I was invited to be one of 22 speakers at a creativity forum recently - crazy idea to have that many people speak and it did of course go right over time - but the concept is a good one and it was interesting to hear of the insights from artists, writers, librarians, musicians and many more. We had only 8-10 minutes each, so whilst I often don't write 'speeches' for these types of things, this time I decided I'd better.
Creativity in Practice – How to become more Creative
Sue Davis, Creativity & Research Forum, CQUniversity, 4 April, 2011
Who wants to be more creative? Who doesn’t? So how do you go about it? Play more suduko? Cryptic crosswords and DS Brain training games? Well it might help you improve aspects of memory (and the jury is still out on whether they even do that) but they won’t make you more creative. What does it mean to be creative?
There are many definitions of creativity, but common to many of them are words such as combinations, new-ness, originality, novelty imagination and difference. Koestler talked of the concept of bisociation – putting together concepts from different frames in new ways. Some forms of creativity are more significant and have more impact than others and that’s where the concept of little c and Big C creativity come in handy. We all make creative decisions every day. We might decide to try the carrot cake recipe with pumpkin instead of carrot. That’s a creative decision. It may or may not work and it probably won’t change the history of cake making (though you never know)… that’s little c creativity. Big C creativity, is the culture changing type of creativity, those like Picasso, T S Eliot in poetry, Beckett with absurd theatre, Steve Jobs with computer interface, these people (and those they have worked with) whose brave new combinations and experiments initiate new movements and breakthroughs.
So in my research and practice I wanted to develop my creative practice. I had been a drama teacher, writer/director mainly in school contexts but was interested in how young people were bringing technology into the classroom and performance space more and more. So I wondered what it might be like if we tried to enact the drama through the Internet – hence cyberdrama, which is what I explored in my Masters and then PhD. I found out others had already invented the name (Janet Murray) but I was able to explore new ways of taking live drama processes and exploring how they might work in mediated contexts. A bit beyond little c creativity, but not Big C perhaps – maybe more like a Middle C.
However, in my day to day working life I mainly work with students who are training to be primary school teachers.. and when I work with them on arts units, its interesting to see what concepts of themselves as creative they bring to the university classroom. Probably around a third of them have had significant creative experiences and see themselves as creative people, around another third are probably a big ‘iffy’ about it, and another third to not see themselves as creative or as having had a lot of creative experiences. So how do we build their concept of themselves as a creative and ensure that it is backed up by something (and not just wishful thinking).
One of the things we do is talk about creativity and unpack some of the myths about creativity – the myth of creative’s as mad, gifted individuals who are touched by the muse isn’t particularly helpful. Even those born with considerable talent need to really work at what they do. And those who are most gifted don’t necessarily go on to be the most successful, creative or productive. That was the problem with much of the early creativity research. The US army actually funded a lot of the early research with Guildford and co and they developed a range of tests and tools for identifying those who demonstrated divergent and convergent thinking e.g. how many ways can use a brick? People who can come up with the most ways and were identified as most creative, didn’t go on to be the most creative in the field though. Other research indicated that the most creative students at art school also didn’t go on to become the most successful later in life or end up using their creativity in a specifically productive way. So what else does it take?
That’s where a range of creativity researchers, including Howard Garner (of multiple intelligence fame) and others including Feldman and this one Czikszentmihalyi (he says he doesn’t mind if you say ‘the chicks, they all love me’) researched the lives of many creative folk and identified what they call ‘systems’ models of creativity. These models say, yes it is about some individual characteristics and talents, it’s about persistence, focussed attention and what he calls having ‘flow’ experiences (where you are so immersed in what you are doing that all sense of time and place disappears). He also says, it is about learning a lot and practicing in a certain area or ‘domain’ and internalising the rules of the domain. It is also about interacting with and having a field of others to support, critique and recognise your work (and these can be physical or virtual interactions). There are also times and places in the world where if you are part of a group or movement a hothousing effect occurs. The Picassos of the world did not exist in a vacuum. The Brill building originally was rented to music publishers because there were no other takers. By 1962 the Brill Building contained 165 music businesses A musician could find a publisher and printer, cut a demo, promote the record and cut a deal with radio promoters, all within this one building. Hundreds of hits were created in this building and community. Other versions of systems models also include product in there. So if you want to be more creative, you need to work on or consider all these areas.
Through my research with drama students I’ve elaborated on these three components. The individual who has to commit to engagement, build their creative practice in at least one domain and interact with others including communities of practice in the field (these can be live, or of course virtual). They apply this creativity through focussed attention and engagement, practice and generating or making things – products (and products often are featured in other systems models).
So the old adages ring true – if you want to be more creative, you have to put in the hard work. To be able to combine things in new ways, you’ve got to have some things to combine. This also aligns with other popular research. Gardner identified that people like Martha Graham in Dance, Ghandi in politics, Picasso in art had generally be practising in their field for 10 years before they had a major breakthrough. Malcolm Gladwell in the book Outliers (draws on research by Anders Ericsson) to identify the 10 000 hour rule. He draws on case studies of Bill Gates, the Beatles (playing all those 8 hours shifts in Hamburg) they all had 10 000 hours of practice before their major breakthroughs.
So what do we do with our students? Well we provide them with some different art-making experiences, also engaging with the wisdom of the tribe and those masters and mistresses that have come before us. We engage in collective creative activities where they can share their knowledge with each other and offer critical feedback and support… we also encourage them to reflect on their experiences, their concept of themselves as creative and to share their arts journey through a creative form through a digital photostory. For some of them it is a gateway experience as they come to re-engage with their own creative lives and prepare them to guide those of their students. I love viewing these reflective, creative works and most students feel a real sense of achievement when they share these creative pieces.
So what I hope to do is encourage people to find some time for feeding and cultivating their own creativity, it’s both professionally and personally fulfilling, whether it ends up being little ‘c’ or Big ‘C’ creative work. A final quote that sums it up for me – from George Bernard Shaw – “Create what you will” -creativity is an act of will, if you want to do it, apply yourself feed your creativity you can and will do it!