Three Strategies To Help Your Child Build A Creativity Mindset

As a child, Alexander Graham Bell, the prolific inventor best known for inventing the telephone, was intensely curious about the world. He built his first real invention – a simple dehusking machine – at the young age of twelve! While Bell was no doubt a smart and inquisitive child in his own right, his upbringing also played a big part in his success. His father was an inventor of sorts himself and he actively encouraged Alexander to make a speaking automaton. These early experiences paved the way for his future accomplishments. In other words, he grew up in an environment that valued creativity and problem solving. 

Creativity, as a cognitive skill, is becoming increasingly important in our world as routine jobs get automated. To be successful children now need more than literacy and numeracy skills – they also need to be confident creative problem solvers. The first step towards this is building a creativity mindset

So, how can parents help orient their child towards creativity? Here are three broad strategies you can use as a parent to start shifting your child’s mindset towards creative problem solving.

Make Creativity A Part Of Your Vocabulary

Most parents take a deliberate approach to help their child learn from an early age. They might casually introduce a new word during conversation or bring in numbers to build their child’s budding reading and math skills. This not only improves the child’s skills in the 3Rs but it also orients them towards those skills in the real world – they might notice new words more often or see mathematical connections in everyday situations. 

In a similar way, talking about creativity and everyday inventions can open their minds towards creative problem solving. One activity we do when we start our invention classes is to have a discussion about creativity by analyzing everyday creations around us. What makes something both novel and useful (the core definition of creativity)?  As students start discussing and analyzing things around them, they start to realize that everything around them is an invention – created by someone, or more accurately by many people over time, in order to make our lives more efficient. Parents can do the same exercise at home. As an example, a conversation between a parent and their child about a painting on the wall might go like this:

P: Is that painting on the wall an invention?

C: It’s original because I haven’t seen this painting anywhere else and it’s useful because it makes people feel good. 

P: That’s a good point about art making people feel good. Humans have been making art for a long time – even before they made language.

C: Like cave paintings.

P: Yes, like cave paintings! How are paintings now better than cave paintings? 

C: Cave paintings were fixed to the cave wall. But today, you can move them around – you can take your paintings with you if you move houses. So that’s another way it’s an invention. 

In our experience, children find this to be an eye-opening exercise and it opens their minds to creative problem solving. They start to look at things in their world a little differently. A few days after I did this exercise with my son, who would have been a 1st or 2nd grader at the time, he suddenly had an epiphany while we were driving. He excitedly shared an idea that could avoid holiday lights from getting tangled up. What if the lights were sewn onto a net that could be draped over a tree when in use, and then folded up neatly when done? Not a bad idea for such a common problem! 

Don’t Teach, Co-create

Even when parents understand the importance of creativity, they often try to “teach” it to their children. A more effective method is to co-create something with them – like making a new story, a fun game or a cool gadget together.

Children, and even adults, learn implicitly from others as much, if not more, than by being explicitly taught. Our brains are wired to detect patterns and connections around us and use them to update our models of the world. By continually updating and refining our internal models as we integrate new ideas, we improve our understanding of the world. Learning is more efficient when we deduce the pattern ourselves instead of when the pattern is taught to us. When you co-create with your child, they start picking up ideas and automatically integrating them in ways that are compatible with their current knowledge. As almost all parents have experienced, you might be focusing on one idea but your child might pick up on a different one. In effect, co-creation leads to a fully personalized learning – one that fits perfectly with your child’s current mental models. 

There are two additional advantages to co-creation. One, traditional teaching approaches can be perceived by the child as evaluatory and controlling, which raises their defenses. They are much more likely to engage in activities that are collaborative and low pressure in nature. The second advantage is the emotional aspect. Emotions bind the learning much more strongly, and positive emotions are better than negative. So if an activity is viewed as a fun family experience with lots of laughter and love, then not only is the child willing to engage in it more frequently, but what she learns from the experience is deeper.

The advantages of engaging in co-creation take some time to become evident. For example, if you start a dinner time routine of making silly stories, you might notice that your child doesn’t offer that many ideas or plays safe by reusing your ideas in the beginning. Don’t let that discourage you. Over time, you will see that the complexity and the novelty of their ideas start to increase as your child gets more comfortable, both cognitively and emotionally, with the activity. 

Do More Arts At Home

High quality art programs, including visual arts and music, have been shown to benefit creativity and related skills. In the case of Alexander Graham Bell, his mother encouraged his interest in art, poetry and music. Despite any formal training in music, he mastered the piano and became the “family pianist.”

Arts provide children with a canvas to try new things and take more risks, skills that can transfer more broadly to other domains as they grow older. A research study found that incorporating arts increased both children’s self-efficacy and original thinking. As the authors noted, “Self-efficacious children believe they can be agents in creating their own futures and are more optimistic about what the world has in store for them.

Another benefit of doing arts is that it provides an easy avenue to experience flow – where one is fully immersed in the task that action and awareness seem to merge. Experiencing flow not only helps improve mental health, it also builds a more intrinsic orientation towards learning which is beneficial in the long run. 

A creative mindset developed at an early age can have a tremendous impact on a child’s long-term success allowing them to make meaningful contributions to society. Parents play a crucial role in this. By helping their child understand creativity and by engaging in creative activities with them, they can equip their child with the right mindset and confidence. 

