Sometimes I get emails from strangers. Usually they either point me in the direction of some bullshit to observe, call me out on my own crapness, or send me thoughts. This email from creativity expert Michael Michalko (see bio below) falls into that last category. It's from his Amazon.com blog and is about how creativity is essentially educated out of us.
My favorite line from this is that, "We enter school as a question mark and we leave as a period." So true. Everything at school points to knowing answers rather than embracing the questions and the possibilities. We are pushed, prodded, and incentivised to forget about the state of unknowing and the curiosity that flourishes there and answer the freakin' question. Number two's out. Stop talking. Heads down. Go. Stop. Get out of here.
We were all born spontaneous and creative. Every one of us. As children we accepted all things equally. We embraced all kinds of outlandish possibilities for all kinds of things. When we were children we knew a box was much more than a container. A box could be a fort, a car, a tank, a cave, a house, something to draw on, and even a space ship. Our imaginations were not structured according to some existing concept or category. We did not strive to eliminate possibilities, we strove to expand them. We were all amazingly creative and always filled with the joy of exploring different ways of thinking..And then something happened to us, we went to school. In school we were taught how past thinkers interpreted the world. We were not taught how to think, we were taught to reproduce what past thinkers thought. When confronted with a problem, we were taught to analytically select the most promising approach based on past history, excluding all other approaches, and to work within a carefully defined direction towards a solution. Instead of looking for possibilities, we are taught to look for ways to exclude them. It’s as if we entered school as a question mark and graduated as a period..Consider a child building something with a Lego construction set. She can build all kinds of structures and when she's finished she can pick up pieces and move them, add more pieces, divide structures into new structures and so on. There are clear constraints on the set and construction. They cannot be put together any which way, they will not stay together if unbalanced and gravity pulls them apart. These constraints are inherent in the objects and their design. It is the design of the pieces that imposes these limitations. The child quickly learns the ways the Legos go together and the ways they don't go together. She ends up building a wide variety of structures that satisfy the Legos design and constraints..If the only constraint were making something out of plastic and the child had at her disposal every method of melting and molding plastic, the Lego constructions themselves would be only a tiny fraction of the possible products, and would make the Lego constructions look contrived and unmotivated when compared to her other products..With Legos it is the constraints that are inherent in the design that limits what can be built. With us it is the constraints that are inherent in the system of thinking we are taught that limits our imagination and inventiveness. This system was designed by Aristotle in ancient Greece. It is predicated on the belief that thought is determinate and exclusionary, whereas, paradoxically, creative thinking is indeterminate and inclusionary..Perhaps this is what Thomas Edison meant when he said that his greatest blessing in life was his lack of “formal” education.
I have my kid in a school that has embraced his premise. Instead of teaching kids the way things are done, they teach kids about problems and let them solve them. Or how to create their own problems and discover the solutions for those. Their philosophy is to bring out the genius in every kid. Something I think Edison would have approved of, methinks.
Michael is the author of the best-seller THINKERTOYS: A HANDBOOK OF CREATIVE THINKING TECHNIQUES, Thinkpak: A Brainstorming Card Set designed to facilitate brainstorming sessions, and Cracking Creativity: The Secrets of Creative Geniuses. Check them out over here....