Encouraging Creativity at SXSW

Sat in a panel on encouraging creativity today. Thinking about it, it was a mix of creativity and productivity from a business view point. I think that’s good when thinking about trying to encourage creativity in the classroom. Both business and education seem to want a consistent, for lack of a better word, organized creativity.1

Here’s the my take on the presentation by Behance.com2

They say there are three buckets that influence the amount of productive creativity going on in a place.3

Bucket One – Productivity

  1. Generate ideas in moderation – too many ideas can be just as bad as too few. There might be a point where you want everyone throwing out all their ideas but you also need a culling process to focus things. They recommend having one person who’s job was not to come up with ideas but to look at them critically.
  2. Urgent vs Important – make the distinction and act accordingly. If we want teachers to be creative, that’s a big one for schools. They also encourage windows of “non-stimulation” to focus on doing the important things. Think of a teacher’s and administrator’s day. It’s all urgent and creates a kind of harried, unfocused scurrying that gets lots done but often at very shallow levels. I think of our administrators at any meeting. They are forever on their Blackberries, laboriously typing out emails.

    I think that comes from a good place. They feel the need to help, to be there, even when they are not. They care about their teachers and schools. That’s good. But I do believe that the interruptions, the lack of focus on the now hurts them in the end on both sides.

    Teachers have a lot of that going on as well. You can’t have reflective practice if you don’t ever stop to think about what you did and what you should do in the future. Harried people, overloaded by the day-to-day struggle don’t learn things on their own, focus on their own development or do anything other than try to stay above water. I’m not saying it’s the teachers’ fault but I am saying that’s going on with a lot of them.

  3. Energy & Organization – creativity x organization = impact This one was interesting in that they advised both for and against organizing.

    They did advise for an organizational framework which seemed pretty similar to GTD.4 They have three options, action items, back burner items and reference items.

    Action items are what you’d expect- stuff you can do and should do pretty immediately. They start with verbs.

    Back burner items are things you might want to do later but can’t right now for any number of reasons. Keep track of these and go back over them periodically to see if you can trash them or bump them to action items.

    Reference items are just pieces of information. They found that people who filed these things almost never looked at them again so the time and energy spent filing them was wasted for the majority.5

    The energy line– I like this idea.6 This post describes them in detail. I’d love to see classroom teachers doing this and then seeing what the combined energy line looks like for the school. Does it echo the continuous school improvement plan (or whatever you call your school’s plan for the future)? How do the school energy lines look in terms of division initiatives? It’d be interesting and I bet it’d help explain why teachers and principals and everyone else feels so overwhelmed.

    I’d love to do this with my department and I like the idea of it becoming office artwork to both encourage use and reflection on what is important right now. I also like they’re idea of surrounding yourself with evidence of good work you’ve done, of successful actions taken as as a way to encourage you to keep doing things. One of my old bosses7 encouraged me to keep what he called an “Att-a-boy” folder in my email. That way when someone told me I did a good job I could put it there and help remind myself that I do good things if I ever got down. It sounds a little touchy-feely but it’s a nice way to remind yourself you do good things for people because, for me, it’s often too easy to focus on where you haven’t had the success you wanted.

Bucket 2 – Communal Forces8

In their mind there are three types of people- doers, dreamers and incrementalists (dream/do alternately). Doers are practical and what stuff to do. Dreamers, uh, dream up stuff but don’t care about doing it and incrementalists dream up things and then do them alternatively. They haven’t really hit on the best mix for a group as each has their downside. The first two are pretty obvious but the incrementalists apparently tend to do too much and often don’t focus on one thing so that it can really succeed.

The main thing they discussed which really made sense to me was fighting. They felt it was both necessary and good to have some fighting in a group9. That makes sense to me on a couple of levels. One, if your idea is good it should be able to take a challenge. Two, if you’ve really thought about something, worked hard on it, etc. you ought to care about it and be willing and eager to defend it. I don’t trust people who say OK to whatever is thrown at their ideas. It makes me think they don’t care and so why should I?

Now how do you initiate, orchestrate and control “fighting” among adults, let alone with students? No idea. They weren’t real specific on that one. I imagine you’ve got to set rules etc. It could get messy very easily.

– probably enough for now 1142 words is an abomination of a blog post, I’ll wrap it up in a second post.


1 It’d be interesting to see if “business creatives” (broad category I know) have less suicides, drug deaths and other issues than say creative people in literature or music. Is that kind of creativity that drives Edgar Allen Poe different than the kind that drives the Dyson guy who made that vacuum on a ball?

2 All this is based on a book they wrote/are writing after interviewing all sorts of creative people. No, I don’t know how they (or we or you) define creativity. I would be interested in reading the book.

3 I do like the idea of productive creativity in a way because it makes things more focused on doing/making things and less about just the idea of being creative. You can be super creative and/or super smart but if you don’t apply it and do something it doesn’t really matter.

4 Not exact but similar.

5 Legal recording keeping excluded.

6 Although the name is a little new agey for me

7 An awesome guy and former Army helicopter pilot during Vietnam.

8 This will be shorter, I swear.

9 The first rule of fight club . . .

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