Volume 10, Number 5
Opportunities Right Under Our Noses
It's never a question of whether or
not we can teach
creativity. It's much more: whether or not we can reinforce the
habit of seizing creative opportunities as they present
I deliberately used the word
'reinforce' rather than 'create.' I don't believe people are
non-creative. Creativity is always there within us, but it is well
hidden, even suppressed. The 'teaching' of Creativity, therefore,
becomes a process of awakening people to that which sleeps within.
Each opportunity to present a
workshop on creativity becomes an exploration, not of teaching,
but in how people act upon their unsummoned ideas. While it is
difficult, if not impossible, to bring the full classroom
experience into an article, we'll see what happens in the next few
Each class starts out the same. I
arrive early and set out my supplies and props. Flip charts, huge
thick markers, this and that, and a pile of paraphernalia all
heaped on my desk at the front. This done, I then crisscross the
room, placing paper, pens on everyone's desk.
I also place on each desk a thin 7-inch rusty piece of
springy metal with one end upturned and obviously broken off.
Thus prepared, I wait for the rush
to coffee, before they take their seats.
One of the exercises involves the
playing of an unfamiliar game with the numbers 1 through 9, and
devising a strategy which will guarantee a win, or a draw, for the
first player. They're given about 30 minutes for this, and while
they're working on the problem, I'm wandering around the room,
listening in on their deliberations and taking notes.
From time to time, someone says,
"This is just like tic-tac-toe!" which elicits nods in
When the time is up, we do a post
mortem on their discussions. The key learning I attempt to bring
out of this exercise, is the following. In the vast majority of
groups, from one workshop to another, someone mentions to their
teammates that there is a connection between what they're
attempting to do, and the well-known game of tic-tac-toe. Nearly
100% of the participants will confirm that even if they didn't
voice their recognition of the 'pattern,' they did think about it.
Here is what is disappointing.
Very, very seldom, (less than 1 in 200 participants) does anyone
act upon their hunch. If they did, they would quickly arrive at a
simple mapping of the exercise onto the game of tic-tac-toe. Their
'hunch' is giving them the solution, if only they'd pay attention.
There are two things going on here.
First, 'the hunch' is generated by the subconscious recognition of
a pattern. The 'pattern' of exchanges when playing with the number
game is exactly like the exchanges when playing the game of
tic-tac-toe. There is a repetition of phrases similar to "if
my opponent does this, then I must do this. So to block her, I
must do this first." These phrases are the same as those
generated by the strategic thinking in tic-tac-toe. This
recognition results in the observation, "This is like
Where we fail, is that we don't
follow up on the "Aha!" We don't ask the question
"How can I use this similarity?" The creativity is there
in the form of the hunch, but we ignore it.
The rest of the day is taken up
with other exercises. As the day ends, I ask, if there are any
more questions before we pack up. There may be some questions, but
rarely the one I'm hoping for. Asking one last time, I wait a few
minutes. Then I ask them a question... I hold up that object I
placed on their desk, and ask them if they're curious as to what
it is. All of them
usually indicate some level of curiosity. I then declare they've
all failed the workshop.
Throughout the entire day, they've
been playing with this 'thing' I placed on their desk before they
arrived. They've been bending it, twirling it in their fingers,
puzzling over it, looking at other people's desks to see if they
also got one, but never asking out loud, "What is this?"
Why? Why don't we ask these
questions? For many reasons. We assume that the answer isn't
important. We assume that if it were important, someone would tell
us. We assume that it's there for a good reason, even if that
reason is unknown to us. We assume that such a question would come
under the heading of “stupid” questions.
This focus on the 'Lost Question'
isn't a big thing. It doesn't take a huge amount of effort,
certainly no great expense, to start creating an environment that
encourages the asking of questions. Especially of the obvious. The
payback could be huge.
P.S. The object is the bristle of a
motorized street sweeper. I can find 10-20 of these in about a
10-minute walk in any city.