I have been thinking a lot about what it really means to be creative lately. I am in a class focusing on Social Entrepreneurship, which is basically just a fancy way of talking about the Non-profit sector, and entrepreneurial or creative thinking is being stressed. Our professor has talked about how entreprenurial people often will deconstruct societal norms to create better ways of doing things. Large, innovative ideas often aren’t entirely ‘original’, but instead are rethinking the way we do things. Henry Ford didn’t invent the car, he reinvented how it worked in our society. Today, we can see that with Amazon and Netflix, which have rethought how we purchase goods and how we watch media.
Although I have no interest in business, this class and specifically that way of thinking is very interesting to me. I decided to participate in a workshop given here at UNC called the Carolina Create-A-Thon. The idea of the workshop was to divide people up into groups, give them a general topic (this year it was Catalyzing Creativity), and then letting them come up with an innovative new idea of how to carry out this goal. The goal is purposely left very vague and students are encouraged to think outside of the box to come up with new programs. It was really interesting to participate in just simply to see how people interacted in a group like that, especially when you only had a few hours to come up with an idea.
The most interesting part was a speaker who came to talk to us about design thinking. She was a part of the Media and Journalism program here and had a diverse background. I had taken art and sculpture throughout high school but nothing like the way of thinking she was talking about. After a short introduction, she had us do two activities that have really made me think about the way schools teach. The first one she did was to pass out a sheet of paper with 30 circles on it. We had 5 minutes to draw something in each of the circles. Once everyone was done, she started asking us about what was on our papers. Most people had started at the top left circle and went right to left across the page, drawing one thing in each circle. She noted that many people used similar themes across multiple circles and a few had drawings that used two circles. It was then that she pointed out that she had never specified that we had to draw within the circles and that we couldn’t just draw one big picture that covered the entire page.
The next thing she had us do was turn the paper over and write down a fact that was obviously true. Her example was to point to a chair near her and say “this chair is gray”. We all wrote down our true statement and waited the next instruction. What she said made pretty much everyone laugh. She told us “pair up with the person next to you and prove that that statement you just wrote down is false”. And, with the help of your partner, everyone did. Some people’s statements included: “everything is made up of atoms” and “I wear glasses”. Making us write down something that we thought was obviously true and then having to turn around and prove it was false is surprisingly difficult to do.
Thinking like this is being lost in our schools today. This innovative, creative thinking that is in such high demand in higher education is being pushed out because it isn’t something that has a neat ‘right’ answer that can be packaged up in a standardized test. Things like arts education, physical education, and the ability to explore outside are all being limited today. Kids loosing recess is another debate, and there are many articles about the importance of recess. Kids, especially young kids, need free time to be able to be creative.
In class we are also talking about college readiness and what role that it should play in schools. I believe that creativity is a skill needs to be taught in school, and it clearly is needed in higher education and beyond.A design firm called 3m shows how much creativity is valued in the workforce. You may know of 3m as the creator of post it notes and scotch tape, and they’ve created many more things. How do they get their designers to come up with ideas? They have a structured ‘free time’ where employees have nothing specific to do and are allowed to just be creative. They say that that is when their employees are the most successful. Why don’t we give students time like that? Educators and policy makers need to realize that creativity is an incredibly valuable skill to develop in students.
This past weekend in North Carolina, we celebrated 100 years of State Parks. I encourage all of you to go outside sometime soon, I find that creativity often comes easiest to a clear mind.