Nov 292014

This week our discussion looked at creativity and how ideas about creativity can be shaped to our advantage as working media producers and social media facilitators. Our starting point was to think about how knowledge and creativity has traditionally been conceptualised. One way of thinking about creativity is that it is the prevue of a small group of exceptional people who are inspired by some deep force within them to generate ideas and take leaps of the imagination that normal people would not be able to do in the general routines of their daily lives. We call these people artists or auteurs.

In the past, as pragmatist philosopher John Dewey notes “Certain men or classes of men come to be the accepted guardians and transmitters – instructors – of established doctrines. To question the beliefs is to question their authority; to accept the beliefs is evidence of loyalty to the powers that be, a proof of good citizenship” (Dewey, 1910, p. 149). In the traditional model of creativity and knowledge development students are expected to sit at the feet of a great teach and somehow absorb knowledge merely by listening and contemplating the great thoughts that are being articulated. We sit at the feet of the gods and the gods pour knowledge into our empty, vessel like heads.

Gnothi_seautonBut there are other traditions that call into effect a different approach to the development of knowledge and the management of the creative impulse. It is said that on the wall of the temple of Apollo at Delpi was the maxim ‘Know Thyself’. As one of the Delphic maxims and it was inscribed in the pronaos (forecourt) of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi according to the Greek periegetic (travelogue) writer Pausanias.

So in the rediscovery of forms of classical humanism based on the writing of the classical Greek writers, that took place in Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, that we know as the Renaissance, this ancient Greek aphorism to “know thyself” was taken on board as one of the founding principles of Western liberal idealism. ‘Know thyself’. What does this mean? Don’t let other people do the knowing for you, perhaps? Establish the knowledge for yourself, perhaps? Contemplate your own role in the knowledge and wisdom accumulation process, perhaps? Whatever the variation of the idea, there are plenty of way that we can think about how we come to understand the knowledge and awareness that we have of the world around us, our role in it and the ideas that seem to float around between people. Deferral to other people, as Dewey notes, merely because they are in an authoritative position isn’t to be encouraged.

Read more about the Delphic Maxims:

So the aim of this lecture was to establish and explore the idea that creative thinking is just one form of thinking, and that we should be encourage to consider the skills and capacities that each type of thinking calls on and for which we may be better suited than others to practice. Not everyone thinks in the same way, and recognising cognitive diversity is a key part of a rich and fulfilling life experience, especially as we are members of a diverse learning and thinking community who want to apply the fruits of their thinking to many different things.

ideationCritical Thinking – what it is and why it counts
We can get under way by contrasting creative thinking with some alternative types of enquiry and mind-set. I always struggled with gaining a working sense of ‘critical thinking’ is. It’s a term that was always bandied about by my tutors and we we’re expected to be able to connect with what was meant by its use somehow automatically. But being somewhat obtuse and stubborn in my approach to received wisdom, I could never just go with the comments that my work needed to be more ‘critical’. In what sense more critical? To what degree more critical? How would I recognise that I was being critical enough or not? When would I know that I have been critical enough? Now when I reflect back I understand that these where critical observations about being critical. At the time, this wasn’t very helpful in assisting me to pass my assignments. Perhaps I should have just accepted the words of the guardians of knowledge that I was close to and just get on with it?

Now it’s a lot easier to find out what it means to be more critical, because we can Google the term. So, here’s a definition that comes from an excellent document by Peter A. Facione about critical thinking I found on the web. According to Facione being critical is to be

Confident in Reasoning

mindpower1Now if only I’ve been able to get this list when I was an undergraduate, things would have been a little simpler, because I would find it easier to think about each of these in turn and explore the specific skills that are related to each function or set of actions. Facione points out that the cognitive skills listed here are “what the experts include as being at the very core of critical thinking: interpretation, analysis, evaluation, inference, explanation, and self-regulation”. So lets look at these in more detail as outlined by Faicone:

Interpretation is “to comprehend and express the meaning or significance of a wide variety of experiences, situations, data, events, judgments, conventions, beliefs, rules, procedures, or criteria.”

“Analysis is “to identify the intended and actual inferential relationships among statements, questions, concepts, descriptions, or other forms of representation intended to express belief, judgment, experiences, reasons, information, or opinions.”

Evaluation as meaning “to assess the credibility of statements or other representations which are accounts or descriptions of a person’s perception, experience, situation, judgment, belief, or opinion; and to assess the logical strength of the actual or intended inferential relationships among statements, descriptions, questions or other forms of representation.”

Inference means “to identify and secure elements needed to draw reasonable conclusions; to form conjectures and hypotheses; to consider relevant information and to educe the consequences flowing from data, statements, principles, evidence, judgments, beliefs, opinions, concepts, descriptions, questions, or other forms of representation.”