Why A Growth Mindset for Creativity is Essential

During our enrichment programs we often run into students who get stumped with creativity exercises. In one session, I gave a group of 4th and 5th graders a simple divergent thinking exercise. As the students started writing down their ideas, I noticed one girl who seemed uncomfortable with the exercise. When it was time for students to share their ideas, she refused to participate. Later, during a different activity, I stopped by her desk and gently asked if she wanted to share her ideas with me. She crumpled up her sheet of paper and tearfully said that she doesn’t really have any good ones. 

This isn’t an isolated case. Many students, including those in gifted programs, find creative thinking challenging. One reason lies with our education system which heavily emphasizes analytical thinking at the expense of creative thinking. Students are so used to the “one right answer” approach in education that they don’t know how to approach open-ended problems with several potential solutions. The gifted student who can confidently say the answer to a math problem because she can double check her answer, doesn’t have the same level of confidence for ambiguous problems with multiple solutions. 

This is harmful for students in the long run. As we transition from the “knowledge” to the ”creative” economy, students are increasingly ill-prepared to contribute meaningfully to the workforce. As work expectations shift toward higher creativity, it’s leading to a creativity gap – the disparity between valuing creative performance in adults and not fostering creativity in students. 

So, how do we better prepare our students to become confident creators? The answer starts with building a growth mindset towards creativity, what researchers call the “creative mindset.”

Carol Dweck pioneered the theory of growth mindset that improved educational outcomes for many students and revolutionized the way we approach learning. Dweck found that, when faced with challenges, some students give up too easily while others doubled down on learning. She realized that students who gave up easily had a fixed mindset, where they believed that intelligence is innate and therefore extra effort would not yield better results. The other students displayed a growth mindset – a belief that intelligence and skills are malleable. More interestingly, Dweck found that educators could shift students to a growth mindset and help them become better learners. Her growth mindset intervention workshops helped numerous students improve their math and science scores. 

Growth mindset has now become ubiquitous in both education and the workforce. However, most people view a growth mindset as applicable only to learning new skills (“I can learn new things”). They don’t realize that mindsets are equally important to creativity (“I can create new things”). 

By leveraging a growth mindset for creativity, we can help students build the ability and the confidence to be creators and innovators. Below are three ways to build a creativity fostering environment in your classroom. 

Emphasize Creative Mindset: Much like learning new skills, our brain also grows when it tries to create new things. Creativity often requires making connections between unrelated things or looking at the problem with different perspectives. When students practice these skills their brains adapt accordingly in order to make them better at  creative thinking. Similar to the growth mindset, educators can emphasize that our brains are like a muscle that grows stronger the more we practice creative thinking. If students find creativity hard, it’s a sign that their brains are stretching and learning to get better at it. 

Appreciate Non-conformity: Creativity by definition depends on non-conformity. To foster creativity, educators need to provide opportunities for students to think independently to come up with original ideas and perspectives. By exploring ideas outside of mainstream norms, students build creative confidence. Educators are often worried that by allowing students to voice non-conforming ideas will lead to chaos. It doesn’t have to. Educators can create explicit times or projects where students get to be creative, and a respectful environment for ideas to be shared with each other. 

Model Creativity: Nothing inspires students more than seeing their teachers embody the skills they are learning. By sharing their own creative pursuits, educators set the expectation that creativity is valued in their classroom. When teachers share their failures and how they overcame them, students learn to approach setbacks with a problem solving mindset. This builds perseverance towards challenging problems, which further boosts growth mindset.  

Bloom’s taxonomy places “creating” as the top skill for education. Without the ability to convert their knowledge into new solutions, students miss out on learning how to be valuable contributors. Unfortunately, most teacher training programs don’t emphasize creativity and typical school curriculums don’t integrate creative thinking. However, creative thinking skills are not that hard to cultivate. By deliberately building mindsets, modeling creativity themselves and providing adequate opportunity, educators can foster creativity in their students. 

This article first appeared on edCircuit.

Creativity Hack: Interrupt The Routine

If you have ever had students complain that they can’t think of a good idea for their creative story writing assignment, here is an easy hack to help their creative juices flowing again. 

About The Hack

We often encounter students who have trouble coming up with creative ideas in story writing. This hack breaks down the process of creative thinking in a way that makes it easier for students to discover new ideas. It’s also more fun! 

Instead of asking students to come up with a creative idea, we ask them to write a “boring” story. Students typically jump at this offer – partly because they were not expecting this but mainly because the ask doesn’t feel intimidating. Students find a theme that interests them and then write a fairly straightforward outline of the story. For example, if someone is interested in pets they might have a story outline of ‘boy wants a pet dog for his birthday; he begs his parents to get one; parents get him a pet and he is happy’. 

As most people can see, this is not a great story, yet. The plot line is routine – there is nothing surprising and there is no conflict to keep the reader engaged. Routine things are predictable but novelty comes from the unanticipated. To make this more creative, students move to the next phase where they have to find ways to “break the routine” in their storylines. For example, maybe the pet gets lost and the story becomes an adventure to find the missing pet. Or, the dog is actually a super-intelligent alien and this leads to a very different kind of imaginative fiction.

The neat thing about this hack is that it lowers the barrier to creativity – the hardest part in coming up with creative ideas is just getting started. By using a routine, boring story line it’s easier to get students started. They also feel less evaluation apprehension associated and are more than happy to share their “boring” version with each other. 

Summary

Finally, here is a quick summary of the creativity hack and how to use it with students.

