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Sir Ken Robinson ("All Our Futures: Creativity, Culture and Education") has called upon schools to value creativity as much as literacy.  He maintains that if we are to educate today's young people to cope with the challenges of the future, then the ability to think creatively is an essential requisite.






Creativity is the process whereby theoretical concepts or practical elements are combined in novel ways to produce an end product that may be useful, artistic or pleasing.


Although Freud suggested that creativity arose from a desire to find fame, fortune or love, it is also sometimes associated with the need to devise solutions to problems.  Wallas suggested that there were 5 stages to the creative process:

  • preparation (focusing on the problem);

  • incubation (internalising the problem);

  • intimation ("feeling" as if a solution is imminent);

  • illumination (creative insight);

  • verification (producing the solution).

In a way this begs the question insofar as it makes no attempt to identify what "causes" a creative response in an individual - nor how we might engender such a response (either in ourselves or in others).


In many ways, the creative process can be seen as akin to play - insofar as those engaged in the process allow themselves to imagine alternatives to reality - in a kind of "what if..." or "if only..." scenario.


If learning is viewed as a mechanism whereby the brain "makes sense" of new data by establishing connections between the new and that which is already known, then creativity could be viewed as the brain's attempt to "make connections"


Consider the analogy:

Learning could be viewed as the brain's attempt to fit each new experience (or data item) into the developing jigsaw of its total experience to date.  It seeks to do this by spotting likenesses (in the colour or patterning of the jigsaw piece) and making connections and relationships between the new piece of jigsaw and the emerging picture.  In this analogy, creativity is the equivalent of picking out random pieces of jigsaw to see if they "look good together".






Human beings (and especially their children!) are naturally inquisitive.  We love to ask questions. We love to discover answers.  We thrive on challenge.  We enjoy solving problems.


We can observe these traits in young children as they encounter new stimuli.  There is a sense of wonder as a child is confronted with a new experience, closely followed by the desire to "make sense" of that novelty - to "fit it into the framework" of the child's current (but developing) world-view.  Anyone who has children will recognise the predominance of questions in their conversation.  Wise parents will never tire of answering such questions!


Although there are schools of thought that recognise the importance of the educative process remaining child-centred (notably those who espouse the Montessori method), all too often the need for "accountability" in education leads to the framing of "curricula" - which seek to identify and prescribe what it is that children need to know.  Alas! what a travesty.  What children "need to know" is the answer to the question that presently absorbs them.


The natural inquisitiveness that children early exhibit is often relegated to a "back burner" (or removed from the hob altogether) as they are subjected to the gamut of testing and assessment.  The growing emphasis on what "levels" and "standards" children should achieve (and by when) results in a levelling and a standardisation of the "product" (as the child has now become).  Thus it is that children are rewarded for coming up with "right" answers - because they are so much easier to assess.


Along the way, creativity, which is driven in part by our need to find answers, is severely hampered.  Questions are defined. Answers are provided. Challenge is reduced. Moments of playful insight are discouraged.  Creativity is all but strangled by a plethora of testing mechanisms.  Whereas it may not be clear whether it is possible to teach creativity, it is certainly possible to discourage or inhibit it.


However, the picture is not entirely one of "doom and gloom".  Although they may be hampered by the constraints of an excessively regulated educational system, there are many innovative teachers devising and delivering challenging and engaging learning opportunities for their students that will serve to foster creative approaches to learning.  However, there is no magic formula.  One cannot teach "creative thinking" as if were a defined process.  What can be done is to create the kind of learning environment in which creativity is encouraged and in which it will subsequently germinate and flourish.






Attempts to discover a correlation between intelligence and creativity have faltered - and it has been suggested (by E. P. Torrance and others) that although intelligence is a necessary condition for creativity, it is not of itself a sufficient condition.  We would suggest that such a correlation will not be apparent whilst researchers depend on a definition of intelligence that views it as a unitary phenomenon capable of being represented by a single score.


Arthur Koestler (The Act of Creation, 1964) proposed that creativity is the result of the intersection of two different frames of reference.  Similarly, Heilman, Nadeau and Beversdorf (Creative Innovation: Possible Brain Mechanisms, 2003) have suggested that "creative innovation might require coactivation and communication between regions of the brain that are not strongly connected."


Gardner's theory of Multiple Intelligences provides a model whereby we can identify those different aspects of our intelligence, the combination of which engenders creative patterns of thinking.  In order to exhibit high levels of creativity, individuals would need to exhibit high levels across several domains of intelligence.  Individuals who were used to solving problems from across a wide range of domains would be more likely to call upon the full spectrum of intelligence and thus be more likely to demonstrate higher levels of creativity.


