Friday, June 23, 2017

Defying conformity: nurturing creativity for a future of innovators

"Get a hair cut and get a real job" - the famous words coined by recording artist George Thorogood - reflect a time when creativity was not considered as a serious way to make a living.  In fact, I argue that the creative industries are still considered social outliers in terms of what is deemed acceptable for our sons and daughters to be pursuing once they leave the mechanistic education factories we call "school".  
Kids are still given advice by school careers advisers to pursue the more "academic" subjects of the sciences and maths, whilst subjects rooted in creativity are often suggested as a gap-filler. I argue that in today's rapidly changing world, classical science and maths are redunandant without innovative thought and the ability to develop an idea or process through to an end point. In a way that is precisely what subjects such as maths and science do, but in a more rigid, prescribed manner.
The game-changers of this world will be those people who can conceptualise the creative process from its birth to its realisation and apply that to any given context. Creativity is the future.
Sadly many facets of society seek to suppress creative ideas - we see this across business, education (of all places) politics and even the arts itself, at times, is guilty of this. Society wants conformity and how do we conform? We all think inside the same rigid unbending box. It's safe inside there.
All innovation begins with creative ideas. Have a look around you - every single object, application on the internet, the internet itself, cars, everyday items we take for granted - have been thought of, designed and produced. 
The world cannot possibly move forward without innovation and creativity. Yet we actively suppress the seed of all creativity by suggesting it as a type of "hobby", limiting it within the workplace and schools and applying a sort of "there, there" approach to someone who has chosen to apply their out of the box thinking in a way that earns them an income (but not a "real" job).
Sadly, society does not equate creativity with intelligence. Society tends to measure intelligence through success in academic subjects.  There is research which suggests that the overlap between creativity and intelligence is greater than we realise.
Intelligence can be loosely defined as an ability to acquire and use knowledge (so is rote learning "intelligence?); whilst creativity could be understood as the ability to innovate and conceive new ideas through the mental process of anchoring existing concepts. There-in lies the catch - we need some idea of existing concepts in order to have the freedom to innovate. 
Here's a quote I love by one of the most well-known innovators and creators of all time, Steve Jobs:
"Creativity is just connecting things up. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn't really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That's because they were able to connect experiences they've had and synthesise new things. And the reason they were able to do it was that they have thought more about their experiences than other people".
What Jobs is alluding to here is seemingly random connections of concepts may go unnoticed by people who are not creative; whilst those who are can grasp and see those connections. They can then do something with those connections.
Creative people also have the ability to work with their ideas rather than give up once potential problems arise; so problem-solving becomes a pivotal aspect of innovation and ultimately creation.
If, however, the environment one is in, stifles or does not actively promote innovative thinking, creativity is lost. When creativity is lost, we find ourselves back inside the safe four walls of our self (and societally) prescribed box.
Creative people are curious; they're not content to see things as they are, but rather seek to see things for what they can be; they are the boundary-pushers. 
Edward de Bono said "creativity involves breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in a different way". I argue that educators have an obligation to break out of established ways of doing and being in order to truly allow kids the freedom to be innovative, not just in the arts but in all facets of their school life - from the "academic" subjects right through to physical education. It is essential.

"There is a notion that creative people are absent-minded, reckless, heedless of social customs and obligations. It is, hopefully, true for they are in another world altogether"  
Mary Oliver


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