DescriptionTo find a creative story idea, first start with a routine, “boring” storyline and then find ways to break the routine. Elaborating on each of those interruptions can lead to different kinds of story ideas. 
ExampleAsk your students to start by making a “boring” story with a theme of their choice. For example, ‘boy wants a pet dog for his birthday; he begs his parents to get one; parents get him a pet and he is happy’. Next, find ways to interrupt this routine and predictable storyline. What if the dog has special powers? What kind of magical journey would that lead to? Or, what if someone kidnaps the dog? How does the boy use his smarts to get his pet back?
By finding different ways to interrupt the routine, students discover interesting ideas to pursue. 
Tips – For a better variety of ideas, ask students to find different kinds of interruptions at different points in their original story line. 
– Encourage students to elaborate their story line which might give them more ideas on how to add interruptions. 
ExtensionsThis technique can be applied multiple times in a story. As students develop and elaborate their stories, they might find parts of the story that seem predictable. By using this technique, they can add more twists to the story. The more unanticipated elements a story has, the more it keeps the reader on edge. 
Creativity Hack: Interrupt The Routine

Why Creating Imaginary Worlds During Play Is Beneficial

What do Emily Bronte, Friedrich Neitzsche and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart have in common apart from the fact that they were all highly distinguished in their chosen fields? One thing that ties them together is that they all engaged in building complex imaginary worlds, or paracosms,  when they were children.

Emily Bronte along with her siblings created “Glass Town” situated somewhere in Africa. Neitzsche and his sister created an imaginary world with a squirrel as the King, and Mozart created the Kingdom of Back with his sister. All of these worlds were highly complex and their creators spent many months defining and elaborating various aspects of their world. 

This kind of childhood play is significantly different from other kinds of imaginary play children typically play in. This kind of make believe play doesn’t end at bedtime but persists for much longer often stretching into months or even years. The imaginary world keeps growing organically and accumulates stories, culture, politics and even distinct languages. 

What Is Worldplay? 

Michelle Root-Bernstein, a creativity scholar, who studies imaginary worlds in children believes that worldplay has ties to creativity and giftedness. In a research study she found that the prevalence of worldplay was significantly higher among recipients of MacArthur genius awards compared to a group of undergraduate students. The MacArthur Fellows came from different disciplines in sciences and humanities, and the undergraduate group was selected to match their profile. 

Creating paracosms may seem like a frivolous activity but it builds skills that are essential for success. As Root-Bernstein explains, “childhood worldplay does appear to provide an early apprenticeship in absorption and persistence, discovery, synthesis, and modeling.” 

As children start elaborating their worlds, they not only build their imaginative skills but many others like empathy (understanding different characters’ problems), logical thinking (building rules and societal structures) or problem solving (resolving conflicts between groups). But most importantly, children also begin to realize that society and its rules were created by other people like them and are just as malleable as the rules in their imaginary worlds, giving them the confidence to imagine new solutions to human challenges. 

Despite the benefits of worldplay, it is much less prevalent now than a generation ago. With the proliferation of technology, children spend their free time exploring readily available commercial worlds in games, instead of using their imagination to invent their own. This, unfortunately, deprives them of an opportunity to develop lifelong creativity skills. 

Worldplay As A Pedagogical Tool

Inspired by the benefits of worldplay, we created a project-based learning (PBL) program for younger students to design their own fantasy worlds. We realized that the project was a fertile playground to teach different concepts and subject areas while keeping students engaged. Some of the topics we covered were myths, ecosystems and numbering systems, and in each area students had to create their own versions. Below are some examples:

  • Myths: In one session we learned that all cultures have traditional stories or myths that explain the history or some other natural phenomena. Myths arose because people didn’t have the scientific knowledge to understand the world around them. These stories became a way to make sense of the world around them and could often be a vehicle for other moral lessons. After we discussed different kinds of myths, students created myths to explain some aspect of their own world.  
  • Numbering Systems: We explored how different numbering systems evolved in human history to keep up with our growing needs. The earliest forms of counting was through tally marks which became impractical when large numbers were involved. The next “invention” was to assign symbols for larger numbers (like ‘C’ denotes 100 in Roman numerals). Similarly, place-value was another improvement that made it easier to do arithmetic operations. After students see how the decimal system we use now is the product of multiple iterations over hundreds of years, they take on the task to design their own numbering system with their own symbols (which often include emojis) and choice of base.
     
  • Ecosystems: We studied different kinds of interdependent relations and how these mutually beneficial relationships help the ecosystem survive. For example, crocodiles allow birds to pick food that’s stuck to their teeth – this helps the crocodiles keep their teeth clean and the birds get easy access to food. Similarly, bees get food from flowering plants and in return help in pollination. Students then explore how different inhabitants in their world could potentially co-exist in beneficial ways. 

While much shorter than typical worldplay, we felt that the project gave students an opportunity to build a deeper understanding of academic concepts by exploring their own imaginary worlds. It’s easy to include topics from different disciplines in sciences and humanities, making this a useful pedagogical tool for educators to use in their classrooms.

Key Takeaways

When most people talk about play for kids, they usually think of play that lasts for a few hours. But just as important is a deeper kind of play – one that engages children over many months as they create and develop their own imaginary worlds. 