Explanation as being able to present in a cogent and coherent way the results of one’s reasoning. This means to be able to give someone a full look at the big picture: both “to state and to justify that reasoning in terms of the evidential, conceptual, methodological, criteriological, and contextual considerations upon which one’s results were based; and to present one’s reasoning in the form of cogent arguments.”

Self-regulation to mean “self-consciously to monitor one’s cognitive activities, the elements used in those activities, and the results educed, particularly by applying skills in analysis, and evaluation to one’s own inferential judgments with a view toward questioning, confirming, validating, or correcting either one’s reasoning or one’s results.”

According to Facione critical thinking is primarily concerned with judging the truth-value of statements and seeking errors, in which the credibility of the evidence is assessed against the development of an argument, dilemmas are resolved and the reasoning emerges in a critical form.

o-mind-uploadingIn contrast to the critical thinking model we might consider some alternatives, such as lateral thinking. Lateral thinking is more concerned with the movement value of statements and ideas. A person would use lateral thinking when they want to move from one known idea to creating new ideas, and to take advantage of a more divergent thinking approach.

If we look at some of the colloquial definitions of creativity that are typically used to describe the types of activity that results in different outcomes, we can list them in the following way:

  • Producing or bringing about something partly or wholly new.
  • Investing an existing object with new properties or characteristics.
  • Imagining new possibilities that were not conceived of before.
  • Seeing or performing something in a manner different from what was thought possible or normal previously.

Many creative ideas are generated when somebody discards preconceived assumptions and decides on a new approach or method that might seem to others unthinkable. This can take the form of different processes:

  • Chance – randomly seeing what happens.
  • Culling – producing lots of ideas and discarding many.
  • Destruction – breaking assumptions.

So what does creative thinking compare to? Can we map out the different types of thinking and compare them? This is a short list, which is by no means exclusive:

Factual Thinking: Journalism and the Five W’s – Who? What? Where? When? How?

Systems Thinking: Events are separated by distance and time, catalytic events can cause changes in complex systems; changes in one area have a knock-on effect in another area; systems thinking can be used to study any kind of system – natural, scientific, engineered, human, conceptual.

Dialecticism: Exchange of argument and counter-argument. Thesis – proposition. Antitheses – counter-proposition. Refutation-Synthesis.

Vertical Thinking: Chance; essential elements are derived one at a time; elements come together in one thinker at a special time.

Different organisations call on different thinking patterns in order for people working in those organisations to fit in and thrive. Organisations tend to structure people around the dominant model of thinking styles determined as the functional approach to get things done. We can see the contrast of different thinking styles, though, if we look at different examples:

Systems Based Organisation: Hierarchy, professionalism, rules & standards, remunerated, accountable, defined income, status [i.e. traditional radio station].

Network Based Organisation: Flat, community, collaboration, voluntary, responsible, mixed income, esteem [i.e. Web 2.0 media].

One way to make an assessment of the effectiveness of the creative thinking in a project or an organisation is to use the ‘Torrence Test of Creative Thinking’. Building on J.P. Guilford’s work and created by Ellis Paul Torrance, the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (TTCT), is a test of creativity that originally involved simple tests of divergent thinking and other problem-solving skills, which were scored on four scales:

  • Fluency: The total number of interpretable, meaningful, and relevant ideas generated in response to the stimulus.
  • Flexibility: The number of different categories of relevant responses.
  • Originality: The statistical rarity of the responses.
  • Elaboration: The amount of detail in the responses.

When we look at creative thinking skills we can start to ask some broader questions, such as can creative thinking be learnt and practiced? Should we limit our creative thinking impulses by revering inherited authoritarian ways of doing things? Can the old restrictions be swept away and will this lead to a stronger set of creative outcomes? If we adopt a more humanistic or liberal tone in accounting for creative thinking, where to we put alternative thinking processes, and in what way are they supported? Do different social situations, however, call for different thinking skills?

Running-001One thing I find is that repetitive activities are good for my thinking processes, and there’s some evidence that activities like running: are actually an aid to the creative process? To what extent can we take hold of these supporting processes and channel them into improving our creative thinking processes?

Thinking skills are wide and varied, however, sometimes we can become so sure of our thinking style that we cease to consider that other ways of thinking might be more appropriate or better suited to achieving effective and sustainable outcomes. For example, it can be said that many highly intelligent minds are liable to become trapped in poor ideas because they can defend them so well. Or, that being critical and destructive can be a more appealing use of intelligence rather than standing back from the process and making a contribution to the overall well-being of the people involved in the process. To a large extent the trap of critical thinking is made worse by the absurd Western belief that ‘critical thinking’ is enough on its own.

