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Go Forth And Create

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Are you creative? No, that’s not one of those silly Facebook quizzes; it’s a serious question. Would you describe yourself as “creative?”

Turns out, that’s a pretty important question. Folks who study such things say that “creativity” is one of the things employers are looking for in today’s workforce, and not just in places like Silicon Valley. While we value creativity in our culture, it seems as if we’re quashing it in our kids: Common Core doesn’t exactly call for “outside the box” thinking.

Are you creative? If you say “no,” then can you be taught to be creative? It seems that you can. Gerard Puccio at Buffalo State College in New York teaches creativity.

Puccio teaches his students that creativity comes in four stages – clarifying, ideating, developing and implementing. Clarifying is ensuring you’re asking the right question; ideating is about exploring as many solutions as possible; developing and implementing are making sure the idea is practical and convincing to others.

Of the four, ideating is perhaps the stage that most obviously involves innovative thinking. It’s here that the familiar brainstorming technique comes into play. The idea, says Puccio, is to force the brain out of a purely analytical state in which it tends to focus on one solution and ignore other options. A de-focused mind is more likely to make the unusual connections that just might suggest a novel solution to the problem.

Gabrielle Emanuel learned creativity at Dartmouth … but not in a classroom. She learned it at a workbench, figuring out power tools with a man named Dudley Whitney.

As a student at Dartmouth, I spent oodles of time in his shop. It’s a place with no curriculum and no grades. The studio is open to anyone.

Students and professors can just swing by with an idea of something they want to make and, then, they work one-on-one with Whitney or another instructor to learn how to make it.

During my four years, I carved bowls and built desks. But mostly I asked zillions of questions.

That’s the kind of atmosphere that encourages and even, well, “creates” creativity. Whitney, it seems, innately knows what Puccio knows: that creativity can be taught, but it needs structure. While that may seem counter-intuitive (Shouldn’t creativity be “free?” All anything-goes?), structure is key when it comes to helping people become visionaries.

Jennifer Mueller, a professor at the University of San Diego, stresses the importance of structure:

There is this impression that: Give students freedom and they’ll be creative. And what we know is that they need some structure up front,” says Mueller.

They need a well-defined problem — like building a piece of furniture — and they need to know the constraints and the range of possibilities.

That echoes something Whitney said: “You start with a stick. And they’ve never started with a stick before. And the next thing you know you’re making decisions.”

At that point, he says, the student doesn’t even know the possibiliites.

“So that’s my job in a lot of ways, just to help people discover the possibilities. The potential of a stick of wood.”

My favorite teacher told me, in regards to writing, “First, you have to learn and follow the rules. Then you can break ’em.” That is exactly what is needed for creativity. Whether it’s learning how to code, paint, write, learn surgical techniques or do urban planning, creativity is key.

Artist Mako Fujimura ponders creativity and what it means to be Christian:

God is the Great Artist and Christ is the embodiment of humanity and divinity, fully human, fully divine, fully artist. William Blake said, “Jesus was the only artist who ever lived.” I agree with that. I think His artistry was about salvation, but it doesn’t end there, it begins there. His artistry not only brings us to a redeemed humanity and reconciled nature, but also to a new world and new Heaven. Christ completely changes the structure of the material universe that we know today. That’s the grand work of an artist.

Turns out, that’s the grand work of not just artists, but all humanity.

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Elise Hilton Communications Specialist at Acton Institute. M.A. in World Religions.

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