Seven Lessons for a Creative Life

E. Paul Torrance is called the father of creativity. He wrote and researched tirelessly over 40 years and was published more than 1,800 times. His research includes the longest longitudinal study on creativity (50 years!), which followed elementary students through their adulthood, assessing their creative thinking and achievement along the way.

In 2002, Torrance wrote The Manifesto, which at the time comprised the gleanings of 40 years of his research. From his work, he zeroed in on seven lessons he learned from the creative people he studied. He wrote these lessons as a Manifesto for Children, especially those who struggled in school but had specific gifts, but said he realized while doing it, that they were really for himself also. I think we can all learn from them.

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  1. Don’t be afraid to fall in love with something and pursue it with intensity.

We are told implicitly and explicitly from a very young age to keep our options open. We cover topics in school in breadth, but rarely in depth. When kids focus on something they love with intensity, we often consider this a flaw and worry that they are spending too much time on it. But high creative achievement comes from a deep understanding of a topic or field, and spending time on something you love increases the amount of time you spend in flow, which increases your life satisfaction (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). Plus, almost anything that you can spend time pursuing with intensity will provide knowledge and skills that can be applied to other areas.

  1. Know, understand, take pride in, practice, develop, exploit, and enjoy your greatest strengths.

Are you using your greatest strengths to your fullest potential? Were you given time to discover and develop them? In school, we need to be good at everything, and often when we’re not, all effort is put into our weaknesses to improve them. When we do that, we ignore this vital lesson – to know and use our strengths. How much more fulfilling would school be if students got to revel in their strengths more and spend less time feeling inadequate because of their weaknesses? How many of us might be better equipped to choose a life that perfectly fits who we are? Each individual’s combination of strengths is valuable. Finding a way to exploit what you can uniquely offer the world is exactly how creative achievement is built.

  1. Learn to free yourself from the expectations of others and to walk away from the games they impose on you. Free yourself to play your own game.

Many of us live our lives according to the expectations of others. Children are rewarded and punished extensively to fuel someone else’s expectations – a teacher, a parent, a coach. Many studies have shown, however, that extrinsic motivators make a person less likely to want to engage in a behavior for its own sake – that is, it harms their intrinsic motivation (Deci, Koestner, & Ryan, 1999). Many more studies have shown that learning and creativity both need intrinsic motivation (Deci & Ryan, 1975; Hennessey, 2015). If we allow children to practice making decisions (and mistakes) and creating for themselves, they can learn to visualize the future for themselves and build the desire to achieve it. As adults, allowing others to impose expectations on us can also harm our ability to create a strong vision for ourselves – a first step in the creative process.

  1. Find a great teacher or mentor who will help you.

It is a skill all its own to be able to seek out mentors and elicit their help, and a skill that many of us don’t learn until later in life, if at all. Get good at sending cold emails, connecting with people that have the same passion, and asking good questions of those you admire. So many of the great creative achievers had someone that let them stand on their shoulders.

  1. Don’t waste energy trying to be well-rounded.

When Torrance was studying highly creative children, he also discovered some children that were both highly creative and had learning disabilities. Our modern education system highly values well-roundedness; we aren’t even supposed to decide what career we want until our second year of college after we take “gen-ed” classes to ensure our well-roundedness. But this value can hurt those who are very talented, but struggle in some areas. This isn’t to say that it’s bad to have varied interests and skills. In fact, Torrance did find that diversity of experience was related to high creative achievement. This just serves to assure those who have specific passions and talents that they need not worry so much about rounding themselves out while they dive deeply into something they love. For creative achievement, you don’t have to be really good at everything; just be really good at what you’re good at.

  1. Do what you love and can do well.

More than intelligence and even creative ability, what Torrance found predicted high creative achievement in life, along with persistence and a sense of mission and purpose, was love and enjoyment of one’s work. Children don’t need this lesson as much as adults do. It is easy when we are young to focus on what we love, if we are given time to do it; what’s hard is continuing to do it when we feel the weight of adulthood and its responsibility on our shoulders. It is important to know, however, that this is a key not just to creativity, but happiness and satisfaction as well. It’s worth it. Start small if you must. Spend at least a little time every week focusing on something you love and are good at.

