The Importance of Knowing About Creativity

There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why. I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?

– Robert F. Kennedy

Remember Phillip Reis? Probably not. How about Alexander Graham Bell? Oh, the telephone guy? Sure!

But what most folks may not realize is that in 1860, Reis was the first to invent the telephone. So why is he relegated to an obscure footnote in history when Bell’s invention made him immortal, at least with respect to telecommunication? The answer, according to Michael Michalko, is that everyone Reis approached in Germany dissuaded him from continuing his work. The telegraph is good enough, they said. Who would buy a telephone?

The lesson on creativity here, Michalko says, is not to stop with your first good idea. In an excellent article from Psychology Today, he goes on to list eleven other things about creativity that aren’t taught in school. Some of these lessons include the following:

  • Everyone is creative. If you believe you are, then you are.
  • There isn’t just one right answer. Reality is ambiguous.
  • Trust your instincts. Don’t let yourself get discouraged.
  • Approach problems from multiple perspectives. Even though you should trust your instincts, it’s better to not trust your first reaction to a problem, as it is only lockstep with your usual way of thinking.

While Michalko’s message to educators isn’t spelled out in his article, it is nonetheless clear: teach these lessons to your students. Tell them that they are creative, and tell them often. Remind them when they don’t succeed at something that there is no such thing as failure. Educators of music and the arts have a special responsibility to avoid getting bogged down in theory and technique, as students “must have knowledge but forget the knowledge” to create.

Performer, composer, and educator Ross Crockett wonders why such valuable lessons aren’t taught in schools. “Somewhere along the line, as we get older,” he writes in The Committed Sardine blog, “it’s like we’re refused permission to be creative. We’re steered away from it and we never really know why.” It may be easy to reply to Crockett’s musings with something about today’s teach-to-the-test culture in our schools. But such an answer would assume that there was just one right answer.

And since we’re all creative, we know that there must be more.


One thought on “The Importance of Knowing About Creativity

  1. Wonderful post. The reason that creativity is given such short shrift in schools (say that three times fast…) is that it is messy. School, like any system or institution are mainly concerned with running smoothly, not the people in their charge. Hospitals are made to be convenient for the staff, not salubrious for the patients (otherwise they would look more like hotels or resorts). Education is easier to dole out if there is one right answer and you get it or you don’t. Education systems just have to give grades, have to rank and rate and measure everything. Everything has to be consistent and predictable and reproducible. Creativity is about exploration. Trying stuff. Getting dirty. First hand experience. Making mistakes, lots of mistakes. Generating ideas. Being a producer, not just a consumer. Finding out stuff on your own, not just memorizing what some distant expert has determined that you should know. Facts are great. But they’re not everything. Bean-counting our way through education means Every Child Left Behind. Half the education is missing. All children need creative experiences from the earliest possible time and all through school (they are naturally creative, but the impulse gets killed early and often by well-meaning overorganized adults and of course by school; they are all artists in kindergarten, but almost no one is by 6th grade. Cutting the arts is the usual go-to budget fix, but 1) you have schools that no one wants to go to and 2) creative activities light up the brain like nothing else – without them, everything is both more difficult and more boring. Cutting the arts to save money is like cutting off your head to lose weight. Works great in the short run, not so well in the long run…

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