In her words, the spine helps “keep [her] on message, but it is not the message itself.” (149) Sometimes, however, the “spine does double duty, both as the covert idea guiding the artist and the overt theme for the audience.” (149) The spine’s most useful feature is that it operates as a creative homing pigeon in that if the creator gets off-course, the spine is what brings the creator back on-course. The usefulness of this device is that is becomes easier to produce a coherent creative work and helps a creator stay on track and finish projects much sooner than if they wandered aimlessly without a guiding idea or theme.
Skill is the foundation upon which all creativity rests. The author notes that skill is what brings creativity into being:
Skill gives you the wherewithal to execute whatever occurs to you. Without it, you are just a font of unfilled ideas. Skill is how you close the gap between what you can see in your mind’s eye and what you can produce; the more skill you have, the more sophisticated and accomplished your ideas can be. (163)
Skills are developed through “perfect practice”, where the creator does work that can be both painstaking and technically challenging. (165) The author notes that the most gifted creators got that way, not because of latent natural talent, but because they were the most focused and dedicated to practicing and improving their craft. In addition, when developing skills, it is best to work on areas where you are deficient and could use improvement, instead of exclusively on areas where you are already proficient.
Ruts, Grooves& Failure:
Sometimes things go really smoothly for a creator and stay that way for a good long time in what the author describes as a “mega-groove.” But more often than not, creators have to deal with ruts of various causes and durations. Ruts occur for a variety of reasons including bad luck, bad timing, bad luck, creative burnout, and other unknown reasons. A common feature of ruts is “sticking to tried and tested methods that don’t take into account how you or the world has changed.” (186) The cure for a rut can be as simple of taking a break for a while, going back to your creative core, or trying something new. Very often ruts end as suddenly as they start and result in a new cycle of creative breakthrough.
A final part of becoming excellent creator is dealing with failure. Failure can occur for a variety of reasons including a lack of skill, bad concept, bad judgment, repetition, denial, or lack of courage to pursue the idea. (215-217) Failure is an inherent part of taking risks, and creativity is about taking risks. The key to failure is to humbly seek to learn lesson embodied in the failure—what is the cause of the problem and to make adjustments accordingly. Hopefully, an artist can honestly assess his or her work and make the adjustments before the work is unveiled in public to prevent embarrassment and other things that discourage future creativity. Persistence is also very important as the lessons learned in one “failed” project very often become the catalyst that causes the next project to become a blockbuster success.
Since I am hard at work on my creativity degree, I will be posting adapted homework assignments from time to time. Hopefully they are interesting.
Growing Up Creative: Nurturing a Lifetime of Creativity
By Teresa M. Amabile, Phd.
In this book, the author sought to convey a basic understanding of what constitutes creative behavior and how to encourage it in children. The author focused extensively on how to help encourage a child’s intrinsic motivation to act creatively on the theory that a motivated child will develop the domain skills (art, music, or other skills) and other attributes like persistence and dedication necessary to achieve creative success. In addition, the author enumerated a number of things that discourage creative behavior like competition, evaluation, limited choices, or acting controlling.
Vision and Passion:
The author states that “more than any single thing you do or say to your children, the vision you have for each of them will be crucial in the development of their motivation, creativity, and ultimate achievement”. (5) This vision, of course, needs to be shaped by the “temperament, personality, needs, and interests of that particular child.” (6) Regardless of the vision, it is important to imagine them as “independent and passionately interested in whatever work they chose.” (6) In addition, it is important to help your child gain a love of education, whether formal or informal, as a love of education with serve them wherever they end up.
Recognizing Children’s Creativity:
The author defined creativity as something that is “novel” and “appropriate.” Novelty means that the act is not an imitation of prior observed behavior, but instead represents something that is new within the context of the “child’s repertoire of behavior.” (25) Appropriateness means that the behavior has some measure of usefulness whether measured objectively or subjectively.
In some contexts like math or science, “appropriate” behavior can be objectively measured. In other contexts like art, play, or similar endeavors, “appropriate” behavior involves some level of behavior that is pleasing, communicative, or meaningful in some way. Fluency, or the number of ideas a child can generate, has been used to measure creativity but it seems to lack a degree of soundness as a measurement criteria as if the sheer number of ideas would ensure either novelty or appropriateness.
