Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Hamlet: A Cautionary Tale for Creativity Students

 Written by Judy Bernstein


British theater director, Sir Richard Eyre (1999), conceptualized the character Hamlet as “the new man of the Renaissance in opposition to the old Feudalism”. Hamlet, Eyre (1999) explained, was “a student intellectual” who attended a “forward thinking” university, a “contemplative... vulnerable... sensitive” man “bound by feelings and intellect”. The play, Hamlet, portrays this gentle and imaginative man’s ineffective response to his still feudalistic environment. Specifically, the play depicts the ghost of King Hamlet “obliging” (Eyre, 1999) Prince Hamlet to murder his uncle, and all the struggle, sorrow, and lost potential that results from Hamlet’s inability to manage that obligation. Wittenburg, Hamlet’s forward thinking university, has instilled in its student all the promise of the Renaissance, but has not equipped him to navigate the old system it opposes.

In this parable, and Sir Eyre’s understanding of it, there is a cautionary tale for those of us so dedicated to “creative thought and action” (R. A. Beghetto and J. Kaufman, personal communication, November 16, 2016) that we pursue it via higher education. We, like Hamlet, stand for a body of knowledge and collection of perspectives that have begun transforming our culture. We, like Hamlet, have had the luxury of exploring that knowledge and our relationship to it in the safety and seclusion of higher education. And at some point, after departing our programs, likely when our resolve or judgment seem as frayed as Hamlet’s, we will inevitably encounter the ghosts of old commanding us to oblige.

When that happens, how might we avoid the “reckless, helter skelter swerving between reason and chaos” (Eyre, 1999) that tears at Hamlet? What might be ways to sidestep self-crisis? Eyre (1999) thought Hamlet “cauterized his feelings” to “become a soldier”. How might we escape compromising, or losing touch with, our creative selves? How do we—as advocates of a new era, one that prizes creativity—avoid Hamlet’s fate? When the creativity we wish to embody and have an obligation to cultivate in others is threatened, how might we safeguard our transformed selves in a still transforming society?

Creativity in School and Society

Through formal study of creativity, our intrinsic impulses toward creative thought and action are given agency, language, and meaning. According to Puccio, Keller-Mathers, Acar, and Cayirdag (2017), recent qualitative and quantitative research regarding the impact of the International Center for Studies in Creativity’s (ICSC) Master’s program at Buffalo State revealed that “the graduate program at ICSC has a transformative influence on students in general and on their attitudes more specifically” (p. 207). Creativity students emerge from classes and programs with a sense of purpose, feeling armed with the knowledge and tools that we assume will serve us through life as much as they do in school. In part, we assume that higher education in creativity will enable our resilience in any upcoming environment because of its tremendous personal relevance. However, we also see its relevance reflected all around us.

Florida (2012) spoke of a burgeoning new social and economic system defined by what he called “the creative ethos” (preface). The idea that a creative culture is growing was echoed by Nussbaum (2013) who explained that the silos of creative thought, innovation and execution that have emerged in Silicon Valley and the New York start-up scene aren’t “all that different from what Csikszentmihalyi described in his writing about Renaissance Florence” (p. 28). He further noted that “the spirit of collaboration and competition” (p. 29) is likewise similar.

This blossoming creative culture differs from what Florida (2012 called “the old Fordist industrial system” (preface) and is informing “new industries and businesses” as well as “the way we live and work” (preface). It speaks to values that “stress belonging, self-expression, opportunity, environmental quality, diversity, and quality of life” (preface), values also core to training in creative thought and action.

Workplaces appear to be embracing creativity. Puccio et al. (2017) asserted, “The trends clearly show how creativity and creativity-related skills have come to the fore in the age of innovation” (p. 188). The social media site, LinkedIn, reported in 2011 that the adjective, creative, was the one used most by its members to describe themselves (Florida, 2012, preface). Celebrated business icons now champion creativity. D. Kelley, founder of IDEO and Stanford’s, and his brother, T. Kelley, a partner at IDEO and co-author with J. Littman of the bestselling The Art of Innovation (2001), collaborated in 2013 to write Creative Confidence, Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us. In it they shared their observation that “in the business world, creativity manifests as innovation” (Kelly & Kelley, 2013 p. 3). At the 2010 Stanford For the Future of Design Conference, D. Kelley told Nussbaum, “You need two things to be competent in the world today. You need analytic ability and the tools that go with it. And you need creative ability and the tools that go with it” (Kelley, 2010, as cited in Nussbaum, 2013, p. 15).

