Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Teaching Creativity

So one of the things that arose in our last talk was "can't teach creativity". Which struck me as interesting, as my mom teaches a class in EXACTLY THAT! She always calls it her creativity class, but the actual name is "ORG 680/MGT 682: Creativity" at Oakland University in South Eastern Michigan.

This week I've taken some time to go through
1) 3 powerpoints from the class
2) the syllabus
3) "critical questions"
4) a description of the project

My mom has mentioned many times that teaching this class is particularly difficult because its "full of engineers." She says the most challenging part of that is engineers expect a "right" answer and she does not teach that there are "right answers" in the creativity class. I think this is an interesting concept, particularly related to UOCD and creativity classes.

If there isn't a right answer, how do you judge things?

Anyway, reflecting upon the syllabus:

The texts required in the class are:

Management and Creativity by Chris Bilton, 2007, ISBN-10: 1-4051-1996-9, ISBN 13: 978-1-4051-1996-2, Blackwell.

The Imagination Challenge by Alexander Manu, 2007, ISBN: 0-321-41365-2, New Riders Press.

Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath, Publisher: Random House (January 2, 2007), ISBN

which is interesting, as this class has already had us reflect upon Made to Stick. I originally found out about it through my mom's course.

These books, along with the description, make the class seem much more about creativity in management and business, rather than straight up creativity. I think it's much more feasible to teach creativity *in* something rather than alone, because it provides a much firmer context to provide examples within, rather than defining an abstract (nebulous?) concept. So I would title the course something more along the lines of "Practical Creativity (innovation?) for your everyday life." This ties into one of the projects being redefining the MBA program at Oakland based on what you've learned in the class, or creating a scenario related to some other school or work situation to use creativity.

One other thing of note in the syllabus was that readings were front-loaded and deliverables back-loaded. This implies that some background information is needed to be creative. I found this paralleled with UOCD readings before the phases. Perhaps creativity is generally taught in an uncreative way? This would be further echoed by the powerpoints that contain text based on books on creativity- valuable information, presented in a standard format to get it across to allow to spring to the next location.

On the whole, I'm still reflecting on this concept of "traditional means to teach untraditional topics so that people can work outwards on their own".

Is this a topic we could use spiral learning with?


erik_kennedy said...

Ellen! Sweet post! I like what you're saying about teaching creativity in an uncreative manner. That goes perfectly with the needing context for creativity, rather than creativity in and of itself. Hopefully VI itself is context for creativity.

Mel said...

"If there isn't a right answer, how do you judge things?"

I think the more proper phrasing is that "there isn't a right metric, but depending on what metric you're using, there might be a right answer." So you pick the scale of rightness/judging that you want, and evaluate from there - but it's hard to say one metric is better than the other, at some level.

Lucy Dunne said...

Great questions, Ellen.

Especially in "right answer" or linear-thinking disciplines, the question of how creative endeavor is evaluated comes up a lot. Often the answer is "you know it when you see it", and that actually holds reasonably true in evaluation.

I find it useful to think of "goodness" of creativity being related in some ways to depth. That is, a "bad" creative answer would be one that is obvious, easy to arrive at, and unsurprising. A "good" creative answer would be one that I didn't think of myself, or that draws on more than one source of building material, or that is layered or complex. That doesn't mean that the solution has to be complicated--elegant solutions can easily display depth or complexity (the number of ways you can imagine the solution being appropriate or the number of reasons it's "good", etc.)

That said, evaluation of creativity often utilizes "experts" in that domain (ie, specialized critics, established professionals within a discipline). Theoretically, as creative specialists, they are likely to have a predisposed sensitivity to implicit variables, and to have amassed years of exposure to creativity within their specialization. So, someone who follows fashion or is sensitive to fashion all day, every day picks up more cues (essentially gathers more raw data) than your average Joe. Someone who is a specialist professionally also regularly engages in conscious analysis of this raw data. That person is harder to surprise or impress than most people would be, and is a better judge of the goodness of a given endeavor.

Lucy Dunne said...

PS: in response to your comment about "teaching" creativity--I think of it more as "inspiring" creativity or "practicing" creativity. You can't necessarily teach someone this context-less imaginative skill (being extra-conscious of it often is actively *un*helpful), but you can teach them ways to engage in a deeper or broader process, you can help them realize the value of a deeper process by taking them through that process many times (practice), and you can challenge their self-perceived limits by taking them outside of their norm and pushing them to do more.

And as related to depth--the more you are asked to be creative, the more mundane superficial creativity becomes. Essentially, being exposed to more "creativity" raises one's threshold for being impressed, and that can often result in higher self-standards. So practicing creativity in any context can make you a "better" creator by encouraging you to challenge yourself beyond the obvious or the first idea.