Creativity by Charles Debelak


Teaching Creativity at Birchwood School of Hawken

Students experiencing the creative process at Birchwood

My goal in this blog series is to explore how we can teach our children to become creative. Our strategy will be to connect what is known about creativity and creative production with the educational content, experiences and training that make creative thinking skills accessible to parents, educators and children. From here we can discuss ways to nurture the characteristics of creative thinking in our youth.

Prior to addressing this goal, there is a fundamental question: “Why even discuss creativity?” The first reason has to do with how we define creativity. The second relates to how human beings are “wired.”

There is a tendency today to look at creativity and innovation through an economic periscope, seeing the importance and value in the 21st century. It is expected that innovation and entrepreneurship will be the economic engine and American bulwark in an increasingly more competitive global marketplace. That’s accurate. But for purposes of teaching creativity to our next generation, it is also a narrow perspective. In reality, how many of our children will develop groundbreaking technologies? How many will be entrepreneurs who develop new businesses that drive our economy?

There is another way to define creativity; one that is supported by 60 years of research in creativity and provides opportunities for universal application. We will call this definition of creativity, “everyman’s creativity.” It is what Nancy Andreason, author of The Creative Brain, calls “common creativity.” It follows the idea that creativity, as a set of skills and attitudes toward life, can be cultivated to varying degrees among all people.

Creativity, “everyman’s creativity,” describes a way of life. The creative person, or more broadly, the person who is developing creative thinking skills, will bring creativity to everything he or she does. The creative life describes the skill set, attitudes and behavior that empower us to make and remake each facet of our life. Whether it is our work, our relationships with others, or our leisure activities, the way of creativity makes things new, fresh, and productive. The creative process gives us the attitude to face problems and generate solutions. It helps us recognize opportunities and make the most of them. Creativity takes the initiative to identify challenges and find pathways to success. It is a vehicle to spark fresh interest and enthusiasm in our relationships with family, friends, and colleagues.

Abraham Maslow, renowned American psychologist, cited the creative thinking process as a means to enable people to fulfill their need for self-actualization, that is, to grow into the person they can become. To Maslow, the self-actualized life is a fulfilled life, and the creative thinking process plays an important role.

In his book Flow, Mihaly Csikszentimihalyi explains that the process of creative work and production, no matter how strenuous, is a deep source of happiness and personal gratification.

I would suggest that creativity, “everyman’s creativity,” can enrich and elevate the creator’s personal life while uplifting the people, places, things, ideas, and knowledge that surround the creator. If we accept the broadest definition of creativity, we may even say that creative thinking and creative work connect our hopes with their fulfillment. Although creativity will be important for future economic reasons, its value is far beyond economics. It will be useful to every individual who aspires to lead a rich and fulfilling life.

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