  1. Learn the skills of interdependence.

We all need each other. We need to understand how to work together and how to add value to each other. No scientific discovery was made without building upon knowledge that came before. This is especially important because if we have the courage to focus on our strengths, we must also depend on others to give of their strengths that are different from ours.

So many of these seven lessons are obscured by the culture we are immersed in at school or work, but the good news is that it’s never too late. Maybe you never learned these lessons as a child, but you can start practicing them now. We are all creative and can be more creative!

 

 

References

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York: Harper & Row.

Deci, E. L., Koestner, R., & Ryan, R. M. (1999). A meta-analytic review of experiements examining the effects of extrinsic rewards on intrinsic motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 125, 627-668.

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1975). Intrinsic motivation. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Hennessey, B. A. (2015). If I were secretary of education: A focus on intrinsic motivation and creativity in the classroom. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 9(2), 187-192. doi:10.1037/aca0000012

Torrance, E. P. (2002). The Manifesto: A guide to developing a creative career. Westport, US: Greenwood Press.

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It Takes a Village

people

“It takes a village.”

You’ve heard the phrase. It takes support from a community to raise a child, to help them learn and grow and reach their fullest potential. But once they are grown, is the community done? You and I, we are grown, but are we done growing?

I know this as a mother – that in our focus on raising our children, sometimes we forget ourselves. But what better way to help raise passionate, driven children than to be dreamers and doers ourselves, to be continuously learning and growing?

It takes a village – a community of support to keep us all growing and moving forward. We need each other – to share our dreams, to bounce ideas off each other, to work towards common goals, to support each other’s strengths, to teach each other what we know, to collaborate to make things happen.

The world is better when we work together. Our individual dreams and strengths are important. Our potential is vast. With a safe community to hold each other’s dreams and goals and help us work toward them, we can change the world. We are each a river of ideas. When we connect with others, momentum grows.

It takes a village. Not just to raise a child, but also to continue to grow us as adults and to make the world the kind we want to live in.

Infinitely Creative

The perspective I share here is from a book called Finite and Infinite Games by James Carse. It is a motivating paradigm that often helps me to see things in a new and creatively-minded light.

When children play, there are two types of games they might play – finite and infinite. Finite games are games that have an end goal. They are played for the purpose of winning. Examples of this might be tug-of-war, dodge ball, or capture the flag. These games have an object that, once achieved, ends the game.

Infinite games are played with the goal of continuing play. An example of this is pretend play games like “playing house.” There is no end goal; the purpose is the play itself. As play continues, rules may be changed, conditions invented, or new players and playthings introduced that help the play to continue. While finite games can be fun and rewarding, infinite games are where creativity is tapped and where players fully engage with each other socially. The power of this kind of play is that it provides full, deep engagement without a player feeling paralyzed by the need to reach a specific outcome.

This concept can be extended to a wider context. In life, there are many experiences in which we take part that have an end goal in mind. We may take a trip to the grocery store with the goal of buying milk. Once this is achieved, this particular “finite game” ends.

An example of an infinite game in life may be that of being a friend to someone. As you experience the relationship with your friend, you make plans with each other, you have disagreements and resolve them together, and you adjust your interactions along the way to help continue your friendship.

However, in life there are not always clear distinctions between finite and infinite “games.” Most of the time, in fact, the difference is in our own perception. We all probably know someone who has viewed a relationship as a finite game that is to be won instead of an ever-changing, flexible experience. The ability to fully engage and understand each other is lost in a perspective like this, and the relationship probably does not last.