Prominent technology company, Google, has a head not only of innovation, but also of creativity programs. Dr. Frederik Pferdt holds both titles and has described Google’s “culture of innovation” as one that “encourages employees to rediscover the child within by being curious and asking questions” (as cited in Salazar, 2016, p. 1). The offices are intentionally designed to resemble a children’s playground to “awaken the people’s wild imagination just like a child: to let them aim for and think of impossible things” (Salazar, 2016, p. 1). Puccio et al. (2017), concluded that “business and educational leaders have given a great deal of thought to the kind of skills that predict success in the 21st century, and one skill set that has been consistently identified is creative thinking” (p. 188).

Further evidence of a new era emerging can be seen in the way previously understood realities, issues and goals are being seen through creativity-inspired frames. The Denver Art Museum entitled its exhibit of costumes “Star Wars and the Power of Costume,” but Moore, (2016), from Colorado Channel 9 News, reported on the exhibit with the headline “Star Wars Exhibit Showcases Its Creative Process”. Library Specialist, Martinson, (2017), sought more visitors to the A.K. Smiley Public Library in Redlands, California by touting a new collection of books about creativity. Study results published in the October 2016 Journal of Management suggested that customer satisfaction would be increased by creative employees (Martinaitye, Sacramento, & Aryee, 2016) and neuroscientists are investigating “aha moments” and other creative processes in the brain (Kounios & Beeman, 2015).

High profile periodicals are spotlighting creativity for myriad reasons and in various ways. The Harvard Business Review featured an article by Yorton (2015), CEO of Second City Works, entitled “3 Improv Exercises That Can Change the Way Your Team Works”. On the same day, January 12, The New York Times featured Richtel’s (2017) editorial, “To Encourage Creativity in Kids, Ask Them: ‘What if’?” and Forbes published the Young Entrepreneur Council’s “Five Ways to Become a More Creative Leader This Year”.

Play, and its constellation of benefits beyond the delighting of children, is being widely studied. Brown, a medical doctor, and Vaughan (2009) said, “Play lies at the core of creativity and innovation” (p. 5). Henricks (2015) asserted that play increases excitement and optimism and that the opposite of play is depression, not seriousness. Indeed, the broad realization that play matters is very much suggested by the title of Sicart’s (2014) book, Play Matters. Serious games, an extension of play involving immersive game situations and role-play, are becoming popular not only for entertainment purposes, but also to support learning, collaboration and idea generation in organizations across the private and public sectors (Agogue, Levillain & Hooge, 2015).
This Could Be the Start of Something Big

While the inroads creativity has made into mainstream culture are exciting, it seems important to remain mindful that we are still only at the start of a new era. Florida (2012) wrote that “a new global economic order is taking shape, but it is still confined within the brittle carapace of the old” (preface). Though creative thinking, and other creative skills such as strategic thinking and leadership, are seen as highly desirable or important among the MBA recruiters recently surveyed by Bloomberg/BusinessWeek, there was also the opinion that too few applicants possess these skills (Puccio et al., 2017). “Indie Capitalism,” Nussbaum’s (2014) vision of an economy driven by creative intelligence is a hope for the future, not a description of the present.

But to those involved in creativity-related higher education, creative intelligence is already key. While creativity is just beginning to gain traction in 21st century society, it is a fully realized resource within the ICSC community. The ICSC program is populated by those convinced of creativity’s relevance. For them, it’s not just the start, it’s already something big.

A Mandate

Thrust from the safety of his likeminded community at Wittenburg, and struggling to navigate the far less relatable environment in which he finds himself in Elsinore, Hamlet sinks into despair, indecision, and irrevocable silence. As dedicated students of creativity with the capacity to contribute what Kaufman and Beghetto (2009) called “Pro-C” creativity (p. 4), we have a mandate to succeed where Hamlet does not. Specifically, we must recognize, cultivate, and help manifest creative potential—no matter the circumstances—to more effectively negotiate the old era, while still being champions of the new.

