Thursday, April 28, 2011
Does Grassroots Creativity Education Need Nourishment?
Written by Graduate Student Dana Calanan
Here’s a familiar scene for a budding creativity specialist. You’re at a party and small talk is the mainstay. Upon introducing yourself, your new acquaintance asks that time-honored question -- “So, what do you do for a living?” How do you respond? As a new creativity expert, I reply, “I’m in graduate school in Creative Studies.” At first, their quizzical stares intimidate me as I fumble for the words to explain myself. I begin with a simple definition that supports the field’s credibility, “It’s the psychology behind creative thinking or behavior.” The head tilt becomes a little less severe, but I can tell they still need more information. So then I say, “We do creative problem solving, or come up with ideas for innovation.” Usually they seem to vaguely understand by this point. However, there are times when all I can connect with them on is the term originated by Alex Obsorn – Brainstorming (1953).
Brainstorming, the well-known technique used in idea generation, is often mistaken for the act of creative problem solving. This is one of the many misconceptions regarding creativity. Another myth that hinders creative behavior is the belief that is reserved only for special people or endeavors. (Richards, 2007, p. 25). At the International Center for Studies in Creativity (ICSC) at Buffalo State College (BSC), myth busting is happening through awareness and a solid education. The department has instituted a fairly new vision: “Igniting creativity around the world: Facilitating the recognition of creative thinking as an essential life skill” (International Center for Studies in Creativity, n.d.).
We have all been affected in various ways by the ongoing global changes. Now more than ever, the need for creativity combined with community is at an all-time high. Half a later and Osborn’s words still ring true, “…there is a crying need for more creative thinking” (1953, p. 5).
Alex Osborn’s book, Applied Imagination (1953), brought the concept of creative thinking into the light and since then it has spawned a field of research that continues to be controversial. Due to the nature of the topic, it lends itself to being subjective and ambiguous, even in the eyes of its researchers. Many theories and models exist regarding the phenomena and it has had a long journey in gaining recognition and credibility among academics. Is it any wonder that one gets puzzling looks when trying to explain it to the average person?
I have sat through many thought-provoking and insightful lectures regarding creativity. In the application of creative thinking, I’ve noticed that despite the importance stressed on creativity’s benefit in everyday living, much of the content is geared toward organizations, leadership and formal education, primarily the education of children. (Personal observation, 2010, 2011). This made me wonder if the outreach for creativity education was actually trickling down to a grassroots level. That is, has the average person been exposed to the basics of creativity and if yes, how well? Utilizing social media to solicit responses, I created a quick survey to further examine my questions.
A Quick Creativity Survey
Upon reviewing the most common myths surrounding creativity, I posed eight simple yes or no questions, as well as one that was open-ended. It was entitled A Quick Creativity Survey and those who participated provided their answers anonymously. To my surprise, the reaction was incredible - - within approximately an hour, more than 50 responses had been collected and
the numbers continued to rise. The sample group of consisted of 211 people. The survey indicated interesting results as seen in Figure 1. The most standout observation was that 98% of the respondents believe that creativity was important in daily life, and 75% were interested in learning more.
Another misconception surfaced when 40% of those polled believed that Brainstorming and Creative Problem Solving (CPS) were the same thing. Similarly, 41% also thought creativity and innovation were the same -- despite the fact that 39% said they have had some education in creative studies. A limitation of my quick survey was that my populace was not thoroughly investigated. Therefore, generalizability cannot be established. A prime example of a question worth examining further regards creative studies education – what was learned and where was this education procured? More information would certainly affect the future results.
Fig. 1. A Quick Creativity Survey. Developed by Dana Calanan, 2011.
Why Explain Creativity?
Explaining creativity is necessary for the acceptance of its use by an individual. Due to societal norms, creativity generally dissipates soon after childhood and most of us have experienced creativity as something frivolous and “artsy.” This alone is a reason to take the time to explain creativity to the layperson. They too can experience that, “it [creativity] is something we can all tap into, and it is possible that creativity has its greatest impact on a personal level” (Swahn & Svahn, 2008, p. 3).
Public Creativity Education Outreach
From sitcoms to annual reports, the words: create, creativity, imagination and innovation and various forms of similar phrases are more and more seeping into the public’s consciousness. But are the theories or even the definitions behind these buzz words being fully understood? It appears that the terms are being used in ways that liken them to the latest fad or gadget. My research suggests that there is a need for some clarification. Despite the numerous sites dedicated to the encouragement of being creative, those geared toward teaching the fundamentals of creative behavior and thinking on a public level are hard to find.
Until recently, BSC offered the only accredited Master’s program in the entire world. However, more academically based programs are beginning to surface elsewhere. As of 2010, there were 54 known curriculums worldwide (Yudess, p. 139). The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) – a specialized United Nations agency that rewards creativity – now lists on their website -- www.wipo.int -- only eleven recognized programs in the world that offer Creativity outreach aimed at the general public. Interestingly, the United States is represented by only by the National Inventors Hall of Fame. To me, this fact seems to add to another common myth of creativity – that it is reserved only for geniuses.
There is a great deal of research regarding everyday creativity as well as creative behavior in many other aspects of life. My view, now from both an academic and a pop culture perspective, is that the public is hearing words and phrases, but have not been given the foundational thinking behind them. The ICSC appears to be addressing this issue based on one of the Big Hairy Audacious Goals: “We aim to extract the fundamental principles taught in our curriculum and to incorporate them into public programs that will be available to learners throughout the world interested in developing their creativity” (International Center for Studies in Creativity, n.d.).
Though my survey may not be substantial in its methods, it has revealed a niche -- creativity education on a grassroots level. The impact of such an outreach regarding the basics of creative studies could positively affect the quality of life for many people. Explaining creativity “… will lead to a more creative society, and will enhance the creative potential of our families, our workplaces, and our institutions” (Sawyer, 2006, p. 5). More research is needed to support a hypothesis for this paper, but there seems to be a short in the circuit between creativity research and the very people with whom they are trying to connect.
The influence that creative thinking has on one’s life is not in question. It has been established that it is vital to our growth and can be taught. The real question is whether or not it is being cultivated by and with the general public. While the lines of communication are open -- creativity buzz words are seen and heard nearly everywhere -- sometimes you have to bring the
learning more directly to the people. The conditions are ripe for this to happen now and there is a definite need for developing self-sustainability in individuals, and in turn society.
I believe the field of creativity has the perfect opportunity to harness the interest that has already been piqued by marketing giants and the burgeoning list of creativity experts. Parnes (1992) wrote “…people who care about creative ability in others, can learn to better understand and tap their own creative potential, as well as nurture it more fully in individuals and groups about whom they care” (p. 145). I invite those with the expertise to impart the fundamentals of creativity to the general public, to do so now.
Ms. Calanan has a BS in Fashion from SUNY @Buffalo State. She has been a clothier and entrepreneur, having owned both a vintage & consignment clothing boutique. Dana also worked extensively in theatrical costuming and most recently left her career on Broadway to pursue other interests. This has serendipitously led her to the International Center for Studies in Creativity. Dana’s curiosities are vast, but passions lie in aesthetics, parapsychology, self-healing and violence awareness.
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