We can consciously choose to perceive our experiences as parts of an infinite game. When we do this, we gain the freedom to respond flexibly. We become resilient when things don’t go as planned. We become creative when we reach a point we didn’t expect. We also develop stronger relationships with the people around us with whom we are playing as we elicit their help to continue to “play.” While someone with a finite mindset dwells on obstacles and gets bogged down by difficult situations, those with infinite mindsets are motivated to find solutions to problems so they can move on.

In creativity, we talk about affective skills that aid in creative thinking. Among these skills are dreaming, playfulness, sensitivity to environment, and tolerance for risk taking. From my point of view, these same skills are part of the “infinite mindset” Carse describes. It often takes creative thinking to see things with an infinite perspective and to continue finding ways to keep “the game” alive. When something unexpected comes up in life, it requires creativity and that infinite perspective to get around an obstacle, or, better yet, find a way to use that obstacle to propel yourself forward.

When we are playing an infinite game and have creativity as our main tool, we make the outrageous a reality and open ourselves to infinite possibility!

The Classroom as a Creative Environment

The Creative Change Model describes creativity as faceted, comprising a person, a process, the environment and a product (Puccio, Mance, Switalski, & Reali, 2012, p. 34). Without a supportive environment, creativity is inhibited, and creative change is unlikely to take place. If schools are to be nurturing creativity, they need to be providing an environment in which creativity can thrive. The school environment sets a stage upon which the students can either soar to creative heights or flounder.

Step into a modern day public school classroom. Upon entering the door, rows of individual desks are seen facing the whiteboard at the front of the room. The students sit in their assigned seats and know that they better be quiet, or they may receive a warning or punishment. On the wall is evidence of the discipline system. If this is an elementary classroom, chances are it is mirrored after a stoplight; a wrong move and a student’s name is moved to “yellow,” and then to “red,” with associated punishments. If it is a middle or high school, perhaps there are “demerits” or referrals. But let us say this teacher is one of the “good” ones. In that case there are also rewards and praise doled out regularly in this classroom. As the school day passes, the students are moved from subject to subject on a strict schedule, the content outlined in an exact timeline. The teacher presents a lesson; the students practice on worksheets, and then the teacher grades their work. Somewhere packed away in the recesses of the teacher’s desk, there is a document on the content standards and one on 21st century skills that espouses the importance of critical thinking, problem solving, and creativity (National Education Association, 2015, p. 3). The question is, where is the creativity? Does this classroom provide an environment that allows creativity to flourish?

Intrinsic Motivation

It is well documented that intrinsic motivation is preferable to extrinsic motivation for learning. Intrinsic motivation is the desire to complete a task for its own sake or for an internal feeling of satisfaction as opposed to completing it for an external reward (Hon, 2012, p. 54). Studies have shown that intrinsic motivation leads to deeper learning, better engagement and higher achievement (Deci & Ryan, 1985; Lens, Deci, & Vansteenkiste, 2006). A child that chooses an activity, task, or learning endeavor is going to experience more long-lasting learning and is more likely to continue in the activity or study than a child who is rewarded with prizes, grades or other extrinsic motivators. Through creativity research, intrinsic motivation has also been linked to higher creativity (Deci and Ryan, 2000; Hennessey, 2015; Koestner, Ryan, Bernieri, & Holt, 1984). Characteristics like curiosity, flexible thinking and novelty in decision-making are more readily observed in people with intrinsic motivation, according to researchers Amabile, Zhou, and Shalley in Hon (2012, p. 54). That means that a classroom that has intrinsically motivated students is likely to have higher levels of creativity.