  1. Building 21st Century Skills: Creating imaginary worlds gives a playground for children to learn empathy, problem solving and creativity – skills that lead to higher accomplishments in adulthood. Worldplay gives children a sense of agency in their imaginary worlds, which they are more likely to bring into the real world as they pursue their creative endeavors. 
  2. Worldplay at Home: As a parent you can encourage your child to play more imaginative games in their free time. When they share an imaginative creation, join in their pretend play and find ways for them to elaborate their ideas even more. While not all children may be drawn to extended worldplay, engaging in shorter stretches can still build crucial empathy and problem solving skills.  
  3. Worldplay in Schools: Worldplays can be an effective vehicle to teach academic content as they are so easily extensible. One way to do this is to create a long-running project in the classroom that students keep adding on to as they learn new concepts. By creating a parallel world and applying the concepts they are learning, students get to see things from a different perspective which leads to deeper learning. 

This article first appeared on CreativityAndEducation

What Animals Can Teach Us About Creativity

Creativity has become one of the most desired skills to possess in the 21st century. Creativity is envisioned to be the answer to rapid automation that is taking away routine jobs and the essential ingredient for solving complex global problems we currently face. Creativity, being a uniquely human trait, has allowed us to adapt and thrive as a species so far and can potentially do so in the future as well. 

But is creativity really unique to humans or do other species show any evidence of creativity? 

Understanding how creativity evolved in other animals can help us better understand our own creative abilities. Recent research suggests that creativity is a spectrum with other animal species showing rudimentary forms of creativity. 

Animal Creativity Spectrum

According to one model, creativity is a spectrum that starts with novelty recognition and seeking, followed by observational learning and finally progresses to innovation. 

  • Novelty Recognition: At the most basic level, an animal has to be able to assess their environment and recognize if there is anything novel or different in the environment. How an animal responds once they detect novelty can lead to either neophobia or neophilia. In an interesting experiment with orangutans, researchers discovered the “captivity effect” with respect to creativity. They presented a set of novel objects to both wild orangutans and captive orangutans in zoos. They found that captive orangutans were more willing to explore novel objects than their wild peers who exhibited high levels of neophobia. In captive environments, orangutans are more frequently exposed to novel items that turn out to be pleasurable (e.g. treats hidden in toys) and over time they built positive associations towards novelty. They also built more trust with their human caretakers and are more willing to explore objects handed to them by humans. In contrast, wild orangutans view novelty with suspicion and are significantly less willing to take risks. 
  • Novelty Seeking: Beyond the ability to recognize novelty in the environment is the desire to seek novelty, which requires some risk taking. For example, male bowerbirds are known for their novel courtship dances. The success of their courtship ritual depends on the intensity and attractiveness of the display. However, too much novelty can deter females so male bowerbirds adjust their dance based on the reactions they get. By reducing the level of novelty when needed, the bowerbirds are able to increase their chances of mating. This ability to modulate the level of novelty is essential for creativity, as the novel outcome also needs to be useful in order to be creative.  
  • Observational Learning: The first two stages of the creativity spectrum deal with creativity at an individual level but this third stage allows creativity to spread from an individual to a larger group. When animals can copy one another they learn and adapt faster to their environment. In a study of capuchin monkeys, researchers found that younger monkeys who were less adept at using stones to crack nuts, spent more time observing more proficient monkeys. This social learning ability allows the younger capuchin monkeys to get better at scrounging faster than discovering techniques themselves.  
  • Innovation: At the highest level of creativity is the creation of a novel product in order to solve a problem. An example of this is tool creation or modification in animals to access food more readily. New caledonian crows are highly intelligent and known for their sophisticated tool use. In one experiment, researchers presented a crow with a setup containing food and an aluminum strip that needed to be bent or unbent in order to get to the food source. In each of the trials, the bird was able to successfully modify the tool and get their reward. 

Lessons From Animal Creativity

Rudimentary creativity skills demonstrated by different animal species give us clues about our own creativity. Here are three lessons from the animal world that apply to human creativity as well:

  • Psychological Safety: While we don’t live in the wild anymore like orangutans, we still need safety in order to be fully creative. A psychological safe environment makes it easier for people to explore ideas and share them with others. In other words, safe environments move us towards neophilia whereas in unsafe ones we tend to shut down. 
  • Openness to Experience: The novelty seeking behavior is similar to the “openness to experience” trait. In general, people who are more open to new experiences tend to be more creative than others. But just like bowerbirds, this novelty seeking needs to be balanced as too much of it can be risky. 
  • Social Learning: We learn more from others than we do from individual exploration. Most of the innovation we see around us is incremental – it builds up on other existing ideas. Our ability to learn from others, coupled with our ability to imagine different scenarios, has allowed us to innovate at much larger scales than other species. 

While most people consider creativity to be a uniquely human trait, evidence from the nonhuman animals suggests otherwise. Creativity evolved in order to help us better adapt and survive in our environments, and elements of it abound in the animal world. Given the daunting challenges we face today that threaten our survival, we need creativity and innovation now more than ever. 

This article first appeared on edCircuit.

Improving Student Motivation in High Stakes Environments

Over a period of 5 years, from 2000 to 2005, the US slipped from being ranked 18th in the world in math to being 40th and from 15th to 24th in reading. While many reasons have been proposed for this decline in education, like increasing diversity and rising poverty levels, one factor that has gained increasing attention is standardized testing

Standardized testing by itself is a useful tool to see how schools are performing. However, when standardized testing becomes an accountability tool — where schools, teachers or students are rewarded or penalized based on test outcomes — tests become high-stakes and carry the potential for damage. Standardized testing had been in use in the US for many decades but starting with the No Child Left Behind Act in 2002, testing became much more high stakes which then changed teaching patterns in classrooms. 