Giftedness, possessing an unusually high degree of talent in one area or high intelligence, is not the same as creativity as the novelty element is usually lacking. Nor is eccentricity, where a child demonstrates unusual behavior – “being different for its own sake, as a goal in itself, is not sufficient for creativity” – because even though the behavior may be novel, it lacks the appropriate element. (22)
The Ingredients of Creativity:
The author posits that creative success depends on three sets of learnable skills: domain skills, creative thinking and working skills, and intrinsic motivation. (35) The author asserts that creativity cannot be evaluated separately from the particular context or domain. Thus, a child may be a creative prodigy as a piano player, but as a lackluster student. Domain skills refer to the child’s skills in a particular area of creative endeavor (art, music, etc.)
Creative thinking skills include suspending judgment, thinking broadly and systematically, perceiving different patterns, trying new things, and breaking out of molds. Creative working skills include developing a sense of craftsmanship, persisting through difficulties, concentrating for long periods of time, putting aside difficult problems temporarily, and abandoning unproductive ideas. Certain personality traits are conducive to creative thinking including self-discipline, perseverance in the face of frustration, independence, tolerance of ambiguity, nonconformity to established societal rules and norms, ability to delay self-gratification, self-motivation, and a willingness to take risks. (49)
Motivation for Creativity:
The author asserts that children are more motivated to act creatively when motivated by intrinsic motivation instead of external factors or rewards. Intrinsic motivation is influenced by the degree of interest, competence, and self-determination (deciding for oneself) a child has in connection with a creative activity.
Children that are intrinsically motivated love the particular activity; are dedicated to working hard at the beloved pursuit; experience “flow” and “play” while working; and concentrate on the activity itself. (58) Children that are motivated by extrinsic factors “when they are doing something in order to reach some goal that is not part of the activity itself—for example, earning some money, winning a prize, getting positive recognition, avoiding punishment, meeting a deadline, fulfilling someone’s else’s orders, or getting a satisfactory evaluation.” (54)
Keeping Creativity Alive:
The author noted that creativity can be destroyed in a variety of ways including by an excessive concern with evaluation, external rewards which tend to lessen intrinsic motivation, competition, or restricting choice. At school, creativity can be reduced by a negative teacher attitude, rote learning, and pressure to conformity.
The author listed a variety of ways to encourage creativity: “[g]ive your children a great deal of freedom, respect them as individuals, be moderately close emotionally, and place emphasis on moral values, rather than specific rules.” (93) Parents that give their children freedom help them develop creativity by giving them room to take risks, try new things, experiment, make mistakes, and ultimately, improve upon their creative efforts. Respect for children gives them confidence and helps them develop their abilities and preserve through difficulties. Parents that appreciate creativity and that aren’t excessively concerned with social status and social demands help children be more flexible and willing to try new things.
Since I am hard at work on my creativity degree, I will be posting adapted homework assignments from time to time. Hopefully they are interesting.
The Path of Least Resistance: Learning to Become the Creative Force in Your Own Life By Robert Fritz
This book is largely about three critical insights that form the basis for the remainder of the book. First, “you go through life taking the path of least resistance.” Even though people change their behavior, over time they tend to resort back to established patterns of behavior. Second, “the underlying structure of your life determines the path of least resistance.” The reason why most people fail in their personal efforts to change is that they attempt to change the “flow of the river” (behavior) but do not substantially change the underlying river bed (established patterns and influences impacting behavior). As a result, most efforts to change are short-lived. Third, “you can change the fundamental structures of your life.” These three premises combine to form the guiding principle of the book, “you can learn to recognize the structures at play in your life and change them so that you can create what you really want to create.”
“Creative” Problem Solving v. Creating:
Contrary to the thinking of some other writers on creativity, the author draws a clear distinction between problem solving and creating: “Problem solving is taking action to have something go away—the problem. Creating is taking action to have something come into being—the creation.”
The difficulty with problem solving is that “what drives the action is the intensity of the problem”. Thus, when you have a serious problem (like gaining weight), you take steps to reduce the problem (dieting and exercise), which causes the problem to reduce in intensity (you lose some weight). But then with time, you stop your efforts to lose weight (since the problem is gone or at least is less pressing) until eventually you are right back where you started.
The critical question of creativity is: “what do I want to create?” According the author, the “inventiveness of the creative process does not come from generating alternatives but from generating a path from the original concept of what you want to create to the final creation of it in reality.” Thus, instead of generating random, unrelated ideas (as in brainstorming), the best path is focus all of one’s energies on the problem at hand and make minor variations that all make sense “within the context of the results the creator has in mind.” Thus, when “you are aware of the final result you want to create, you are able to focus the process, rather than make the process a random one.”