Unfortunately, most schools and classrooms leave little to no room for student-directed learning. Content standards and scope and sequence documents used in public schools nationwide prescribe specific topics and required learnings down to the semester. This leaves it nearly impossible to follow the intrinsic interests of individual students, so instead we employ extrinsic rewards and punishments. Students are evaluated every step of the way through their schooling and are rewarded an A if they complete their course to the teacher’s satisfaction and answer enough questions correctly on a test. We know that these external motivators dampen children’s innate interest in learning; sadly, these extrinsic rewards and punishments also hinder creativity. This remains true even for adults. The environmental factors that affect the creativity of employees are often significant because of their effect on intrinsic motivation (Amabile, 1996). If we could allow students to engage in pursuits for the sake of the activity itself, instead of for the sake of the schedule, the timeline, the standards, the grades, or avoiding punishment for lack of participation, we could expect higher levels of creativity from those students in their endeavors. The imposition of strict timelines and evaluation over people weakens their intrinsic motivation and therefore leads to lower creativity (King & Gurland, 2007, p. 1253).

Autonomy

Freedom and autonomy are two influences identified by creativity scholars as having a positive relationship with creativity (Amabile & Gryskiewicz, 1989; Witt & Beorkrem, 1989). In school, children have little freedom and autonomy. Most of the time they do not decide when during the day they work on which subject. They do not decide what they learn within a subject. They do not decide what activities they engage in or even how long they get to spend on a task. They rarely get to decide where they sit, when they eat, or even when they get to go to the bathroom. This lack of autonomy does not make for a creative environment. In fact, a lack of autonomy can inhibit creativity (Runco, 2004, p. 662). If we want students to develop creativity, we need to allow them to feel like they are in control. We need to give them some freedom. Giving people autonomy is one mechanism for creating intrinsic motivation (Ryan & Deci, 2000). The environmental factors that affect creativity are inextricably linked and build on and interact with each other. Our schools’ failure in providing any of these factors of a creative environment affects other factors and can bury children under a mountain of rigidity that kills their creativity.

Time

Time is necessary to allow for novel ideas within a problem or challenge to be reached (Runco, 2004). The first ideas that we come up with when solving a problem or dealing with a challenge tend to be “reproductive thinking,” or ideas based on similar problems from the past (Michalko, 2001, p. 4). The time spent moving through ideas allows for a person to finally reach a truly original idea. In addition to time spent on an endeavor, creativity often requires incubation time, too (Puccio, Murdock & Mance, 2007). Time away from a task, with the allowance of returning to the task at a later time, gives more opportunity to generate a novel idea. With this information in mind, creativity researcher Mark Runco (2004) concludes that “people should take their time if they want a creative idea,” and “students and employees should be given sufficient time if they are expected to do creative work” (p. 662).

In classrooms, time is rarely up for negotiation. The teacher has a certain number of lessons to get through during the year, a certain number of standards and skills to cover, and a specific amount of information to impart before the standardized tests come in the spring. They also have a daily schedule to follow. A predetermined number of minutes are to be spent in math instruction and reading instruction. The idea of spending all day on one subject because that is what the students need is preposterous in most schools. It is also hard to allow for incubation time in a classroom. As time rolls on, so the content needs to roll as well.

Fear of Failure

When asked about what conditions stimulated or acted as obstacles to creativity, respondents to a survey done by Amabile (1987) had similar answers. The obstacles identified included evaluation and a climate that avoids risks (p. 6). When people are evaluated or know they are going to be evaluated on a creative task, it reduces their feelings of competency (King & Gurland, 2007, p. 1257). This feeling of inadequacy affects intrinsic interest, and, as King and Gurland argue, may reduce a person’s motivation to engage in the creative task in the future. As discussed earlier, lower intrinsic motivation leads to lower creativity, so a downward spiral is entered, catalyzed by evaluation. “Thus,” King and Gurland conclude, “evaluation pressure may set in motion a cycle of decreasing interest and decreasing creativity” (p. 1258). Add to this evaluation problem that of students being in a constant state of behavioral surveillance, and that is a recipe for complete shutdown on the part of the students. If the pressure of evaluation is an obstacle to creativity, how can we expect students that are under the constant threat of referrals, detention, or punishments associated with “red cards” to feel free to be creative? If we operate our schools based on coercion of students into appropriate behavior and work, we cannot also expect that they develop a creative spirit. We can either crush spirits or free them, not both.