See Brainboxx article: Creative Problem-solving using all your intelligences.






J.P.Guilford (The Nature of Human Intelligence, 1967) distinguished between convergent thinking (which aims to focus on finding the "correct answer" to a problem) and divergent thinking (which involves creating multiple possible answers to a given problem).  Creativity, which depends on the generation of ideas formed from seemingly random connections, is more a function of the latter than the former.  Consequently, creativity will flourish in an environment in which the individual is not constrained by having to follow carefully defined pathways - but is permitted to "get it wrong", to "break the rules", to do the unexpected, and to have fun.


Examining the neurobiology of creativity, Alice Flaherty (The Midnight Disease, 2005) identifies three factors that contribute to creativity.  Whilst the brain's frontal lobes are responsible for generating ideas, the temporal lobes have a tendency to inhibit creativity.  High dopamine levels in the brain increase activity in the frontal lobes and reduce the effectiveness of the temporal lobes (one of whose roles is to rationalise, monitor and evaluate ideas).  This would suggest that creativity depends in part on the suppression of the brain's inbuilt "rationality monitor" (which serves to hamper the creative response).


Inhibition is the enemy of creativity.


This kind of uninhibited creativity is in evidence in children's play - and in adult manifestations of playfulness, notably in improvisational comedy.  The best performers recognise the need to become "socially disinhibited" and display a readiness to say "the first thing that comes into their head" regardless of how silly it might sound - or however extreme.  This approach also underpins the practice of brainstorming (see below), where the evaluative function only takes place once the generation of ideas has been completed.


Creativity is the recognition of artistry amidst chaos.


Far from being anarchic, there are echoes in this suggestion of a new approach to learning.  John Holt, seen by some as the "father of unschooling", maintains that "Since we cannot know what knowledge will be most needed in the future, it is senseless to try to teach it in advance. Instead, we should try to turn out people who love learning so much and learn so well that they will be able to learn whatever needs to be learned."


This view is espoused by those who recognise that "Learning to Learn" is a more effective approach than simply defining a body of knowledge to be assimilated (and subsequently churned out for the inevitable test).  The Campaign for Learning defines "Learning to Learn" as a process of discovery about learning. It involves a set of principles and skills which, if understood and used, help learners learn more effectively and so become learners for life. At its heart is the belief that learning is learnable.  This approach seeks to redefine the relationship between the learner and the teacher - so that the quest for learning becomes a joint venture.  This in turn lays the foundation for a more challenging and fulfilling form of learning - and one that is more likely to engender a creative problem-solving approach.


In reality - you do not have to force creativity - just allow it!






If creativity is the human response to problematic situations, then we can best engender creativity in the classroom by providing an environment that is rich in challenge and "knee deep in real problems."  Too often, teachers play safe by only allowing their charges to encounter problems to which they (the teachers) already know the answers.  No doubt we have all been subjected to that teacher-centred game, "Guess the answer I came up with earlier."  Along the way to guessing the "right answer", many other creative solutions are often dismissed summarily because they fail to fit with the teacher's preconceptions.  Maths "problems" in particular are often presented in such a way that they bear little relation to "real life" (and the "solutions" - so often a conveniently obvious number - are invariably rather contrived).


If problem-solving is to be truly fruitful in developing the creative response, then the problems need to be genuine ones - not merely those fabricated by the teacher or the text-book.  This means that teachers must be prepared to take risks - because they may not "know" the "right answer" or the "correct way to do things".  Frederick Herzberg, amongst others, has suggested that people are motivated by challenge.  Consequently, learners' creativity will be kick-started when they are encouraged to move away from the comfort zone of off-the-peg problems and ready-made answers.


Brainstorming has long been recognised as a catalyst for the creative process.  Practised in its simplest form, participants are provided with a stimulus (which may relate to the "problem" or topic under consideration) and encouraged to say "the first thing that comes into their head".  At this stage, there needs to be an understanding that "anything goes" - and that there will be no comment, criticism or evaluation of the ideas thus generated until the next (or subsequent) phase of the process.  During the subsequent evaluation phase, all ideas are dealt with anonymously - to ensure that the generation of ideas is not inhibited by fear of failure or disapproval.


Mindmapping is another recognised means of generating (and recording) creative ideas.  Although there is an inherent (and individualised) structure to a Mindmap, the free-form nature of the diagrammatic representation encourages the generation of novel connections.