Ultimately then, we can boil down the idea of creative thinking into two choices:

  • Is thinking a matter of intelligence?
  • Is thinking a skill that can be improved by training?

Edward de Bono famously makes the point that knowledge in its own is not enough. If we are to be truly effective and innovative thinkers then we need to workout ways that draw on the creative and constructive sides of our cognitive ability, that incorporate both design and operating aspects of thinking with the elements of knowledge management that often regarded as being of primary importance. Just knowing something is not enough Being able to apply that knowledge operationally is essential. For De Bono “intelligence is a potential, ” and “thinking is an operational skill.” This means that we can take steps to improve our cognitive routines, practices and abilities. Some things we will be naturally more capable of than others, but we can compensate by adopting mnemonic routines that channel and external process rather than thinking that out thinking has to go on exclusively inside our heads.

If you don’t think this matters, where a quote from a report in the Guardian about a report made to the then Secretart of State for Education, Michael Gove:

“Education in England is no better than mediocre, and billions of pounds have been wasted on pointless university courses and Sure Start schemes for young children, Michael Gove’s special adviser has said in an outspoken private thesis written a few weeks before he is due to step down from his post.

Dominic Cummings, the most influential adviser to the education secretary in the past five years, also argues in a revealing 250-page paper that “real talent” is rare among the nation’s teachers – and, eye-catchingly, says educationists need to better understand the impact of genetics on children. The adviser, known for making fierce demands of civil servants, writes that the endgame for the Department for Education should be to reduce its role to acting as accountants and inspectors, employing hundreds and not thousands of civil servants – and creating an environment in which private and state education would be indistinguishable.”

What Stops us Thinking Creatively?
So what often stops us from thinking creatively? Alcohol? Coffee? Sleep? Other People? Time wasting? Sex? There are many reasons that we feel that we aren’t being creative, and they can emerge at any time. The trick when this happens, however, is to look to some routines and techniques that can help us transition through those moments. Here are some techniques that we can use in our general practice or as a way for use to overcome blocks?

Association: An association is your ability to successfully connect seemingly unrelated ideas, concepts, questions or problems from different fields or subject areas. In fact, the foundation of creativity is built upon the framework of connecting things in a new and original way. When it comes to creativity, we often may not know how all the pieces will connect, however we have faith that eventually as we connect more pieces together — by finding unique associations — that in time the idea puzzle will evolve.

Imagination: “The brain is just an endless knot of connections. And a creative thought is simply … a network that’s connecting itself in a new way. Sometimes it’s triggered by a misreading of an old novel. Sometimes it’s triggered by a random thought walking down the street, or bumping into someone in the bathroom of the studio. There are all sorts of ways seemingly old ideas can get reassembled in a new way.”

Decision Tree: “You start a Decision Tree with a decision that you need to make. Draw a small square to represent this towards the left of a large piece of paper. From this box draw out lines towards the right for each possible solution, and write that solution along the line. Keep the lines apart as far as possible so that you can expand your thoughts. At the end of each line, consider the results. If the result of taking that decision is uncertain, draw a small circle. If the result is another decision that you need to make, draw another square. Squares represent decisions, and circles represent uncertain outcomes. Write the decision or factor above the square or circle. If you have completed the solution at the end of the line, just leave it blank. Starting from the new decision squares on your diagram, draw out lines representing the options that you could select. From the circles draw lines representing possible outcomes. Again make a brief note on the line saying what it means. Keep on doing this until you have drawn out as many of the possible outcomes and decisions as you can see leading on from the original decisions”

Ideas Bank: “An ideas bank is a widely available shared resource (usually a website) where people post, exchange, discuss, and polish new ideas. Some ideas banks are used for the purpose of developing new inventions or technologies. Many corporations have installed internal ideas banks to gather the input from their employees and improve their ideation process. Some ideas banks employ a voting system to estimate an idea’s value. In some cases, ideas banks can be more humor-oriented than their serious counterparts. The underlying theory of an ideas bank is that if a large group of people collaborate on a project or the development of an idea that eventually said project or idea will reach perfection in the eyes of those who worked on it.”

Metaphor: “The English language is littered with metaphors, and this is testimony to the their power. So metaphors can be used to improve communications: They can add impact or can help you explain a difficult concept by association with a more familiar one. Metaphorical thinking can also be used to help solve problems: Use and extend metaphors to generate new ideas for solutions.”

“People often describe creative thinking in the form of metaphors. We talk about “thinking outside the box,” “putting two and two together,” and “seeing both sides of the problem.” But what if we could boost our creativity by taking these metaphors literally? We know our minds interact in all sorts of interesting ways with our bodies — what if we enacted these metaphors physically?”