Reduction of Intrinsic Motivation

The main problem with high stakes testing is that it incentivizes all players — schools, teachers and students — in ways that don’t help in deeper learning. Instead of tapping teachers’ and students’ intrinsic motivation, it imposes strong extrinsic motivators on them. 

With school funding tied to test scores on limited subjects, time spent on teaching other subjects declined. An analysis on schools and districts found that 70% of school districts reported a focus on reading and mathematics that reduced instructional time for other subjects. 

The motivation effect extends to students as well. Teachers inadvertently pass on extrinsic motivators in the forms of excessive focus on scores or grades to students, instead of having more discussions in the classroom. As more instruction time is spent on preparing for tests, students have less time to be curious and connect their learning to the real world. As a result, students start losing interest in learning itself and no longer find schooling meaningful. 

This is especially harmful for student creativity, which relies on a well-rounded education. Creativity comes from having knowledge in several areas and being able to find connections between domains. When instruction and exploration time in other subjects like science, social studies, arts and music, are cut down the overall creativity of a child reduces. This is one reason that creativity scores of students have declined significantly over the last few decades. 

Strategies to increase motivation and learning outcomes

When high stakes testing is part of the educational culture, are there some ways to limit the harmful aspects and still achieve good learning outcomes? 

In one study conducted at Chicago Public Schools (CPS), researchers tracked low-achieving students from five elementary schools in a high stakes environment. CPS implemented a policy to end social promotion where students would be held back in the current grade if they failed to achieve a minimum score on standardized tests in reading and mathematics. The researchers found that there was a significant difference in outcomes between schools with the top performing school having 4x lower retention rate than the worst performing school. 

The top performing school employed strategies that better supported students in achieving their goals.

  • Positive, goal-focused environment: Teachers created a more positive and supportive environment for students, where students felt that the teachers personally cared for their success. The teachers frequently brought up the student goals, determined ways for them to achieve them and praised the effort students were making. All of these strategies created an environment where students’ social connection motivated them to exert more effort. As one student expressed, “She says we better try. She plays around saying she doesn’t want to see us again next year, that it’s time for us to leave… she’s usually clowning around but she’s telling the truth…She cares about all the children… She shows us by teaching us more stuff and giving us examples of the test.
  • Shared expectations: Teachers in the high performing school created a sense of responsibility for the whole group. They nurtured an environment where not just the teacher-student relationship mattered but also the peer interactions. When students perceive that their peers are on their side and want them to succeed, their motivation increases. 
  • Support outside of regular school hours: The CPS effort also provided other avenues of support including after-school programs and summer school. These extra avenues gave students a significant boost in academic support. A majority of the students who increased their effort levels participated in after-school programs or tutoring that extended the in-class instruction. They were able to get more work done by themselves and did more homework than students who only attended regular school. 

These factors helped increase social and intrinsic motivation among students, providing a counterbalance to high-stakes extrinsic motivation. As the researchers note, “Thus, the social context of learning—how teachers, parents, and peers interact with students in relation to the policy—may be the most important factor in determining how students respond to the incentive.

Conclusion

The standardized testing environment that is now an integral part of the US educational system will not change overnight. While there are advantages to measuring student performance, tying those results to incentives for schools or teachers creates harmful effects that lower intrinsic motivation and learning outcomes. Despite that, there are strategies schools and educators can use to build a more caring and supportive environment in their classrooms to help students achieve their learning goals. 

This article first appeared on edCircuit

Mint, Electric Cars and How Creativity Can Flourish In Remote Environments

Why are most toothpastes mint flavored? The answer has nothing to do with any cleaning ability that mint might possess (it doesn’t). 

Most people didn’t brush their teeth every day until Claude Hopkins, a savvy marketing executive, hit upon the idea of selling toothpaste as a beauty product where mint played a key role. Mint oil leaves a numbing, tingling sensation that people learned to associate with cleanliness and over time started craving that sensation. As Charles Duhigg explains in his book, The Power of Habit, “Claude Hopkins, it turns out, wasn’t selling beautiful teeth. He was selling a sensation. Once people craved that cool tingling—once they equated it with cleanliness—brushing became a habit.

Mint doesn’t actually clean teeth – it simply leaves us with a more satisfied feeling. 

When electric cars were first introduced, they produced so little noise that pedestrians and cyclists would often not detect their presence. This created a safety hazard and most electric cars now come with added artificial sounds. The extra noise doesn’t improve the driving performance of the car, but it helps make it safer

Traditional brainstorming, done in-person as a group, is a little like mint in toothpaste or fake noise in electric cars, both of which don’t help the core functionality but have side advantages. Brainstorming with friends or colleagues helps build social connection, which in limited amounts, can aid creativity. There is a key difference though – traditional group brainstorming performs worse when compared to individual brainstorming. 

The Challenges Of Traditional Brainstorming 

The traditional brainstorming method was the brainchild of Alex Osborn, an executive in the advertising industry. Osborn’s original brainstorming approach characterized by four key principles – ‘Deferment of judgment’, ‘Quantity breeds quality’, ‘Free-wheeling is encouraged’ and ‘Combination and improvement are sought’ – quickly became popular everywhere. 

However, while the popularity of Osborn’s brainstorming was rising, research studies were discovering that traditional brainstorming guidelines weren’t really the best way to find creative ideas. A study at Yale found that the number of ideas produced by individuals working alone (nominal group) and then aggregated, was twice that of a group working together (real group).  

