Sunday, July 25, 2010

Maybe we should have left it as it was

John Basinger recites Milton's Paradise Lost--the entire 60,000 words--from memory.  He started memorizing the poem when he was 58.  (You can listen here.)  I can't decide what fascinates me more, that he started at 58, that he was able to memorize Milton's entire work (I have trouble with my grocery list), or that he learns something new (what he describes as "a delicious possibility") with each recitation of the 60,000 words.

So, when Newsweek reported (this month) the data demonstrating that creative thinking is declining in America and explained that "those who diligently practice creative activities learn to recruit their brains’ creative networks quicker and better," I wondered again why we've abandoned the rigor that shored up innovation.  Some of the highlights:
  • A recent IBM poll of 1,500 CEOs identified creativity as the No. 1 “leadership competency” of the future.
  • When scholars gave creativity tasks to both engineering majors and music majors, their scores laid down on an identical spectrum, with the same high averages and standard deviations. 
  • A lifetime of consistent habits gradually changes the neurological pattern.
And the last quote reminded me that I've written before about Proust and neural networks and the possibilities for change--change at a fundamental, personal, neurological level.  We can alter our own realities (we can debate the limits another time), far later in life than previously thought and far more rigorously in the service of creativity, education, and innovation.  The education of our grandparents and great-grandparents was largely rote memorization, which has been widely vilified in favor of more open-ended instruction.  Rigor and creativity are inextricably confounded; why do we persist in attempts to separate them academically?


  1. Rigor and creativity, boredom and creativity....synchronicity is alive and well especially in a mind that sometimes (often?) finds connection neural or otherwise, present in the eyes of others or not. This afternoon I read an article by Walter Kirn in the Atlantic discussing the connection between the demise of boredom in our lives and creativity. He puts forth the simple and to me, uneasy, premise that technology has replaced the daydream often discovered in boredom and the creativity which it nurtured.

  2. This is interesting.... I just completed my masters degree in creativity and change leadership. No one has a clue what I am talking about when I say the word "creativity". They think it's some form of basket weaving or scrap booking, although I mean no creative disrespect to those endeavors. As an educator of children, I agree that creative thought, at least among the very young is on the decline... kids don;t have to think. They have computer games and programs to do it for them. Imagination is something many of them have never been asked to use nor is it something they can really ge their heads around.
    Our education system is systematically squashing creativity in our schools and in our children and what employers will be left with is somewhat frightening.
    As Einstein said, "The only thing that gets in the way of my learning, is my education".
    We need to bring back creativity and stop thinking that somehow standardized tests tell us anything at all.
    Ken Robinson has interesting thoughts about this at:

  3. Couldn't agree more with the nostalgia for boredom and having to grapple with the environment, rather than with a technological representation of the environment. Determination and persistence are learned, not really taught, I think.

    TED is a wonderful resource, though I'd not yet heard/seen Sir Robinson. It's on the list for this week...thank you. Meanwhile, our academic challenge is to find ways to incorporate thinking, creating, planning, even (insert gasp here) boredom into our teaching.

    Think what innovations might not exist if Einstein had technology added to his education...

  4. Sort of related... Dr. Leflar and I were discussing the bell curve of creativity (or the bell curve of outlandish/genius ideas). Something about being on the far right extreme of the curve and generating the wackiest and most awesome ideas. Versus needing someone closer to the center/average of the bell curve to accept/adopt/translate those ideas for mass acceptance and adoption.

    Funny how everything relates back to everything. I made the connection to the bell curve chart that I saw in my Markets and Consumers class: the one that shows how the early adopters are the first once to "validate" a technology, but it isn't until the next wave of adopters -- the ones who can "translate" the technology to the masses -- that everyone all of a sudden begins seeing the benefits that the early adopters have been raving about all this time...

  5. Everything does relate to of the coolest things ever! And I was thinking earlier today that people who dream and have vast ideas are often drawn to a partnership with someone who helps give birth to the abstraction. Some would call it a muse...but, it could just as easily be viewed as a microcosm of the tech wave you described (so very well).

  6. If you put seeds in a dark box with no water, they will not grow. Creativity cannot be "taught." You just have to give your seeds (students) a fertile and nurturing environment and don't prune the weird-looking growths that sprout out of them. It doesn't matter what today's employer's want. The careers my students will have don't even exist yet. I want my students to dismantle the industries of today's employers, not become a part of them.

  7. You pretty well summed with "don't prune the weird-looking growths." Nice.


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