Communities of enquiry can also foster a more creative approach to learning.  These were developed in the 1960's by Matthew Lipman, an American professor of philosophy, whose aim (through the Philosophy for Children programme) was to teach children to think critically and creatively through philosophical dialogue.  A Community of Enquiry session will often start with a stimulus before inviting participants to raise any questions that this may prompt.  This often leads to the Community focusing on a specific topic of interest expressed in the form of a question - which is then reflected on and discussed by the group.  To ensure that the process does not degenerate into an opinionated free-for-all, participants are encouraged to introduce their response to previous contributions by making use of the format, "I agree with ABC because XYZ".  The process, as well as developing participants' listening, speaking and thinking skills, encourages them to respect differences of opinion as they engage in a constructive approach to developing their common understanding.  The whole approach owes much to the ideas of John Dewey who maintained (in his Theory of Interest) that education needs to be grounded in the experience of the learner.  (It fits well with the jigsaw analogy proposed earlier in this article.)






Puzzleboxx is a collection of puzzles designed to engage and motivate young people (and adults, too) to develop their thinking skills.  Although some of the puzzles can be solved by the application of logical reasoning, many of them depend for their solution on adopting a slightly more "quirky" approach.  Puzzleboxx is intended to encourage and validate non-traditional, more creative thinking skills.


BrainBites is a collection of activities (which include mental and physical puzzles, problems and brain-teasers) that can be used to inject variety and interest into lessons.  Although most of the activities support the kinds of learning outcomes that form the backbone of literacy, numeracy, problem-solving and interpersonal skills, each activity is also designed to introduce fun into the classroom whilst stimulating students into making their own creative connections.


Sci-box contains a host of ideas for simple science investigations that can be carried out by children aged 7-11.  As well as proposing a topic for investigation, each section includes suggestions regarding the equipment that may be required; how to ensure "fair test" procedure; how to record and present findings; evaluating the investigation, etc.  Nevertheless, the over-arching emphasis is on encouraging children to think for themselves.






Despite the insistence of educational organisations that they are concerned to develop creativity in their students, it is unfortunate that the New Managerialism that pervades UK education at the beginning of the 21st century does little to facilitate that purpose.  It is typified by the imposition of a powerful management body, driven by targets and efficiency, that overrides the professional skills of its practitioners.  The growing emphasis on accountability, and its bedfellow inspection, tends to lead to a proliferation of Quality Assurance initiatives -which often have the effect of de-motivating staff because of increased bureaucracy.  Furthermore, it leads to a  growing emphasis on Compliance - and the development of a tick-box culture - which stifles genuine creativity.


Under such a regime, those who seek to develop creative approaches to teaching and learning may find themselves in conflict with what they see as an obtrusive management structure that fails to recognise their efforts.  Often, creative initiatives are "kept under wraps" for fear of reprisals.


By contrast, in those educational settings where leaders have the courage to trust the professionalism of their colleagues, staff are motivated and encouraged to "do what they think best".  Whereas there is no guarantee that every new idea will be an outstanding success, often it is noted that grassroots initiatives are more likely to achieve results - with targets being achieved as a by-product of genuine innovation.






Building on Guilford's work on the nature of creativity, the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking are an attempt to attribute scores to a range of factors that constitute creativity.  They tend to focus on an attempt to measure "divergence" - but such a concept can only ever be subjective.


Attempts to devise a "Creativity Quotient" (similar to IQ) have, thankfully, proven unsuccessful.  IQ tests supposedly measure the relative intelligence of a person compared to a "statistical average".  However, it is apparent that this involves comparison against what is deemed to be "normal" - which is in effect a measure of convergence.  But if creativity is a function of divergence, it will prove extremely difficult (if not impossible) to differentiate whether a candidate's response to a prompt is "extremely creative" (hence registering a high CQ) or merely "a poor attempt at a right answer" (and hence an indication of low IQ).  Clearly, this is a dichotomy that cannot be readily resolved.


In the light of Gardner's theory of Multiple Intelligences, any attempt to quantify intelligence using a single number (no matter how contrived) must be flawed.  In the same way, because creativity is the product of a variety of intelligence factors, any attempt to establish a Creativity Quotient will be equally flawed.


Unfortunately, there are those who will insist (in the interests of accountability) that creativity must be measured.  They seem to have forgotten (or never heard) the adage that "you cannot fatten a pig by constantly weighing it".  Their insistence on testing and measuring (and their subsequent insistence on implementing particular processes that they mistakenly believe to be the panacea) will sound the death knell for the development of a truly creative curriculum.


When considering the question of whether or not to measure creativity, the answer is simple: Don't do it!