Multiple studies since then have found that traditional brainstorming suffers from logistical and psychological factors that decrease the throughput of creative ideas. A few of these factors are:

  • Production Blocking: In traditional brainstorming people have to take turns sharing their ideas. Due to short term memory limitations, individuals might forget their ideas or lose their train of thought while they are waiting for their turn. People also sometimes choose not to share an idea that appears similar to what has already been said. As a result, the overall throughput of ideas declines. 
  • Evaluation Apprehension: The fear of being judged negatively makes people hold back their ideas in a social group. This is all the more true of ideas that are very different and therefore might be the most innovative. Research studies have shown that just the presence of a leader or an expert reduces the creativity of the ideas of the group. 
  • Free Riding: Also known as social loafing, free riding occurs when individuals in a group reduce their own effort. This can happen for two reasons. One, when people see others performing at a high level they don’t see the need to contribute more and can ‘hide’ in the group. Or, when people expect others to loaf they reduce their own effort so as to establish a more equitable division of labor. As a result, fewer and less creative ideas get generated. 

That’s what makes traditional brainstorming so tricky. Like mint, it feels more satisfying to brainstorm together with others. And like the noise in electric cars, it makes us feel more safe when we can modulate our ideas based on what others bring to the table. Unfortunately, this comes at a cost – brainstorming as a group makes us less creative.

Brainstorming In The Remote Setting

The difference between the performance of nominal and real groups in brainstorming indicates an obvious way to structure brainstorming sessions that fit well in a remote setting. Ideation can be split into two phases – the first phase is individual brainstorming done asynchronously (perfect for the remote environment) to gather initial ideas, and the second phase is a group session where ideas are developed further. 

The first phase mimics the nominal group but the goal of the second phase is a little different from typical brainstorming. In the second phase, everyone looks at the ideas collaboratively, which can spur additional thoughts or lead to some interesting associations between different ideas. The second phase can be done synchronously in-person, synchronously remote or even asynchronously with the aid of some tools. 

While brainstorming can very effectively be moved online, it’s only one part of the innovation equation. It’s still important to build social and emotional elements that create a healthy creative climate. One of the advantages of traditional brainstorming is that the extra social connection helps build trust making it easier to share ideas.  

Organizations will need to deliberately build a healthy culture that allows innovation to flourish at different levels. A few strategies that help with that are:

  • Building a better understanding of creativity: Despite decades of research in this area, most people still have a simplistic understanding of creativity and don’t view themselves as creative. They lack the tools and confidence to approach problems with a creative mindset. Building cognitive (like associative or reverse thinking) and behavioral skills that foster creativity can start people on their creative journeys. 
  • Focusing on innovation-specific emotional intelligence: Leaders can also inadvertently squash creativity. A leader’s emotional intelligence plays a big role in supporting creative work which invariably comes with some anxiety and frustration. A Yale study found that not only are employees of emotionally intelligent leaders more creative, they are also three times more likely to say they are happy than stressed. Leaders also need to build psychological safety in the team so everyone can share their ideas more freely, and find diverse voices within and across teams. 
  • Providing creative opportunities: Providing creative opportunities that allow people to exercise their skills not only helps with innovation, it also builds social connection and trust between different parts of an organization. 

Conclusion

The last year and a half of the pandemic has upended work expectations creating knowledge and awareness that remote and hybrid work is here to stay. The initial focus for organizations was to ensure that people have the right tools to continue their work remotely. However, this isn’t enough. Data from a recent survey shows that employees are struggling to share their ideas. Looking further ahead, organizations will need to evolve in ways that achieve innovation along with productivity. 

Since the shift to remote work, people have been concerned about the impact on creativity. It’s one of the most cited reasons for returning to work in person. But as research indicates, it is possible to maintain or even enhance creativity in a remote environment. We now have an opportunity to redefine practices and cultures to achieve higher levels of innovation and productivity whether people work remotely or not. 

This article first appeared on edCircuit.

Why We Should Celebrate Everyday Creativity

“I am not a creative person!” is a fairly common refrain to hear when people talk about their own creativity. Most people associate creativity with eminent people like Einstein or Mozart, but completely overlook their own creative acts. However, these smaller creative acts that we engage in everyday life, like finding a new way to optimize a routine or coming up with a new way to teach a concept, are highly beneficial both as an individual and at a larger societal level. 

Ruth Richards talks about the lack of attention we give to everyday creativity in terms of the 3 U’s: “Our creativity is often underrecognized, underdeveloped, and underrewarded, in schools, at work, and at home. Why is it, after all, that in so many schools students are trying to get 100% on someone else’s test and not making up more questions of their own?”

Our everyday creativity is a universal ability that gives us survival advantages – it allows us to adapt to changing environments and handle new situations. It also equips us to better handle life’s ups and downs and lead happier, more fulfilling lives. Here are key reasons to celebrate everyday creativity, both at work and in schools. 

Paving the road to bigger creativity 

Joseph Renzulli discovered that creative accomplishments arise from an interaction between three clusters of traits – above-average ability, creative thinking skills and perseverance. It’s impossible to come up with a ground breaking theory in physics without having a deep understanding of physics, approaching the problem with multiple different perspectives and spending immense hours trying to solve it. 

Everyday creativity works the same way with all the traits scaled down for smaller, “little-c”, creative accomplishments. Most people already possess the ability to handle everyday tasks and the needed perseverance to make small innovations. The primary advantage of everyday creativity, then, is in providing a fertile ground for building creative reasoning skills and building creative confidence. Building creative problem skills in smaller ways paves the way for higher creative accomplishments over time. 

