Viewing creativity as a trait that all humans share is a cornerstone of both current research and of the Creativity and Education vision. It is not simply an inherent characteristic manifested by a few talented artists and performers. Rather, it is a marvelous and endlessly rich packet of possibilities that is embedded within every human heart, mind, and spirit. Creativity in anyone can grow, blossom, and even propagate if nurtured. And it is endlessly abundant: as Maya Angelou noted, “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”
In addition to the general creative thinking skills offered on this website by the CE team, each of our disciplines offers a distinctive perspective and problem-solving process. For example, visual artists must identify and then exploit connections amongst shapes within a composition. How can similarities in orientation, size, color, and so forth help to unify the composition? How can differences enhance selected shapes and add variety? By contrast, even though an engineer may use the same general creativity skills, finding and fixing flaws in products and systems drives a distinctive sequence of questions and answers. For example, when considering ways to address climate change, numerous technical, logistical, and ethical questions arise, such as:
- What short-term and long-term actions are needed to mitigate climate change?
- What forms of power can be combined to reduce carbon emissions most effectively?
- What will be the financial and political costs of such actions?
- How can the costs of action (and of inaction) be shared equitably, across communities and nations?
Even within the same discipline, people in different jobs may view problems quite differently. For example, an academic administrator is especially attentive to the long- and short-term costs and implications of curricular change, while a classroom teacher is typically more focused on specific assignments and specific students.
Each of us sees the world through the distinctive lens our discipline requires. Exploring these disciplinary perspectives and thinking processes can generate fresh perspectives and better-informed actions. In this post, I will recommend three books that offer distinctive ways of thinking.
Think Like a Freak, by economists Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J Dubner, emphasizes the importance of embracing our ignorance, asking insightful questions, accurately identifying a core problem, using statistical evidence to support our conclusions, and accurately identifying incentives. They note that our emotions, participation within a community, and past experiences play a major role in our decision-making. By themselves, rational arguments rarely change minds.
Ozan Varol really was a rocket scientist before becoming a professor at Lewis & Clark Law School. In Think Like a Rocket Scientist Varol emphasizes the importance of ambitious goals, of flying in the face of uncertainty, of getting to the root of a problem (and then using reason to solve it), using redundant systems for high-risk environments, and of embracing failure as a natural feature of innovation. The combination of practical advice and his personal stories makes this a lively and informative book.
Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life combines personal stories with a series of writing assignments for beginners. In Part One, she describes various short assignments that can help writers get started. She then hilariously describes the importance of writing a “shitty first draft” as the first step in the process of developing a story or an essay. Sections on plot, character, dialog, and setting then offer advice to fiction writers. Part Two, titled The Writing Frame of Mind, deals with ways to identify potential stories and determine which to develop. The remaining three parts offer practical advice on identifying reviewers for works in progress, overcoming writer’s block, and seeking publication.
And the list continues. Think Like An Architect (by Randy Deutsch), Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World (by Tony Wagner), and Collective Genius: The Art and Practice of Leading Innovation (by Linda Hill, Greg Brandeau, Emily Truelove and Kent Lineback) are all sitting on my computer, waiting to be read.
In a sense, we are in a golden age of creativity and innovation. Both are now highly valued in all sorts of professions; hundreds of books on both have been published in the last decade alone. By identifying and reading the best books, we can develop ever richer perspectives and offer more effective leadership.
Professor Emerita Mary Stewart is an artist, author, and educator.
Her artwork has been shown in over ninety exhibitions nationally and internationally and in the 1980’s she received two Pennsylvania Council on the Arts grants for collaborative choreography. She has completed many artist’s residencies at sites such as Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Jentel Foundation, Arte Studio Ginestrelle (Italy), and Centrum Franz Masereel (Belgium).
She is a co-founder of Integrative Teaching International and the founding editor of its main publication, Future Forward. She is also the author of Launching the Imagination: A Comprehensive Guide to Basic Design, one of the best-selling design textbooks in North America.