Essential Skills

"Imagination is more important than intelligence."
--Albert Einstein

Mr. Y's Creativity Workshop, Oxbridge students, click here!



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How to be Creative

You don't have to reinvent the wheel! Being creative isn't about reconceptualizing the world, sometimes it's just a tweak. The late great Steve Jobs didn't invent mp3s, he developed an easier way to play them. He didn't invent tablet computing, he packaged it as the iPad. There were cell phones before the iPhone and computers before the Mac. Jobs took what was and made it better. That's creativity at work (and play.)

Can people learn or be taught to be more creative? Creativity is valued in many areas of human activity, including scientific discovery, technological invention, artistic imagination, and social innovation. I know of no studies that show that creativity is teachable, but history provides some interesting suggestions about the habits of highly creative scientists.

In an article called "How to be a Successful Scientist", Paul Thagard compiled a set of suggestions about what contributed to the great success of leading scientific researchers. (The article can be found on the Web, and is reprinted in his book Hot Thought.) His sources were a group of psychologists, philosophers and historians at a conference on scientific thinking, as well as writings by three important scientists: Santiago Ramón y Cajal, Peter Medawar, and James Watson. Here is the resulting list, organized into 6 categories.

1. Make new connections.
Broaden yourself to more than one field. Can creativity be taught? Maybe yes (maybe no!)
Read widely.
Use analogies to link things together.
Work on different projects at the same time.
Use visual as well as verbal representations.
Don't work on what everyone else is doing.
Use multiple methods.
Seek novel mechanisms.
Find new ways of making problems soluble, e.g. by new techniques.

2. Expect the unexpected.
Take anomalies seriously.
Learn from failures.
Recover from failures.
Avoid excessive attachment to your own ideas.
Be willing to recognize and admit mistakes.

3. Be persistent.
Focus on key problems.
Be systematic and keep records.
Confirm early, disconfirm late.
Concentrate tenaciously on a subject.

Interesting. Take a "different" look at your world...4. Get excited.
Pursue projects that are fun.
Play with ideas and things.
Ask interesting questions.
Take risks.
Have a devotion for truth and a passion for reputation.
Have an inclination toward originality and a taste for research.
Have a desire for the gratification of discovery.
Have a strong desire to comprehend.
Never do anything that bores you.

5. Be sociable.
Find smart collaborators.
Organize good teams.
Study how others are successful.
Listen to people with experience.
Foster different cognitive styles.
Communicate your work to others.
Marry for psychological compatibility.
Tell close colleagues everything you know.
Communicate research results effectively.
Learn from winners.
Have people to fall back on when you get into trouble.

6. Use the world.
Find rich environments.
Build instruments.
Seek inspiration in nature.
Have good laboratory facilities and use them.
Observe and reflect intensely.
Perform experiments that rigorously test hypotheses.

Although this list was derived from reflection on scientific practice, almost all the suggestions are potentially relevant to enhancing creativity in other domains, including technology, the arts, and improving social institutions. Try them out!


Can creativity be taught?


Sidebar Stories

In his book “Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain,” neurologist Oliver Sacks relates the story of a physician who was struck by a bolt of lightning, and then experienced an obsession with learning to play classical piano music, something that had never interested him.

Interesting statistics:
1/3 of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives.
42 percent of college graduates never read another book after college.
80 percent of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year.
[From the site: HotForWords.]



Your teacher researching the Mayan 2012 prophecy in Tulum.









Want to be more creative?
Take the Road Less Traveled

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost wrote this in 1920. He was a pretty creative guy.








Creative Flow

In Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention, creativity scholar Mihaly Csikszentmilhalyi developed a generic description of the creative personality. It gives teachers, therapists, coaches, managers, and co-workers an expanded framework for working with people driven by internal passions, visions, and values.

Csikszentmilhalyi wrote, “If there is one word that makes creative people different from others, it is the word complexity. Instead of being an individual, they are a multitude. Like the color white that includes all colors, they tend to bring together the entire range of human possibilities within themselves. Creativity allows for paradox, light, shadow, inconsistency, even chaos –and creative people experience both extremes with equal intensity.”

Characteristics of the Creative Personality

1. A great deal of physical energy alternating with a great need for quiet and rest.
2. Both extravagant and spartan.
3. Smart and naďve at the same time. A mix of wisdom and childishness. Emotional immaturity along with the deepest insights.
4. Convergent (rational, left brain, sound judgment) and divergent (intuitive, right brain, visionary) thinking. Divergence is the ability to generate a great quantity of ideas, to switch from one perspective to another, and to pick unusual associations of ideas. Convergence involves evaluation and choice. Creative people have the capacity to think both ways.
5. Both extroverted and introverted, needing people and solitude equally.
6. Humble and proud, both painfully self-doubting and wildly self-confident.
7. May defy gender stereotypes, and are likely to have not only the strengths of their own gender but those of the other as well. A kind of psychic androgyny.
8. Can be rebellious and independent on one hand, and traditional and conservative on the other.
9. A natural openness and sensitivity that often exposes them to extreme suffering and pain, yet also to a great deal of enjoyment. Despair alternates with bliss, despair when they aren’t working, and bliss when they are.

The most important quality among creative people, says Csikszentmilhalyi, is the ability to enjoy the process of creation for its own sake.

The challenge we face is how to create classrooms, workplaces, families, and learning environments that value and support the gifts that creative people have to offer. And remember: Everyone has the capacity to be creative...