Cultivating Creativity at School and Work Builds Crucial Skills for Tackling Today’s Complex Challenges

Creativity and innovation expert Sir Ken Robinson – whose TED talk, Do Schools Kill Creativity?, has one of the largest audiences of all time – cautions that mass education systems designed to produce workers for the industrial age don’t prepare students to meet new world challenges.

Out of Our Minds - The Power of Being Creative by Ken Robinson.
Out of Our Minds – The Power of Being Creative by Ken Robinson.

He advocates a full-scale transformation of education systems on the premise that intelligence and the creative process are “diverse, dynamic and distinct.” This is a scholarly exploration of the evolution of mass education and attitudes toward intelligence and creativity.

This updated edition of Robinson’s thesis has something meaningful to say to educators, human resource professionals, and corporate and community leaders. Read on for the summary of Out of Our Minds – The Power of Being Creative by Ken Robinson.

Content Summary

Recommendation
Take-Aways
Summary
Nurturing a Culture of Creativity
The Acceleration of Change
Educating the Masses
Hierarchy of Disciplines
The Responsibility of Education
The Role of Intelligence Quotient Testing (IQ)
Diverse Intelligence
“The Creative Process”
Holistic Education
“Imagination, Creativity and Innovation”
About the Author

Recommendation

Revolutionary change requires creative approaches to wrestle with complex and unique challenges. Organizations of all types seek people who can think creatively, invent innovative solutions and adapt to a changing world. Creativity and innovation expert Sir Ken Robinson – whose TED talk, Do Schools Kill Creativity?, garnered one of the largest audiences of all time – cautions that mass education systems designed to produce workers for the industrial age don’t prepare students to meet new world challenges. He advocates a full-scale transformation of education systems on the premise that intelligence and the creative process are “diverse, dynamic and distinct.” This is a scholarly exploration of the evolution of mass education and attitudes toward intelligence and creativity. We recommends this updated edition of Robinson’s thesis to educators, human resource professionals, and corporate and community leaders.

Take-Aways

  • Society faces an unprecedented pace and scale of change thanks to population growth and advances in technology.
  • The human ability to imagine, create and innovate offers a guide in this challenging new landscape, but people must be educated for the modern world.
  • An education system’s three responsibilities are “personal, cultural and economic.”
  • The assumption that certain academic disciplines have more economic value than others creates a hierarchy of subjects in school systems.
  • The policy decision to treat intellect and emotion as separate entities influenced the development of education systems.
  • Innovative organizations focus on “imagination, creativity and innovation.”
  • Neuroscience shows that human intelligence is “diverse, dynamic and distinct.”
  • The Intelligence Quotient (IQ) is a modern contrivance that regards intelligence as quantifiable through testing.
  • The IQ test disregards the span of human intelligence crucial for fostering creativity.
  • Creativity means coming up with unique ideas that have worth.

Summary

Nurturing a Culture of Creativity

Obsolete education and training systems no longer nurture and develop the talents and abilities necessary to succeed in today’s reality. Businesses realize that dealing with the growing complexity of the global environment requires developing a culture of creativity. But much of the solution resides within the education system, not within commercial organizations.

“We are all born with immense natural talents but…too few people discover what they are and ever fewer develop them properly.”

Executives seek creative people who communicate effectively, collaborate in teams and prove sufficiently nimble to respond to change. But misconceptions about creativity may hamper their agility. Many people believe that any given individual is either creative or not. This isn’t true. Everyone has creative capacities that blossom with development. Many believe that creativity exists only among people in artistic professions, such as music or filmmaking. And people worry that creativity invites chaos and frivolity. In fact, the choice to master creative skills is open to everyone, but it requires hard work and discipline.

The Acceleration of Change

The world’s most profound changes took place in the last five decades, and the rate of change is accelerating. Throughout modern history, however, new technologies have introduced fresh possibilities for creative work. James Watt improved the steam engine in the late 18th century, and that fueled the industrial age. Communication experienced a similar acceleration: the printing press in the 1400s, the telephone in 1875, radio in 1885, television in 1929, the World Wide Web in 1990, broadband in 2000, and the now ubiquitous smartphones and other digital devices by 2010. The burgeoning field of nanotechnology heralds a new wave of groundbreaking innovations in fields ranging from computing and engineering to neuroscience and medicine.

