All humans have an imagination - it's what separates us to a large extent from other animals. All human beings have the capacity for innovation. Human beings are inherently problem-solvers.
So why do we all not display creativity? Why do so many adults and children seem to take life as it comes rather than take circumstances into their own hands through creative thought and action?
It's because creativity, not matter how fierce, no matter how important, no matter how original, isn't worth spit unless it accompanied by some corollary skills that give it life. Creativity is often described as a spark. And as we know, sparks quickly burn out unless fanned into flames. It's this "fanning" work that creates fire as every good Boy and Girl Scout knows.
Donald Treffinger and his cohorts in his comprehensive guide Assessing Creativity: A Guide for Educators establish four "personal creativity characteristics": Generating Ideas, Digging Deeper Into Ideas, Openness and Courage to Explore Ideas, and Listening to One's "Inner Voice. The first two relate closely to divergent and convergent thinking - important but standard items included in most definitions of creativity.
But it is the third and fourth characteristics that we too often overlook in helping students develop their innovative potential. Treffinger defines them as:
The openness and courage to explore ideas category includes some personality traits that relate to one's interests, experiences, attitudes, and self-confidence. The characteristics in this category include problem sensitivity, aesthetic sensitivity, curiosity, sense of humor, playfulness, fantasy and imagination, risk-taking, tolerance for ambiguity, tenacity, openness to experience, emotional sensitivity, adaptability, intuition, willingness to grow, unwillingness to accept authoritarian assertions without critical examination, and integration of dichotomies or opposites.
The listening to one's "inner voice" category includes traits that involve a personal understanding of who you are, a vision of where you want to go, and a commitment to do whatever it takes to get there. The characteristics in this category include awareness of creativeness, persistence or perseverance, self-direction, internal locus of control, introspective, freedom from stereotyping, concentration, energy, and work ethic.
I would define these as dispositions or mindsets. And without them, the most wonderful creative spark will dim.
Thanks to the TED talk by Angela Lee Duckworth, grit - or what might be called tenacity or perseverance - is becoming a popular educational term. "Grit scores," studies show, are more highly correlated to success than IQ. Getting kids to stick with a task, project, or practice is a vital component of creativity.
Understanding the needs and viewpoints of others is a critical ability for many types of creativity. Authors understand the needs of their readers. Designers sense what has appeal. Good salespeople know what their customers want. And I believe there are ways to increase our capacity for empathy.
Courage and Risk-tolerance
Creativity means doing things in new ways and understanding that the new is not always understood or appreciated, even widely criticized, especially when introduced. Having the will to continue in the face of disapproval takes courage and tolerance for risk.
Self-esteem and Confidence
People with good opinions of themselves, who value their own ideas, who have confidence in their judgement are more likely to experiment. Much of this is gained by having success in the past, having good mentors and parents, and knowing just how much to bite off in any given enterprise.
Independence and Subversiveness
Let's face it, people try new things because they are not happy with the old ones. And many establishments and the people in them are pretty determined to keep things just the way they are. For both students and teachers, entrenched in a model of 20th century schooling, impatience with change engenders subversiveness - the active, but often disguised, actions deliberately designed to undermine "education as we know it." (Or business as we know it, or science as we know it, or art as we know it, etc.) My guess is you would not be reading this post if you weren't at least a little subversive yourself. Congratulations!
What other dispositions, mindsets, personal attributes to you see as critical to making creativity more than a quickly dead ember?