The Thinking Skills Model of Creative Problem Solving lists “tolerance for risks” as a supporting affective skill. Tolerance for risk means, “not allowing oneself to be shaken or unnerved by the possibility of failure or setbacks” (Puccio, Murdock & Mance, 2007). Students will be more creative if they can view failures and mistakes as learning opportunities. Unfortunately, failure in schools is used coercively as an extrinsic motivator for students. A failure, often represented in shorthand as an F, is something to be avoided and feared. Mistakes are rarely used as learning opportunities, but are swiftly corrected by the teacher. Unusual ideas are dismissed and sometimes even punished for “class clownery.” This climate does not encourage students to take risks in school. When students focus on avoiding failure, anxiety and low intrinsic motivation result. These, in turn, cause (surprise!) reduced creativity (Icekson, Roskes & Moran 2014, p. 1).

Physical Environment

The creative environment cannot be discussed without also mentioning the physical space in which learning and creativity (hopefully) take place. In two studies done by McCoy and Evans (2002), participants rated spaces according to how conducive to creativity they appeared, and the spaces that were highly rated were found to, by at least one measure, actually increase creativity. Some of the aspects that contributed to a creativity-conducive environment were: furniture set up to promote social interaction, visual details, natural materials, and natural view (p. 415).

While many classrooms that I have seen have high visual detail, furniture is rarely arranged in a way that promotes social interaction. In fact, it is usually set up to discourage all social interaction most of the day. Collaboration is usually much lower of a priority in classrooms than intent listening to a teacher’s lecture. Natural views and materials are also not easy to find in today’s classrooms. These aspects could probably be reached by spending more time outside, but that is something that seems to be done less and less in schools today.

The Perfect Creative Environment

There is a lot of work to do in schools in order to create environments that foster creativity. Classrooms do not have it all wrong; there are several aspects of the average classroom that can help to promote creativity – access to resources, visually stimulating rooms, and enthusiastic role models, or teachers (Runco, 2004; Amabile, 1987). However, there are some serious problems with the way we run school and set up the environment in which we want our children to learn and develop creative thinking skills. We need to find ways to work with students’ intrinsic motivation, acknowledging that they learn better through their interests and passions. We need to allow for more flexibility around time so that students can be allowed to work through challenges and also get necessary incubation time. We need to give them more autonomy so that they feel in control of their lives and a have sense of volition. Torrance called this “released control,” where students feel freedom to experiment because their teacher practices deferred judgment in the classroom (Pruitt, 1989, p. 52). We need to help students to see failure as a learning experience and not feel threatened by or live in fear of evaluation. We need to provide opportunities for collaboration and social interaction and a physical space that feels open and freeing. As Hennessey (2015) asserts, “the overarching goal of the curriculum at all grade levels should be to encourage exploration and experimentation” (p. 191). It is going to take some creativity on the part of the education system to see around some of these issues. For a long time we have depended on the decisions we make on behalf of children about when and how they should learn. Randall Pruitt (1989) calls this the “habit barrier” to creativity (p. 52). We are used to doing things a certain way, and those habits are hard to change. We have used failure as a negative extrinsic motivator and punishments and rewards to try to keep things running smoothly. The problem is that we are running to a dead end. If we really want our kids to be creative, we need to give them a space and climate that allows just that, even if it involves us taking a risk.

References

Amabile, T. (1996). Creativity in context. Boulder, CO: Westview.

Amabile, T (1987). Keys to creativity and innovation: User’s guide. Greensboro, NC: Center for Creative Leadership.

Amabile T.M., Gryskiewicz N.D. (1989). The creative environment work scales: Work environment inventory. Creativity Research Journal, 2:231–54

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self- determination in human behavior. New York, NY: Plenum Press. http:// dx.doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4899-2271-7

Deci, E. L., and R. M. Ryan. (2000). The “what” and “why” of goal pursuits: Human needs and the self-determination of behavior. Psychological Inquiry 11:227-68.