Everyday Creativity in Schools

A recent trend in invention related education is to challenge students to solve bigger societal problems like global warming. While there is nothing wrong in educating children about the problem, asking them to find creative ways to solve global challenges actually does the opposite – it drives them towards more unoriginal ideas.  Most students lack the scientific or technical knowledge to meaningfully address such challenges. So their solutions end up looking more like “awareness campaigns” that aim to influence others to invest in or solve the problem. 

Posing big, global problems is the equivalent of asking students to solve calculus problems while they are still grappling with basic number operations, or asking them to write essays when they are still figuring out paragraphs. They rob students from the opportunity to build creative thinking skills.  

Instead, we need to provide opportunities where students can pick areas that they are intimately familiar with to apply their creative thinking. For example, some of the invention challenges that we have posed to students are redesigning school supplies or designing a useful gadget for their pets, areas that students fully understand and can innovate in. 

Everyday Creativity at Work

Everyday creativity doesn’t just help individuals in their journey from little-c to big-C creativity, they also help group outcomes. When companies harness the everyday creativity of their employees, they can create solutions that are similar or better than what experts would produce. 

In one experiment, software programmers from all over the world participated in a challenge to solve a complex immunogenomics problem. The participants, roughly half of whom were students, didn’t come from academic or industrial computational biology. Despite that, several solutions outperformed industry standard software used as benchmarks, and the top most solution was two to three orders of magnitude faster than the benchmark solutions. 

While each participant didn’t possess domain expertise or exceptional creativity, as an aggregate the group performed like an eminently creative person. Establishing a system to channel individual little-c creativity among employees can help solve much bigger problems effectively and provide a strong competitive advantage to companies.  

Building a healthy, positive attitude

Our human creativity affects our health, well-being and personal growth. It enhances our social-emotional as well as our intellectual development. 

Everyday Creativity in Schools

Higher creativity is associated with better coping skills to deal with stress and anxiety among students. When students are able to think in more divergent and flexible ways about problems, they come up with original and better ways to solve their problems. Higher creativity is also associated with higher self esteem, better ability to handle ambiguity, better mental health and optimism. In a study designed to understand the effect of creativity on the ability to handle stresses, researchers found that students that rated higher on creative thinking, were also better at handling stressful situations. The researchers noted,

Any effort on the part of parents, teachers, or other professionals to encourage and provide opportunities for the enhancement of children’s creative thinking skills may have secondary payoffs with regard to their coping abilities. In this regard, children may respond much more readily to creative-thinking opportunities than stress management or social skills training workshops or classes.

Everyday Creativity at Work

Several research studies have highlighted the relationship between creativity and positive affect. Engaging in creative problem solving as part of work increases a sense of accomplishment and purpose. In a study on organizational creativity across several industries, researchers found that the majority of the participants reported a primary positive reaction of joy, pride, satisfaction and relief. A couple verbatim comments capture the positive emotions felt by participants as they engaged in successful creative problem solving. 

 “I really enjoy the type of work I was doing today—like solving a great big puzzle and using really great tools to do it.” (A female participant in a high-tech company)

“.|.|. [In] consideration of the enormous complexity and machinery involvement, I was forced to think. An alternative idea soon came to mind. [Description of the idea.] This not only simplifies our [current] trial tremendously, it also vastly increases the probability of success for the [trial next week]. It alternatively saves about six man days of labor, a week of schedule time, and over a thousand dollars in outside cleaning costs. This WIN-WIN eureka boosted our

spirits and let us finish the week on a high note.” (Male participant in a chemicals company)

Everyday creativity is a skill that we all possess but often forget. Engaging in small creative acts, especially at younger ages, can help pave the path for bigger creative accomplishments later in life. And perhaps, even more importantly, help us lead happier lives. 

This article first appeared on edCircuit.

3 Ways Creativity Improves Mental Health

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. This year mental health is of particular concern among students due to the impact of Covid-19 and school closures. CDC data found that mental health related emergency visits among K-12 students increased by 25% – 31% last year. Several survey results show that student mental health issues have exacerbated during the pandemic. In one survey, over half of teen students indicated that they faced mental health challenges like anxiety and trouble concentrating, and a third of the parents indicated that their child’s emotional and mental health had become worse during the pandemic.  

These sobering statistics were further compounded by the fact that many approaches to mitigating mental health issues like healthy social interactions or building trusted relationships were harder to do with school closures. 

When social connection is not easy, individual practices can help. Teaching students mindfulness meditation has shown to reduce anxiety and stress. However, in this article we will look at a somewhat less known way to improve mental wellbeing –  engaging in creative problem solving and building a creativity mindset. 

Stress and Coping Skills

Creative thinking skills allow students to approach daily challenges more effectively.  In a study of 3rd to 6th grade students, researchers found that students who scored higher on creative thinking, had better coping skills in the school environment and exhibited fewer disruptive behaviors.  

As the researchers explained, “The ability of children to keep an open mind and not judge or reach conclusions about people, situations or problems too impulsively may be a significant factor in successfully managing the stresses of daily life. Also, the ability of children to maintain flexibility of thought and to generate ideas that are not only fluent in number but original may contribute significantly to successful coping.

In addition, the study also noted that students may respond more readily to creative thinking opportunities than training workshops on stress management and social skills. 

Other research has shown that creative people are more comfortable being on the “edge of chaos”, are better at reframing challenges into opportunities, and less likely to withdraw from college or fail academically. 

