Crossing the creative divide: three intrinsic attributes of creativity

There’s been some talk lately about creativity, creative advantage, or, as Bruce Nussbaum puts it, Creative Intelligence or Creative Quotient (CQ). This is great; for the first time in a while, creativity is being heralded as a valuable attribute in business and innovation, and is a more understandable concept than perhaps “design thinking.” Moreover, creative practice in many disciplines, including many MBA programs, is being touted as the critical ingredient for innovation. Check out what the Rotman School of Management (and others) has been doing, or read Roger Martin’s book, The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage.

With this renewed interest in creative thinking, one might assume that creativity among design practitioners and students is on the rise. But in fact, from a design school admissions perspective, it’s never been lower. Students applying to design schools today have far fewer incoming skills, a smaller breadth of ideas, and they generate a fraction of (art) work than applicants did in previous years.

In talking with students, parents and colleagues at other universities, kids just aren’t exposed to the variety of creative practices that were available years ago. While I hesitate calling this an epidemic, I will assert that this change makes design school recruiting more difficult, complicates teaching creative practices, and further enhances the creative divide between those who “are creative” and those who believe they are not.

However, the innate ability to make abstract connections among disparate entities and a willingness to jump into a messy design problem (or any complex situation) with both feet are becoming rare skills. The ability to get down and dirty by building, making, and exploring without stringent boundaries is a skill seemingly disappearing from today’s youth, but increasingly sought by employers who are searching for “innovators.”

So why does this disconnect exist?

The problem is that many primary and secondary schools no longer emphasize creativity or expansive thinking as a fundamental practice in science, math, history, and art. Many schools (and, by extension, teachers) are under immense pressure to achieve basic academic testing scores, so they are forced to teach directly from the book to achieve predictable and measured outcomes.

Consider the number of arts and music programs across U. S. high schools axed or “mothballed” during budget cuts. During tough economic times, creativity is viewed as expendable. I’ve heard over and over again, that “diversionary activities” like art can happen outside of school. In the era of No Child Left Behind, our collective perception is jaded by a culture that promotes coloring within the lines, waiting for directions, and asking permission before doing anything. We’re not preparing students to deal with the abstract and complicated problems they’ll experience in life. We’re creating a creativity deficit.

In his book How We Think, written a hundred years ago, John Dewey noted that teachers at the time struggled to find a balance between mass education and teaching pupils individually. He wrote: “… the native and unspoiled attitude of childhood, marked by ardent curiosity, fertile imagination, and love of experimental inquiry, is near, very near to the attitude of the scientific mind.”

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Crossing the creative divide: three intrinsic attributes of creativity