Hennessey, B. A. (2015). If I were secretary of education: A focus on intrinsic motivation and creativity in the classroom. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 9(2), 187-192. doi:10.1037/aca0000012

Hon, A. H. Y. (2012; 2011). Shaping environments conductive to creativity: The role of intrinsic motivation. Cornell Hospitality Quarterly, 53(1), 53-64. doi:10.1177/1938965511424725

Icekson, T., Roskes, M., & Moran, S. (2014). Effects of optimism on creativity under approach and avoidance motivation. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 8, 105. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2014.00105

King, L., & Gurland, S. T. (2007). Creativity and experience of a creative task: Person and environment effects. Journal of Research in Personality, 41(6), 1252-1259. doi:10.1016/j.jrp.2007.01.005

Koestner, R., Ryan R., Bernieri, F., and Holt, K. (1984). Setting limits on children’s behavior: The differential effects of controlling versus informational styles on intrinsic motivation and creativity. Journal of Personality, 52:233-48.

Lens, W., Deci, E. L., & Vansteenkiste, M. (2006). Intrinsic versus extrinsic goal contents in self-determination theory: Another look at the quality of academic motivation. Educational Psychologist, 41(1), 19-31. doi:10.1207/s15326985ep4101_4

Michalko, M. (2001). Cracking creativity: The secrets of creative genius. Berkeley, Calif.: Ten Speed Press.

McCoy, J. M., & Evans, G. W. (2002). The potential role of the physical environment in fostering creativity. Creativity Research Journal, 14(3), 409-426. doi:10.1207/S15326934CRJ1434_11

National Education Association. (2015, February). P21 Common Core Toolkit: A guide to aligning the common core state standards with the framework for 21st century skills Retrieved from http://www.p21.org/storage/documents/P21CommonCoreToolkit.pdf

Pruitt, R. P. (1989). Fostering creativity: The innovative classroom environment. Educational Horizons, 68(1), 50-54.

Puccio, G., Murdock, M., & Mance, M. (2007). Creative leadership: Skills that drive change. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: SAGE Publications.

Puccio, G., Mance, M., Switalski, L., & Reali, P. (2012). Creativity rising: Creative thinking and creative problem solving in the 21st century. Buffalo, N.Y.: ICSC Press, International Center for Studies in Creativity.

Runco, M. A. (2004). Creativity. Annual Review of Psychology, 55(1), 657-687. doi:10.1146/annurev.psych.55.090902.141502

Ryan, R. M., and E. L. Deci. (2000). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations: Classic definitions and new directions. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 25:54-67.

Witt L.A., Beorkrem M. (1989). Climate for creative productivity as a predictor of research usefulness and organizational effectiveness in an R&D organization. Creativity Research Journal, 2:30–40.

Zhou, J., and C. E. Shalley. (2003). Research on employee creativity: A critical review and directions for future research. Research in personnel and human resources management, Vol. 22, edited by J. J. Martocchio and G. R. Ferris, 165-217. Oxford: Elsevier Science.

Fostering Creativity in Children

I wrote this just two days after finishing two graduate courses in Creative Problem Solving. It demonstrates how simple it is to use creative thinking principles in everyday life, even with young children. Here I engaged my son with stating problems as questions and generating many, wild ideas.

