How Students Can Learn to Be Creative
April 12th, 2012 by Dr. Bruce Johnson
Albert Einstein said that “the true sign of intelligence is not knowledge, but imagination.” Students are often conditioned to think in a linear manner; read the assigned course materials, develop a paper or discussion response, and pass an exam. Some educators emphasize the need for critical thinking, which requires the use of advanced cognitive skills. But there are times when students want to come up with new ideas, something original, as a solution to a problem or offer a unique perspective and contribution to the class. Straightforward thinking won’t always lead to innovative ideas. Students need something more and that’s when creativity can be useful. The good news is that through practice, anyone can learn to be innovative.
What is the Essence of Creativity?
Tapping into our imagination and envisioning new ideas and solutions is often considered to be the essence of creativity. Students may say that they are not naturally creative and prefer to approach their schoolwork in a logical manner. This is a popular misconception – that creative types are born. In How to Be Creative: The Science of Genius, Jonah Lehrer (author of Imagine: How Creativity Works) believes that “anyone can be creative — it just takes hard work.”
Why Does Creativity Matter?
The use of creative skills may seem important for artistic endeavors only; however, all students can benefit from creativity as they write papers and participate in class discussions for any subject. It is another skillset that can help to produce new ideas when they want to provide something more than a textbook or pat theoretical answer. Educators also view creativity as a skill that students will use throughout their careers. Several instructors weighed in on the issue of teaching creativity in, Everybody's Talking About Creativity – But Why Do We Need It in the Classroom?. Educator Michael Hanson stated that “creativity helps prepare citizens to engage in their world.” Educator Xiaodong Lin believes that “future students face an unpredictable and confusing job market,” and their success depends on how creative they are prepared to be.
In the workplace, creativity is often characterized “by the ability to perceive the world in new ways, to find hidden patterns, to make connections between seemingly unrelated phenomena, and to generate solutions.” It is part of the intellectual capital that employees possess and that helps to give organizations a competitive edge, especially when new products and services are needed in a challenging economy or market. Students that learn this skill in the classroom are more likely to feel comfortable using it in their job.
Challenges for Creative Thinking
One reason why creative skills are not easily used was discussed in The Bias Against Creativity: Why People Desire But Reject Creative Ideas, by Jennifer S. Mueller of the University of Pennsylvania, Shimul Melwani from University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and Jack A. Goncalo of Cornell University. They found that “creative ideas are by definition novel, and novelty can trigger feelings of uncertainty that make most people uncomfortable.” The result is that people will rely upon tried and true methods instead of developing new, creative ideas.
This issue was also addressed in Psychological research reveals how rational versus intuitive thinking can inspire new ideas. When people need to develop solutions to a problem they will either become rational in their thought process, or intuitive. A rational thinker relies upon “systematic patterns of thought” and an intuitive thinker will use “first impressions and whatever comes to mind while ignoring what was learned in the past.” From my experience, students are often conditioned to be rational thinkers. I try to change this way of looking at problems and situations by encouraging students to create new approaches, views, and perspectives – instead of relying on what they’ve read in the textbook.
Developing Your Creative Abilities
When I first begin working with students to develop their creativity, I talk about working towards creative breakthroughs and overcoming mental blocks. Jonah Lehrer addresses these problems in the following video.
Lehrer reminded us that creativity is an important mental talent because it involves imagining “what has never existed before” and shared examples of people who learned the power of their creative skills.
The article How to Become a Creative Genius provides a series of six steps that can help students develop their creative skills.
1. Keep a notebook and pencil on hand at all times. This idea is similar to journaling, which involves letting thoughts and ideas flow, even if they appear to be random in nature at first. Of course for students who prefer the use of technology there may be note-taking apps that can be accessed.
2. The second key to creativity is to ask questions. Through questions a natural curiosity is prompted and that in turn can lead to new ideas.
3. To become a creative genius, you must also be a voracious reader. This shouldn’t only include the textbook or assigned course materials. I encourage students to read books about subjects they are interested in and even allow time for casual reading, as a means of prompting creativity. Reading is likely to help develop stronger mental capabilities.
4. Seek out new experiences. Changing our routine helps avoid becoming stagnant, promotes learning, and gives new insight into our world.
5. Become a whole-brain thinker. Rex Jung, a neuroscientist with the University of New Mexico, found “that those who diligently practice creative activities learn to recruit their brains’ creative networks quicker and better.” This helps dispel the idea that creative thinkers only use one side of their brain. Creativity requires a balance between the left and right brain. One method of prompting this type of activity is to use a mind map, which involves both logic and creativity.
6. The final tool for developing your creativity is imaginary dialogue. This suggestion involves creating alternative ways of talking through or working with ideas and scenarios by imagining what famous historical figures might say, to awaken the creative imagination.
Try a New Approach
When students have a paper to write, discussion to participate in, problem to solve, or issue to address, it may be worthwhile to try a new approach. Start by developing what may be considered to be the “right” answer through the use of logic and reasoning. Then try one of the techniques provided to prompt a new method of thinking. It is likely that the more often creative skills are used, the easier it will become to develop creativity. Students will find that these skills are useful in the classroom and the workplace.
Do you use creativity now in any way? If so, how do you engage your creative skills? Share your ideas via Twitter @DrBruceJ.
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