“The capacity for creativity is essentially human and it holds the constant promise of alternative ways of seeing, of thinking and of doing.”

The world population explosion is also driving change. In 1930, the Earth held around two billion people; in 2017, that number reached 7.5 billion, and estimates of the world’s population in 2050 hover around 10 billion. This steady increase places intense pressure on the planet’s resources, introduces risks such as epidemics, and destabilizes economies and trade. The nature of work will continue to evolve. People will rely on their ability to imagine, create and innovate to navigate the unpredictable and challenging new world. Those skills begin with education.

Educating the Masses

Just decades ago, because few people had college degrees, a higher education guaranteed offers of good jobs. But as more people earn higher degrees, the market value of a college education decreases. Many graduates have difficulty finding jobs in their fields. Expanding education and raising academic standards have not provided a solution.

“In less than a single generation, the nature of work for millions of people has changed fundamentally, and with it the structure of the world economies.”

Educational pioneers designed the first mass education systems to provide a qualified workforce for the industrial markets. In the 1960s, companies needed more workers with academic qualifications, and the number of people seeking higher degrees increased. This increase continued with the growing demands of the “knowledge economy.” In the last 40 years, the number of college graduates increased from one in five people to one in two.

Hierarchy of Disciplines

The assumption of a link between what students learn in school and the jobs they perform afterward creates a hierarchy of disciplines, with the ones experts consider economically significant coming to the fore. Most school systems see mathematics, science and technology as valuable, for example, and music, drama and art as peripheral. Parents and advisers counsel young people away from the arts because they worry about poor job prospects. They see the arts as a hobby or a vehicle for self-expression, not as skills for earning a living.

“No matter where you are or what you do, if you live on Earth you are caught up in a global revolution.”

Employers associate the subjects at the top of the hierarchy with intelligence and achievement. Yet academic ability and accomplishment are not the only expressions of human intelligence. An excess emphasis on academics leaves many intelligent, talented people on the sidelines and fails to nurture their capabilities.

The Responsibility of Education

The three responsibilities of an education system are “personal, cultural and economic.” The economic role is to develop students to perform in the labor market. Employers complain they have problems finding creative thinkers who can communicate and collaborate. But neither universities nor employers are developing these skills. Instead of prioritizing talent and providing professional development, companies emphasize recruitment, a short-term strategy. Accelerating cultural change is widening the gap between people who are technologically proficient and those who are digitally inept. Education systems must address this widening gap.

“The more complex the world becomes, the more creative we need to be to meet its challenges.”

Today’s education systems are vestiges of the industrial age. Educators must revisit their three core functions to develop systems that cultivate students’ individual talents and creativity, expand their grasp of the world and give them tools for gainful employment.

The Role of Intelligence Quotient Testing (IQ)

The IQ score is a modern contrivance that springs from several assumptions. It assumes everyone has a fixed IQ that is measurable through a series of tests. It presupposes that numerical IQs reveal overall intelligence and predict a person’s performance in school and throughout life. The invention of the IQ measurement in the early 1900s influenced the structure of school systems throughout the world. During the expansion of the education systems in England after World War II, a massive influx of students created a challenge of how schools should sort them. Administrators marked the top 20% for professions requiring more rigorous academics, such as doctors and lawyers. They designated the remaining 80% of students for blue-collar work.

“If we fail to promote a full sense of people’s abilities through education and training, some, perhaps most, will never discover what their real capacities are.”

They came to use IQ testing as a quick, easy way to decide where to place each child. Tests such as IQ and SATs have the support of the government and scientific community, so they’re difficult to refute. And, today’s emphasis on standardized testing puts inordinate pressure on students. Yet these tests ignore a range of individual intellectual abilities. Intelligence is much more varied and nuanced than the factors an IQ test measures. Valuing the full breadth and span of human intelligence is crucial to understanding and fostering creativity.