After being away from my husband and 3 and 1 year old children for two weeks, we were anxious to catch up, so we stopped at a coffee shop on the way home from the airport for a morning family date. Along with my coffee, I grabbed one of those little green sticks that my daughter loves to play with and handed it to her. Immediately my son blurted out, “I want a stick! I need one of those!” I saw my husband’s face, waiting for the “please,” we are trying to teach our son to use. Before I even knew what I was doing, I heard myself say, “What might be all the ways you could get a green stick?” I laughed audibly at my use of the challenge statement starter I had learned in class, but my son engaged immediately, “A chair! A stool!” he shouted. I joined in, “You could fly one of your grandpa’s remote controlled helicopters over and knock the container of sticks to the floor to pick them up!” He giggled, and we continued, “You could train a monkey!” “You could throw your muffin to knock down the container!” until my son couldn’t take the absurdity any longer and got up to go try out the idea of jumping as high as he could. As he unsuccessfully jumped for the sticks, a boy a few years older saw him and grabbed a stick for him. My son beamed, and so did I. I had just discovered how simple it can be to help my children to grow up to think creatively, and I didn’t even have to plan it out. How he got the stick didn’t matter much in that moment, but the fact that we are developing a habit of seeing problems as questions and playing freely with novel ideas can make a big difference in how he sees the world and acts within it as he grows.

Wild ideas

When you are working through a creative challenge, you need to use both divergent and convergent thinking. Divergent thinking involves coming up with all of the possibilities; convergent thinking is when you choose the best option(s). In the Creative Problem Solving process, diverging and converging are a part of each stage and MUST be distinct. If you try to do them both at the same time, you will stifle yourself. For this reason, there are rules for both diverging and converging.

Rules for Diverging

  • defer judgment
  • go for quantity
  • seek wild ideas
  • build on ideas

Most of us can probably see the value in building on ideas, but the other three can make some of us a little…itchy. If you’ve ever listened to someone spout off ideas that made you think, “What a ridiculous idea! That could never work! We already tried that. What is he thinking? I’m 10 steps ahead of this guy! Why are we wasting time on this madness?!” these rules might be hard for you. The truth is, you ARE at least one step ahead of the person rattling off crazy ideas, but that’s not a good thing.

photo by quadrapop

photo by quadrapop

Let’s say you have an opaque jar of 100 marbles. 80 of them are red and 20 are green. You want the green marbles. Really, you want one perfect, beautiful, shiny green marble. Now, you can close your eyes, reach your hand in, and dig around. You can run your fingers over each marble, wondering if it is the one. You can pull a marble out at a time and inspect it and then either put it back or keep it. OR you can dump the whole jar of marbles out in a pile on the floor. Sure, you have a lot of marbles out now; it’s a bit messier, and you’re going to spend some time putting marbles away later, but how many green ones do you see now? How much more likely are you to find the ONE?

The marbles are ideas. The more ideas you have, the more likely you are to have a really good one. The more you produce, the more creative you are going to get. If you try to judge an idea too early, you may return the best “green marble” hoping for a better one, when all you really needed was to polish that one. If you refuse all wild ideas, you’ll probably just end up with an obvious “red marble” that you try to see as green. If you don’t go for quantity, then you are going to just be dealing with maybe 10 marbles, and only 2 of them are green – 18 lovely, green marbles will never see the light of day.

So, it can be a challenge, but when that guy is coming up with those crazy ideas – JOIN HIM! Have fun! Top him! Build off of his ideas! It’s easier to tone down a wild, creative idea than it is to make a boring, obvious one shine. And THEN, once ALL the marbles are out on the floor, that’s when you’ll get to move to converging and choose one (or more!) beautiful marble(s) to polish up and make shine!

State Your Problems as Questions

Creative thinking is often used when encountering a problem or challenge. You know, that whole, “necessity is the mother of invention” thing. Creative Problem Solving is a process originally described by Alex Osborn and Sidney Parnes that takes you through a challenge to a novel solution. This process can be used for personal life challenges and for large business issues. It involves a whole way of thinking that is both freeing and comforting.

I’ll cover different aspects of the process as we continue, but let’s start with one simple paradigm shift: when you have a problem, state it as a question. Start the question with the words “How might…?” “How to…?” or “What might be all the…?” When you do this, you open your mind to possibilities and you kick start it into thinking mode. So, instead of bemoaning, “My kids are being brats; they’re driving me crazy!” try: “How might I improve my relationship with my kids?” or “How to enjoy each other’s company?” or “What might be all the ways to elicit my kids’ cooperation?” Do you see the difference already?