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Myths of creativity

Nothing focuses the mind like a hanging.
Samuel Johnson

... as does giving a public presentation.

Having had a long time interest in creativity as a motivating factor in good school projects, I decided in a weak moment that creativity might deserve a short presentation all of its own. So I wrote up a description and the librarians of the British Columbia Teacher-Librarian Association actually asked me to give the talk at their conference last week. So I needed to focus the mind..

Here was the outline:

  • Why is it imperative we take developing creativity seriously? (Daniel Pink, Richard Florida, Ken Robinson, job trends, Bloom, "21st entry skills, Net Gen attributes, etc.)
  • Concerns and myths about creativity. (Totally supported by research my own opinion.)
  • 10 ways to encourage creativity in every assignment.
  • Four practice lessons to modify for creativity. (We ran out of time to do these.) 


Concern 1: Creativity isn't always about art. Kids can be creative in lots of areas, ala Gardner's multiple intelligences.

Johnson’s Multiple Creative Abilities 

  • Writing/Presenting/Storytelling
  • Numeric problem-solving
  • Graphic artistic (drawing, painting, sculpting, photography, designing)
  • Athletic/movement (Sports, dance)
  • Musically artistic
  • Humor
  • Team-building
  • Problem-solving
  • Inventing
  • Leading
  • Organizing
  • Motivating/inspiring

Concern 2: Creativity must be accompanied 
by craft and 
discipline. Being creative doesn't mean rules or guidelines aren't present - even necessary.

Concern 3: The world is not really interested in your creativity, but that's OK. Even we don't "see" a child's vision, we need to encourage it and remember creativity can be its own reward.

Concern 4: If we ask students to demonstrate creativity or innovation, we need some tools to determine whether they have done so. Some great ideas from participants in the workshop on this, especially regarding asking kids to articulate the creative process.

Concern 5: Creativity is the antithesis of good test scores. While most tests look for "one right answer," creativity can and should be an important part of school. Is test taking or formulating new ideas the better whole life skill?

Myths of creativity (from Harvard Business School research - Breen, Bill. “The 6 Myths of Creativity,”, Dec. 1, 2004)

  1. Creativity Comes From Creative Types
  2. Money Is a Creativity Motivator
  3. Time Pressure Fuels Creativity
  4. Fear Forces Breakthroughs
  5. Competition Beats Collaboration
  6. A Streamlined Organization Is a Creative Organization

Myths of creativity (Johnson)

  1. Only academically “gifted” children are creative.
  2. Creativity does not belong in core courses like math, science, social studies, English.
  3. Creativity is fluff.
  4. Creativity does not require learning or discipline.
  5. Technology automatically develops creativity.
  6. Teachers themselves do not need to display creativity.

10 ways to encourage creativity in every assignment

  1. Ban clip art.
  2. Ask for information to be shown in multiple formats/media.
  3. Encourage the narrative voice when writing and when giving oral presentations.
  4. Ask for multiple possible answers to questions or multiple possible solutions to problems.
  5. Give points for "design” on all
 assignments - more than just
 "neatness counts." (The Non-Designers 
Design Book , Robin Williams)
  6. Instead of simply marking a response "wrong," ask for a reason why the answer was given
  7. Take advantage of free online
 tools. See the change your image workshop.
  8. Ask students to design classroom rules, modify procedures and solve issues.
  9. Honor students’ personal
 interests and unique talents.
  10. Seek out the creative ideas of other educators.

The presentation has some rough edges, needs some trimming, and will benefit from comments from participants. But hey, I had fun with it!


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Reader Comments (12)

Your #6 myth struck a chord with me. Many teachers believe that creativity is the burden of the student, that when you get older, you're not as creative. All you have to do is look at the slew of writers/painters that did their best work in their golden years. Google them yourself, you'll see.

I just hope I don't have to wait 40 more years for my best work.

October 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJ.

Just seconds ago I tweeted the following quote from Cathy Davidson:

"Independent thinking" is so much a product of the Industrial Age. We've been trained to believe we think independently.

This erupted following my sitting in on a UC Davis colloquium in which she was featured. She's a Duke University scholar, meta-thinker/writer, professor of English. Based on the work she has done, I would venture she would include the student-based equivalent of #10 in your 10 ways to Encourage Creativity: 11. Encourage intense and critical interactivity among students and challenge them to develop a supportable, documentable argument for what they think they know.

If you don't know her work, she's worth a very careful look.

October 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBill

Some great ideas and some really good guidelines. Thank you.

October 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDr Gary Woolley

Teaching them to be creative will help them to be resourceful and creative in solving their problem in the future.

October 27, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterkids tops

Fostering creativity usually comes at the cost of compliance.

"Be creative kids, as long as you do it inside of my defined set of expectations."

October 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJ.

Hi J,

I would only hope that creativity is age agnostic. Hoping the new thoughts keep popping until the stroke!


Thanks, Bill. I've heard of Cathy and will pursue her work.


October 31, 2011 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

You made some very good points about the myths of creativity. It's surprising that people believe in myths like Breen's # 1, as such beliefs harmfully tell people that they're hopeless and should not even bother trying to be original or think outside the box. Your 4th point is also rightfully a myth, as it simply encourages individuals to never develop or practice, resulting in them stagnating or becoming overconfident in the quality of their work. These myths certainly need to be addressed on a large scale for the sake of actual creativity.

October 31, 2011 | Unregistered

To take your (1) ban clip art further, I'd like to suggest a total ban on images stolen off of the Internet, even those with Creative Commons licenses.

Kids can draw, scan their drawings, photograph them, take images on digital cameras, on the mobile phones, create video on their phones, edit and publish them in a billion different ways with tools freely available on the Internet...

It's absurd that teachers allow them to (lazily) steal images to illustrate their projects. Of course they won't be creative if that happens!

November 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTom Walton

Hi Tom,

Unfortunately, I am guilty of using other's images as well! But your point is well taken.



November 1, 2011 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

Not sure I can put my hand on my heart and say I'm not (occasionally) guilty of the same thing,Doug :-)! But I do think it's a fundamental step in promoting creativity -- to cut off access to things that will completely stifle creativity.

I say to my own (ESOL) learners: if you cut and paste entirely from Wikipedia (or others) and/or you steal images, you get zero.

November 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTom

Another idea: (11) find out right at the beginning of the year, which of your learners can draw, or enjoy doodling. In groupwork, from then on, ensure that you have at least one kid that does enjoy it in each group, and get that kid to produce the artwork to illustrate any projects.

Another: (12) demonstrate how to draw simple things and how good doodles can look in things like PowerPoint, and how much more original they make a presentation than (your already banned) cllipart.

November 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTom

Thanks, Tom, I am adding your suggestions to my list!


November 3, 2011 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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