Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Invisible creativity

One of the most commonly cited 21st century skills is creativity. Supposedly today's jobs require more of it than ever before. But no solid research shows how to teach it, whether it even can be taught, what it is, or whether it even is a particular "what"--i.e., a single, well-defined concept.

Plenty of people in education ignore these uncertainties. Many seem to think of creativity in fuzzy, "right-brain" ways: i.e., primarily in terms of the visual arts and open-ended activities and multiple solutions.

Encouraging this perception are the sorts of questions one finds on the standard creativity tests, for example the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking. Many of them are visual in nature, soliciting drawings or explanations based on open-ended visual prompts, as in 1 and 2 below:



Even the more verbal creativity questions often tap into the visual (as well as favoring open-ended prompts and multiple solutions): for example, those of the "imagine as many uses as possible for a paper clip" variety.

What about the creativity that goes into composing music? Proving mathematical theorems? Coding new software? Engineering a new type of building material? Figuring out how to survive a wild fire? These varieties are much harder to measure on general creativity tests. Far less visible (literally!) than stereotypical creativity, they're also much harder for lay people to notice, comprehend, and appreciate.

And so it goes with the creativity of our left-brained professionals.


Anonymous said...

Can't resist commenting. My Dad, who as far as I know never painted, drew, wrote for fun, composed music (altho he did enjoy listening), cooked, or did anything else considered creative, was one of the designers of SNOMED, the first computer-bssed attempt to handle medical records and diagnistic criteria digitally.

Barry Garelick said...

Just curious; did SNOMED use the SNOBAL programming language?

Anonymous said...

Don't know. Could be. This work was done in the '70's and '80's. It was based on an earlier digital classification system (SNOP)that started in the '60's.

kcab said...

This post reminded me of an article I read a few years ago: The Creativity Crisis. Personally, my take-away from that article was that the Torrance test does seem to measure something that is related to creativity expressed in "left-brained" ways.

Barry Garelick said...

Creativity is overrated. Steve Wilson, mathematician from Johns Hopkins, commenting on the "math wars" said this about creativity:

"There will always be people who think that you must be able to solve problems in multiple ways. This is probably similar to thinking that it is important to teach creativity in mathematics in elementary school, as if such a thing were possible. Forget creativity; the truly rare student is the one who can solve straightforward problems in a straightforward way."