To a very large extent, creativity students at the ICSC are sufficiently prepared. The center tries and succeeds in instilling in its students thinking skills, tools, and sensibilities that meet an unpredictable future (Puccio et al., 2016). Research conducted by the ICSC “indicated that the graduate creativity program seems to be effective in teaching students both what to do, as well as what not to do to be more creative” (Puccio et al., 2017, p. 201). Students are taught “the crucial life skills that will help [us as] learners stay up-to-date, savvy and adaptive” (Puccio et. al., 2016, p. 207). However, could we do more? Might we have opportunities to develop and, then have students pledge themselves to, what Lego Serious Play creators Kristiansen and Rasmussen (2014) termed “Simple Guiding Principles” (p. 32)? Simple Guiding Principles are crafted to:

help act aligned and with intention when faced with the unexpected;
guide rather than lead, helping to decide what to focus on and how to act;
help one make decisions in real time (Rasmussen, 2015, p. 332).

If “attitudes precede and direct behaviors” (Puccio et al., 2017, p. 207), perhaps a set of Simple Guiding Principles might further bolster attitudes? Might they be a touchstone to focus on when we are thinking about cultivating creativity?

Nevertheless, if the goal is to fortify attitudes to inform behaviors that can last a lifetime, through good fortune and bad, then there also seems value in seeking to extend the learning. Burnett and Keller-Mathers (2017) described the Torrance Incubation Model [TIM] as “designed to set the stage for incubation to occur beyond the time frame of the lesson, given the deep engagement of the lesson itself” (p. 285). Regarding extending the learning specifically, Burnett and Keller-Mathers (2017) wrote, “The key principle underpinning this third stage of the TIM is that learning through incubation occurs most powerfully when the students begin to connect what they have learned with their possible futures” (p. 291).
Nay, but swear’t [Hamlet: I.v.144] 

An oath, taken publically, upon the awarding of a creativity-related degree in higher education, could be a way of steadying our transformed selves. According to political science professor, Rutgers (2013), “In the early twenty-first century, oaths seem to be making a genuine comeback: they have been suggested for managers, scientists, as well as bankers” (p. 250). The Hippocratic Oath, taken by those graduating from medical school, is understood to have two purposes.

It constitutes a public commitment on the part of the prospective doctor to preserving the traditional values of the medical profession and to meeting the obligations expected of a doctor. It is also an important symbolic ritual in the process of professional identity formation. (Cruess & Cruess, 2014, p. 96).

According to Cruess and Cruess (2014), “the public act of reciting the Oath commits doctors to meeting certain standards of both competence and behavior during the course of their professional and private lives” (p. 96).

The President of the United States takes an Oath of Office, men and women of the armed forces take an Oath of Enlistment, and typically, American citizens serving on federal juries take a Juror’s Oath. Given these examples, it seems reasonable to consider that a kind of Creativity Oath might serve as a helpful compass during times of indecision or difficulty throughout one’s career and beyond.

Next Steps

Those who pursue creativity in higher education should determine and articulate a vision for what they want this work to stand for and continue to activate, in the long term. To borrow from the Hippocratic Oath, what should be the traditional values of creativity and obligations expected of a practitioner? And, what might be all the ways a commitment to those ideals could be expressed via symbolic ritual? Design criteria should be established for a formal Creativity Oath that will help ‘creativity school’ graduates effectively sustain their transformed selves in a still transforming society. Liedtka, Ogilvie, & Brozenske (2014) defined design criteria as “a succinct expression of the ideal end state of your project . . . the ideal qualities or attributes of a great solution, but not the solution itself” (p. 20). The process of establishing design criteria for a Creativity Oath will allow the higher education creativity community to reflect deeply on and ultimately identify which promises Pro-C practitioners should most strive to keep.

Just as Hamlet represents the vanguard and promise of a new era, so do committed students of creativity. Once we leave the safety of our like-minded higher education communities we will encounter dangerously severe obstacles to our “forward thinking” (Eyre, 1999). Hamlet does not survive the obstacle he encounters and his society doesn’t experience the leader he might have been. A solemnly sworn Creativity Oath, or set of vows, might empower creativity program graduates to resist, and perhaps convert, the ghosts of old commanding us to oblige.

Judy Bernstein, VP Insights & Innovation for CBA, is an accomplished Innovation Facilitator with deep experience in CPG, Rx and OTC. She also serves as adjunct faculty for the Joint Special Forces University where she teaches innovation to elite military officers. She has a passion for collaboration, expertise in group invention, an M.S. in Creativity & Innovation, and certifications in Change Leadership, Lego Serious Play, Creative Problem Solving, FourSight, Synectics and Design Thinking. She is the author of Growing the We: Collaboration and Character Education, a creative thinking resource for teachers.


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