Creativity across Learning #3 – What is creativity?

Having set the context the next question is one of defining the concept in a way that makes sense and is useful from an educational perspective. Again the text below is taken from a 2011 unpublished draft of Creativity across Learning. It starts with one of my favourite definitions of creativity from Sir Ken Robinson:

Imagination is not the same as creativity.  Creativity takes the process of imagination to another level.  My definition of creativity is ‘the process of having original ideas that have value.’  Imagination can be entirely internal.  You could be imaginative all day long without anyone noticing.  But you never say that someone was creative if that person never did anything.  To be creative you actually have to do something.  It involves putting your imagination to work to make something new, to come up with new solutions to problems, even to think of new problems or questions. You can think of creativity as applied imagination.
(Sir Ken Robinson, 2007)

Creativity is an ambiguous and often controversial term.  It is used, for example, in relation to the achievements of extraordinary individuals such as Beethoven, Curie, Einstein, and even Lady Gaga.  It is also used in relation to the inventiveness and experimentation that is well within the capacity of people generally.

It is also important to remember that creativity can have what Arthur Cropley has called a ‘dark side’, for example in the invention and use of cluster bombs and ingenious instruments of torture.  The creative intentions of people, the processes they follow in ‘applying their imagination’ and the products they create always sit in a wider social and cultural context and are shaped by the creator’s values.  They can sometimes cause more harm than good. So creativity, like all other aspects of human existence, always has an ethical dimension and this should be considered as an integral part of responsible citizenship.

Creativity is not the same as remembering, understanding or applying knowledge. Although it builds on these foundations, creativity is the culmination or ultimate act of learning, the process that takes humanity forward rather than just reproducing the way we have done things have been in the past.

Creativity is by no means limited to the so-called ‘creative arts’.  When we think about it, what is more creative than good science, technology, mathematics or social science?  Expert scientists, technologists and mathematicians are no less creative than talented artists or authors.

Equally misguided is the notion that the creative process just happens – all inspiration and no perspiration. This derives, in part, from a belief that creative thinking is somehow separate from other forms of thinking and that it is not possible to plan for creative ideas.  The notion that ‘creative’ individuals will come up with ideas because they are ‘good at that sort of thing’ and that disciplined thinking is at odds with creative thinking need to be challenged as representing what Carol Dweck would call ‘fixed mindsets’. Everyone can learn to be more creative, but only if they have the right attitude, what she calls a ‘learning mindset’.

Although creativity is not amenable to being described neatly, it does have a number of important characteristics.

  • It always involves originality, the ‘forming’ or ‘making’ of something new, whether it is an artefact or action, or a system or procedure.
  • It involves the purposeful application of often laboriously acquired knowledge and skills.
  • It includes various ways of thinking, doing and communicating: creative developments involve, for example, contributions of imaginative, intuitive and logical thinking.
  • It can be evident in the thinking and actions of groups and communities as well as individuals.
  • It is not of itself a good thing; rather its expression is influenced by values of all sorts, not least ethical and moral values.

Another way to try and understand creativity is to consider the characteristics demonstrated by people whose work is recognised to be highly creative.  Research on such people has found that they are not utterly unlike ourselves.  They are exemplary, not because of what they ‘do differently’ but because what they ‘do more of’.  As Arthur Cropley points out, any list of the characteristics of such people has a taste of mother’s apple pie about it.  Nor does it contain any surprises that could not have been guessed at without any research.  Who would expect those we associate with creative work to be narrow-minded, rigid, conforming and lacking self-confidence? We might however expect them to be adept at some of the following skills:

  • Making remote or uncommon associations
  • Constructing unusual categories
  • Finding new starting points
  • Going beyond the information given
  • Building broad networks
  • Producing novel configurations
  • Trusting personal intuition
  • Not being put off too easily when they are faced with challenges

Promoting critical thinking is one key to fostering creativity. Critical thinking and creative thinking are not at odds.  Although distinguishable, they are interconnected and rely on each other.  This realisation has profound implications for the way we think about creativity and the way in which it is developed.

Creative processes occur when there is an integration of the characteristics of both critical and creative thinking:

  • Openness combined with a drive to focus
  • Imagination combined with a strong sense of reality
  • Critical and deconstructive attitudes together with constructive problem-solving
  • Cool neutrality combined with passionate engagement
  • Self-centredness coexisting with altruism
  • Tendency to beak rules while remaining within acceptable limits
  • Self-criticism and self-doubt together with self-confidence
  • Tension and concentration side-by-side with being at ease
[The next few posts will explore how we can foster creativity.]

Related Posts

Comments are closed.