In other words, teaching children creative thinking has the secondary benefit of building better coping and stress management skills, that can last well into adulthood. 

Interpersonal Skills

In a study to understand the relationship between creativity and interpersonal problem solving, researchers tracked K-8 students over a period of two years. They found that creative thinking, and in particular ideational fluency – the ability to come up with several ideas – was significantly correlated to different aspects of interpersonal problem solving. 

One potential reason for this is that both creativity and interpersonal problem solving involves related underlying skills – coming up with several solutions, evaluating the impact of ideas and flexibly adapting to different situations to produce novel outcomes. 

Another study showed that more creative children displayed less aggression than less creative children. Research also seems to suggest that creativity is related to successful aging and longevity. 

Higher Values

Abraham Maslow studied creative people and talked about self-actualizing (SA) creativeness which came from possessing an “openness to experience” attitude, and displayed itself in everyday life. SA creative people were not just eminent people who produced groundbreaking work, but also regular people who approached everyday situations with creativity. As he explained, “I learned from her and others like her that a first-rate soup is better than a second-rate painting, and that, generally, cooking or parenthood or making a home could be creative while poetry need not be; it could be uncreative.

More interestingly, Maslow found that SA creative people seemed happier, more at peace and more fulfilled. They were more motivated with higher values like truth goodness and beauty, and focused more on larger endeavors. 

These qualities are good for individual growth but are much more important for solving larger societal issues and driving social progress. 

Teaching Creativity

Often the most effective interventions are those that don’t even appear to be so. Building more creative thinking skills has a spillover effect into daily life. Creative people are able to use their cognitive style in a flexible and open manner to solve problems and cope with daily life stresses. Teaching creativity has the potential to develop more well-rounded and well-adjusted citizens. Unfortunately, despite being a critical 21st century skill, creativity isn’t often taught often or encouraged in schools. 

As Dr. Richards, an advocate for teaching more creativity, laments in Everyday Creativity, “How odd it may seem, considering the benefits, that we do not stress everyday creativity more in schools, homes, businesses, healthcare settings, senior centers, and centers for personal growth and development. Why, one may ask again, is our creativity so hidden or diminished (or underrecognized, underdeveloped, and underrewarded)?

This article first appeared on edCircuit.

World Creativity and Innovation Week: April 15 – April 21

The Fourth Industrial Revolution, marked by an increased use of AI and automation, is expected to have a profound impact on the workforce. 

The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs report found that by 2022, machines and algorithms will increase their contribution to specific tasks by 57% and in some categories of jobs the ratio of work done by machines vs. humans is going to tip towards machines. Tasks that are repetitive in nature and involve sequential thinking are easy targets for automation. Creative, non-linear ways of thinking are much harder to automate and future job growth is expected to come primarily from the creative domain. As the report outlines, “Proficiency in new technologies is only one part of the 2022 skills equation, however, as ‘human’ skills such as creativity, originality and initiative, critical thinking, persuasion, and negotiation will likewise retain or increase their value.

Creativity is no longer just nice-to-have, it is now an indispensable skill for students to build. 

The UN recognized the growing importance of creativity, and in 2017 it designated April 21st as the World Creativity and Innovation Day (WCID). Their goal is to raise the awareness of the role of creativity and innovation in human and economic development. April 21, the day before Earth Day, April 22, was deliberately chosen to emphasize the role creativity plays in solving global challenges to create a sustainable planet.

The origin of the WCID goes back several years. It was founded in 2001 by Marci Segal, after seeing an article on the Canadian Creativity Crisis. Having studied creativity at the International Center for Studies in Creativity, SUNY Buffalo earlier, she decided to raise awareness around creativity and its impact around the world. In 2006, the day expanded to a week-long celebration starting on April 15th, Leonardo daVinci’s birthday, and culminating on April 21st. The World Creativity and Innovation Week (WCIW) was born!  

WCIW starts next week on Thursday (4/15) and there are several events planned for that week. Here are a few fun events geared towards building and encouraging student creativity. 

  • Seven-Day CreateTUBEity Challenge, April 15-21 12 pm EST: Dr. Cyndi Burnett, Creativity expert and Director of Possibilities at Creativity and Education, and children’s book author Barney Saltzberg, are going to subject themselves to a new creativity challenge led by a different creativity expert each day from around the world. Join them for a FREE daily 15-minute live-stream event on CreateTubeity. Appropriate for the young, and the young at heart!
  • Global Innovation Field Trip (GIFT), April 17th-April 18th: GIFT is a 24-hour, virtual, multi-country event hosting presentations from innovators currently spanning 28 countries. Young innovators and educators from across the globe will share their ideas to support and inspire innovation, and the event is free for anyone to attend. “GIFT provides an excellent platform for students to share their stories of innovation with a global audience and inspires educators to incorporate innovation, invention, language, culture and a variety of other subjects utilizing STEAM skills into their regular daily lessons,” says Juli Shively, GIFT Co-Founder and COO of Innovation World. 
  • Belouga’s Creativity and Innovation Playlist: To inspire students and educators to learn more about creativity, Belouga has created a playlist of lessons for the World Creativity and Innovation Day. There are over 50 lessons corresponding to over 30hrs of content, covering many different aspects of creativity in our lives. 

I hope you can find time to join in these creativity focused events next week, or be creative in your own way! And if you choose to do your own creative activity, don’t forget to register it with WCIW and share with others. 

This article first appeared on edCircuit