Diverse Intelligence

Since the late 20th century, neuroscientists have gained increasing understanding about the functions of the human brain. Human intelligence is “diverse, dynamic and distinct.” Your brain filters the input of your senses, influencing your perception of the world. Each person processes input differently. Two people may witness the same event but come away with different impressions. People express themselves differently. Artists, writers and musicians use schematic symbols, such as painting, performance and music – forms that express thoughts and ideas but don’t fit the structures of words. Academics communicate through language, using systematic symbols such as words and numbers that convey specific meanings. The brain is an organic object and its processes are fluid, dynamic and unique. Genetics, experiences, environments and feelings create a distinctive blend that shapes each person’s consciousness. Everyone has innate capabilities and talents. One person may excel in mathematics and another in artistic expression, but both are intelligent. Stereotyping people as smart or not smart according to their academic abilities is limiting and unfair. If parents, society or education systems neglect children’s abilities, the children may never unearth their potential.

“The Creative Process”

Creativity is the “generative” and “evaluative” process of devising “original ideas that have value.” Creativity has many different starting points. People put it to use many ways, like testing boundaries or exploring new options. Some ideas emerge half-formed, with several components competing for attention and development. Often, creativity must conform to certain guidelines and constraints, such does as the Japanese 17-syllable, three-line poem, the haiku, which demands originality within a formal structure. Every act of creativity involves acting rather than simply thinking of ideas or imagining. Creativity calls for evaluating and judging the validity and practicality of ideas and proposals. It demands testing, refining and developing your work. A creative work rarely emerges complete; failure, reflection and revision lead to fruition.

Holistic Education

By the mid-20th century, psychologists began to draw the relationship between mind, body and emotion, and the 1960s gave birth to the personal growth movement. More recently, Daniel Goleman, a leader in “positive psychology,” argues that the EQ, emotional intelligence, is equally as important as IQ. Expressing and understanding feelings, showing empathy, communicating well and demonstrating sensitivity to people and situations are “soft skills” of great value in relationships and in business.

“We cannot meet the challenges of the 21st century with the educational ideologies of the 19th.”

Education systems that rest on rationalism focus on teaching objective knowledge and using deductive reasoning. The naturalist education method takes a holistic approach by developing the whole child, facilitating self-knowledge and nurturing every student’s individual talents. Creativity dwells at this intersection of thought and feelings, art and sciences.

“Imagination, Creativity and Innovation”

Companies can develop an innovative organizational culture by focusing on three related but distinct processes: imagination, creativity and innovation. Imagination pictures an idea or future that doesn’t yet exist. Creativity is the process of generating valuable ideas; innovation makes those ideas a reality. Creative leaders cultivate innovation by constructing an environment in which new ideas flourish. They provide the freedom to take risks and experiment while putting systems in place to measure and evaluate. Each of the three strategic roles of creative leadership leads to three core practices:

“For innovation to flourish, it has to be seen as an integral purpose of the whole organization rather than as a separate function.”

1. “Personal” – Embrace these concepts to nurture the creativity of everyone in your company:

  • Everyone has creative potential” – When employees from every team and level of an organization feel management hears their ideas and values their contributions, they produce more and engage more deeply with their work.
  • Innovation is the child of imagination” – Allow team members to take risks and explore their unique abilities. Facilitate collaboration, encourage new perspectives and foster fresh connections.
  • Everyone “can all learn to be more creative” – Invest in training programs that develop creative skills and teamwork.

“The role of a creative leader is not to have all the ideas: it’s to nurture a culture where everyone can have new ideas.”

2. “Group” – Build creative teams on these principles:

  • Creativity thrives on diversity” – High-performing creative teams have members of different ages, backgrounds, genders, ethnicities and experience.
  • Creativity loves collaboration” – When everyone contributes and builds on each other’s contributions, they elevate their work and amplify each member’s abilities.
  • Creativity takes time” – Let ideas percolate, evolve and develop.

“We all have profound natural capacities, but we all have them differently.”

3. “Cultural” – Support a corporate culture that breeds innovation based on these ideas:

  • Creative cultures are supple” – Abandon traditional authoritarian leadership in favor of partnership and teamwork. Focus on engagement and relationships within and outside of the organization.
  • Creative cultures are inquiring” – Listen with an open mind, offer support, and encourage other viewpoints to enhance trust and improve decision making.
  • Creative cultures need creative spaces” – Design your physical plant to accommodate new models of work and interaction.

About the Author

Sir Ken Robinson, PhD, is an internationally recognized expert on creativity, innovation and human resources. He garnered more than 45 million views with his 2006 TED Talk, Do Schools Kill Creativity?

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