The Importance of Creativity

January 31, 2016

Last week I briefly mentioned creativity. I was a a leadership conference and one of the topics we were discussing was work/life balance (or more actually for boarding school teachers: work/work balance.) One of the speakers, Hans Mundahl (twitter: @hmundahl … a good thinker to follow if you are a twitter user)  talked about the importance of creativity in our daily lives. Mundahl is a former teacher at New Hampton school and now runs a firm that focuses on creativity and technology. He proposed instead of asking: “How was your day?” or “What did you do today?”, we should ask each other: “Did you get to be creative today?”

Creativity is in no way limited to the arts. One of Mundahl’s examples of creative genius was the team that figured out a new way to land rovers on the Mars. Everyday scientists think creatively about new solutions to problems and mathematicians seek more elegant proofs to questions of the nature of numbers and the world. Historians bring the past to life and readers find connections between life and the written word. In world language students find ways to circumlocute, or describe an idea when you don’t quite have the right vocabulary, and musicians seek ways to bring to life the little black dots on a page. Every subject needs creativity.

Mundahl also talked about the importance and need to find time and focus for creativity. He called it “going down the rabbit hole”. We the space to explore something deeply is very important, even if it isn’t exactly germane to what we “need” to do. One of my favorite rabbit holes is wikipedia. I don’t care to actually share the number of times I have found myself on my computer WAY after my bed time reading about 12th century female German mystics or the main agricultural products of different provinces in China or, most recently, Tengrism. Clicking on the blue words that lead you into new worlds is a fun way to stumble across ideas you never even knew existed. 

A few years ago, I did a fun research “experiment” with some of my classes. We all started on the same wikipedia page and started reading. When you came to an idea in that page that you found interesting, and there was a link, you opened that article in a new tab. We all continued to open new tabs and read new articles. We spent 10 minutes or so, and then all reported in on where we had reached in our reading. Everyone was somewhere completely different from the starting location. Besides being fun (go ahead, you can think of me as a nerd for this being my idea of fun), the exercise is a lesson in connection making and the beginning of research. How do we decide what interests us and how can we bring our interests into our work? How can we be creative in history? While some of the final places that students got to were not related to our topic enough to work as a research topic for our course, everyone had hit a step along the way that was interesting to them, related to our course, and different. 

Two quick side notes:

  1. Wikipedia – great place for fun (I read the dictionary, encyclopedia and atlas for fun as a kid… so maybe my ideas of fun are a bit warped) and first steps of identifying an idea for research. But it is the first step. I would be remiss as a history teacher if I let my students end with wikipedia. 
  2. I think I need to bring this activity back. It is fun. 

So for students this week, I want to talk about two students who I see getting to be creative a lot:

kristina square

This is Kristina. She is from Russia and likes to act and draw. She had an unfortunate run in with the ground while snowboarding last weekend. But a broken arm doesn’t stop her creativity. She was working on a banner for Gehring for the upcoming Winter Carnival. Design, Kristina, design.

sophie square

This is Sophie. She is a skier and runs a mean sewing machine. She has combined these to passions into pattern and an item that has taken school by storm over the past two years. She makes rocking neckies that are not just for the ski slope, but also to be worn while calculating slope in math class. (Ok, that was a bad attempt at making “funny” connections… but, in honor of the fact that creative endeavors can be failures and failures are important too, I am going to keep it in and be proud[ish] of it.) They are THE fashion accessory at Gould. Function and fashion all rolled into one. Ski and sew, Sophie, ski and sew. (But probably not at the same time… that seems like a recipe for disaster. And running the pedal would be tricky in a ski boot…)

sophski square

This is Mercedes. She graduated last year. She was voted best dressed by her class. In the yearbook photo. Mercedes is rocking a Sophski neckie. Great taste, Mercedes, great taste!

Next week, I want to talk about creative process. I may try to go back through my old computer and see if I can find some of my work from college about the creative process… scary. 

But for now, everyone go do something creative today!

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