Brainstorming: “Brainstorming combines a relaxed, informal approach to problem solving with lateral thinking. It encourages people to come up with thoughts and ideas that can, at first, seem a bit crazy. Some of these ideas can be crafted into original, creative solutions to a problem, while others can spark even more ideas. This helps to get people unstuck by “jolting” them out of their normal ways of thinking. Therefore, during brainstorming sessions, people should avoid criticizing or rewarding ideas. You’re trying to open up possibilities and break down incorrect assumptions about the problem’s limits. Judgment and analysis at this stage stunts idea generation and limit creativity. Evaluate ideas at the end of the brainstorming session – this is the time to explore solutions further, using conventional approaches.”

Lateral Thinking: “A way of thinking that seeks a solution to an intractable problem through unorthodox methods or elements that would normally be ignored by logical thinking. Edward de Bono divides thinking into two methods. He calls one ‘vertical thinking’ that is, using the processes of logic, the traditional-historical method. He calls the other ‘lateral thinking’, which involves disrupting an apparent sequence and arriving at the solution from another angle.”

Gardner-YouTube-001So, it is useful to identify different techniques that we might employ to help and facilitate the effectiveness of our thinking. What are the thinking tools that we think are better suited to our own style of thinking or the organisation that we work for? Can we overcome blockages by using different techniques at different times? Can we flip our language use to help us look at the world afresh? In juxtaposing ideas what can we identify that is as useful as our search for correspondence and conformity?

Howard Gardner’s book Five Minds for the Future looks at different thinking styles that he believes we will need to adopt in order to thrive in the future. There’s a good video of Howard that is worth watching in which he explains the ideas he’s worked on and has shared.

We can list the different mind-sets as Gardner describes them:

The Disciplined Mind:
“The absence of disciplinary thinking matters. Shorn of these sophisticated ways of thinking, individuals remain essentially unschooled” (Gardner, 2008, p. 36).

“Scholarly disciplines allow you to participate knowledgeably in the world; professional disciplines allow you to thrive in the workplace” (Gardner, 2008, p. 37).

“The disciplined mind has mastered at least one way of thinking – a distinctive mode of cognition that characterises a specific scholarly discipline, craft, or profession” (Gardner, 2008, p. 3).

The Synthesising Mind:
“The synthesising mind takes information from disparate sources, understands and evaluates that information objectively, and puts it together in ways that make sense to the synthesiser and also to other persons” (Gardner, 2008, p. 3).

The Creating Mind:
“The creating mind breaks new ground. It puts forth new ideas, poses unfamiliar questions, conjures up fresh ways of thinking, arrives at unexpected answers” (Gardner, 2008, p. 3).

The Respectful Mind:
“The respectful mind notes and welcomes differences between human individuals and between human groups, tries to understand these ‘others,’ and seeks to work effectively with them” (Gardner, 2008, p. 3).

The Ethical Mind:
“The Ethical mind ponders the nature of one’s work and the needs and desired of the society in which one lives. This mind conceptualises how workers can serve purposes beyond self-interest and how citizens can work unselfishly to improve the lot of all” (Gardner, 2008, p. 3).

Overall then, thinking about the role and the purpose of creative thinking varies, and the language that is associated with creative thinking is quite often contradictory, but there seems to be a settled message. Peter Arvai who is the founder and CEO of Prezi the online presentation tool, suggests that “Creativity is not a skill—it is a mindset.” Arvai believes that anyone can be creative, but that we “shouldn’t think of creativity as something you either have or you don’t. There is a required mindset that enables creativity.”

However, as Zygmunt Bauman notes, “it is one thing to have the ability to change or modify our skills and quite another to reach the goals we seek” (Bauman & May, 2001). Therefore we have to think carefully before we rush into a particular course of action or development. As John Dewey suggests “Playfulness is a more important consideration than play. The former is an attitude of mind; the latter is a passing outward manifestation of this attitude. When things are treated simply as vehicles of suggestion, what is suggested overrides the thing. Hence the playful attitude is one of freedom” (Dewey, 1910, p. 162).

Creative thinking is ultimately one that is free to play with ideas, test them, take them apart, rebuild them and reconfigure them for different purposes. Here’s to play and innovation!

Critical Questions:
What are the range of thinking skills that we will need in the information age?
What are the practical information management skills that we need?
How will we need to act, behave and interrelate in the information age?

Bauman, Z., & May, T. (2001). Thinking Sociologically (2nd ed.). Oxford: Blackwell.
Dewey, J. (1910). How We Think. New York: D.C. Heath.
Gardner, H. (2008). Five Minds for the Future. Boston: Harvard Business Press.
De Bono, E. (1982) Thinking Course, BBC Active, London.