The author believes that “creating is a skill that can be learned and developed. Like any skill, you learn it by practice and hands-on experience. You can learn to create by creating.” The first and more important step in creating is to mentally imagine or conceive the desired result. Creators also have to learn about what already exists, and then take action towards the desired end. The author also describes about how the act of creating generates momentum: “Each new creation gives you added experience and knowledge of your own creative process.”
The Orientation of the Creative:
The author comes up with two general personality orientations – “reactive-responsive” and the creative orientation – and then explores them in great depth throughout the book. The difference between the orientations is that with the first one, people do not create what they genuinely desire but instead merely react to circumstances or choose from a narrowly defined set of acceptable alternatives.
People with the creative orientation know what they truly desire and are motivated primarily by the “desire for the creation to exist”, wherever that desire or creation may be. These people “create what they create, not in reaction to their emotions but independent of them.”
The Creative Cycle:
Germination marks the start of a new project, the time when the new idea or concept is mentally conceived. It is often an exciting time, full of possibilities, boundless energy, while the magnitude of the work to be done has not yet set in. According to the author, germination is all about making primary, secondary, and fundamental choices. A primary choice is something that you want for its own sake. A secondary choice is one that choose because of the results in brings (it helps bring to pass a primary choice). A fundamental choice is a commitment to a certain way of living and is the “foundation upon which primary and secondary choices rest”.
Making fundamental choices is the key from moving from a reactive-response orientation to a creative orientation. The author asserts that “[p]eople in the reactive-responsive orientation have never made an authentic fundamental choice about their own lives.” Once people make the fundamental choice to be the creators of their own lives, it enables them to pursue their primary and secondary choices, instead of merely reacting to circumstances.
Assimilation is the phase is often where creators give up as it often lacks the boundless energy experienced during the germination stage. Creators are often very skilled at visualizing the desired result so vividly and clearly in their minds that in some ways marginalizes the importance of bringing into fruition. One challenge of the assimilation phase is that very often creators underestimate the distance between the vision of the desired result and the difficulty in bringing the desired result into being. The author also describes this phase as a dualistic process or phase where the creator works to (1) complete the creation itself and (2) the process of becoming a more skillful creator.
Completion entails exactly what it sounds. In this phase, the creative vision is carried out in its final form. One interesting thing about completion is that expands one’s creative energy. Completing a project frees up and indeed, creates new energy, to start the next creative cycle. Conversely, when we fail to complete a project, the unfinished project saps our creative energy and discourages future endeavors.
This was my first creativity conference ever. It is at a great setting in upstate New York, and is not expensive. I am going again this year but I am staying in off-site hotel. The Abode is a little too rustic for me. The conference is a nice blend of left- and right-brained creativity, and is on a wide variety of topics.
THE NEXT IDEA CREATIVITY CONFERENCE
The Art, Science and Spirit of Creativity Oct 21-23, 2011 New Lebanon, NY
Re-Imagine, Re-Energize, Re-Invent your Life, Business and Organization. There will be 3 concurrent sessions to choose from every hour and a half, in three different tracks – Personal, Business and Professional Transformation. It is a joyful weekend held during the beautiful “Leaf-Changing” season in the Berkshire Mountains. Enjoy long walks, fresh air, and wholesome food in the New England countryside while exploring the mysteries of the “Creative Process”.
“Creativity permeates the cosmos. It is the driving force that sustains the particles, the stars and galaxies … it surges through the body with each beat of the heart. We all have access to creativity. At times, we summon it to use in our work and daily lives … it can arrive in a dream … or it may result from a long struggle … it can appear as a sudden, dramatic insight … One thing is certain: Creativity is ever present. It is a force to be enjoyed or endured but above all celebrated. Creativity is free, alive and spontaneous.” F. David Peat
SESSIONS: · The DNA of Creativity: “The Creativity Code” · Surrealistics: A Pathway to the Creative Subconscious · Creative Problem Solving (CPS) Brainstorming · Improvisational Writing · FourSight – Creativity Profile – Team Innovation · Appreciative Inquiry – when you are at your BEST · INVENTIUM ® The Inventing Card Game · Paint, Draw and Write · The Immunity to Change · Archetypes and Success · Laughter, Sound and Consciousness · Innovation Games ® · Empathy through Creativity · Coaching Cards – Purpose, Passion and Transformation · 24 Signature Strengths · Systematic Organizational Innovation · IDEO
Location: New Lebanon, N.Y. is about 30 miles from Albany
“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable man adapts the world to himself. All progress depends upon the unreasonable man” - George Bernard Shaw