Let Us Think CreativelyDecember 10th, 2009 by Hannu I. Miettinen
I read a newspaper story about creativity training recently. In it a creativity consultant boasted that by doing his course you could increase your creativity exponentially. I wondered: is this true? Can creativity really be trained?
Creative thinking is characterized by openness and vigilance. It requires the ability and the desire to question accepted truths. Creative people are suspicious of ready models and routines. They constantly ask themselves: How can we do this differently? How can we do this better?
The chief obstacle to truly creative thinking is that previously learned concepts form a mental burden. Well-known educationalist and mathematician Seymour Papert calls this the QWERTY phenomenon.
An ordinary computer keyboard has the letters QWERTY on the top line, he explains. The reason for this is historic. In the early days, typewriters were clumsy and their keys often stuck together. To reduce the problem, the keys, which often appeared in succession, were placed in different parts of the keyboard. Of course, developments in technology eliminated the sticking-key problem pretty quickly. Yet people are now so accustomed to QWERTY that they don’t think about why the keys are in this order. And even fewer ask: would some other order be better?
In business seminars directors talk about employees being an important asset to any company. The participants nod approvingly: yes, that is right. But they’re talking about employees who do their jobs without questioning or challenging the status quo – employees who don’t think creatively. In the majority of companies and organizations a cold, even hostile, attitude prevails to creatively thinking workers. They are considered odd, or difficult – even troublemakers.
As a techy-type, I appreciate so-called ‘engineering thinking’. When an engineer tackles a complex problem, s/he first clarifies the facts and then divides the problem into many parts which are each solved with logical reasoning and tested methods. After solving each part of the problem an overall solution to the original problem is found.
All this is well and good, but sometimes it’s not enough. Sometimes, creativity is needed to solve problems. Suppose that you have two TVs. You try to tune them so that you can see channels 1 – 4 in both of them. You draw charts, take the backs of the TVs, rearrange wires. But no matter how many carefully-engineered ways you try to solve this problem, you do not succeed. On one TV you get channels 1 and 2, on the other, channels 3 and 4. What to do? My wife solved this problem in a simple and creative way: she connected the antennas of the two televisions to each other and – voila! – all four channels can now be seen on both our TVs. An electrical engineer would not have found this simple and elegant solution.
I don’t really believe in creativity training. But I do believe that creative thinking can be promoted, by encouraging the conditions in which creativity thrives and by accepting creative thinking and giving it living space. Creative thinking is like a sensitive plant; to flourish, it needs space, light, water and a little bit of love.
Creativity is similar to talent. Some have it, some don’t. But most people have more talent and creativity than they realize or ever make use of. And if they can be encouraged to use it, who knows what might result? Let us being to think creatively, and find out.