If you are looking for an excellent plunge into the messiness, complexity and confusion that exists around the subjects of creativity and applied creativity today, such an opportunity was provided recently by a New York Times article and its accompanying reader comments. The well-meaning introductory article written by Laura Pappano of Wellesley College was entitled “Learning to Think Outside The Box / Creativity Becomes an Academic Discipline”. In this instance the resulting multitude of comments posted by readers of the article are as interesting as the article itself. Intermixed with considerable good intentions, one can see numerous misunderstandings, assumptions, sequential omissions and misfires in the works, some posted with quite a sense of humor.
This Times article was pointed out to us by several Humantific clients so we thought it might be useful to our own audience to offer a few historical context clarifications. [See hand written notations in red above and Modern Applied Creativity Eras below.]
It is not difficult to see that part of the confusion around the article stems from the author, knowingly or unknowingly, intermixing two different subjects: creativity and applied creativity. This confusion is seen in the article’s subtitle, throughout the article text, and subsequently in the numerous reader comments.
In addition the article has an odd time resequencing orientation in that it positions numerous well-known applied creativity historical developments as if they are just now being introduced. Resequencing to suggest newness seems to be a common strategy or misstep (depending on your point of view), seen often in mainstream media with its interest in, and appetite for, depicting simple, excitement generating newness. Resequencing tends to work best in situations where readers have little or no historical knowledge. As evidenced by numerous reader comments, resequencing seemed to not work so well in this particular instance.
Some of the reader comments were downright entertaining.
“akrupat: If you define “creativity” as predominantly the ability to spot problems and produce solutions, you’ve defined it in a way that has nothing whatever to do with the production of literature, painting, music–of art. That kind of definition of “creativity” is about as good as Mark Zuckerberg’s definition of a “friend.”
“Patrick Stevens: The mistake is that the authors of this learning process have confused creativity with problem solving. they may be related, but they are not the same. Problem solving can be taught. Creativity cannot. These instructors are simply giving students useful ways to reach solutions to complex problems. there is no creativity involved. Creativity is inborn and individually specific. It is finding your muse and conversing with him.”
“Wsch: This is America at its best. And I am envious. I have been told I am a very creative thinker, with pretty good critical analytical abilities. It is so nice to see a new genre of courses coming up in colleges called “creative thinking” and “creative problem solving…..”
“al7jj: PhD programs and the publication requirements for promotion basically ensure that creative people are unlikely ever to become tenured professors. Even if a creative person survived 12-15 years of competitive conformity to get tenure, the university environment actively stifles any type of original thought, which makes it ironic for universities to try to teach creativity. I am a retired professor and administrator from a research university, and can safely say that I have never met a really creative colleague in either role.”
“Dan Styer: What confuses me is that this is considered innovative. I was taught creative problem solving in the physics department at Swarthmore College starting in 1973. I have been teaching creative problem solving since I started teaching at Oberlin College in 1985. This physics tradition extends well back into the nineteenth century (James Clerk Maxwell used it) and probably earlier.
“jessica: Seems as though people have at least two concepts of creativity–the artistic kind and then the problem solving kind. This article has nothing to do with the artistic side, it seems to be purely about problem solving.”
“MW: One important caveat to this trend for all the professors out there: out-of-the-box thinking is often confused with bending the rules and operating in a dishonest way. I have noticed that some people who are anxious to be unbound by traditional ways of thinking have a tendency to think the normal rules of social engagement, laws, regulations don’t apply and are there to be broken. The importance of personal integrity and honesty should be taught alongside creative and innovative problem solving. As an example, the so-called “successful” money people at SAC Capital probably justified their unscrupulous behavior as being an out-of-the-box thinking.”
Ironically while this Times article points out the enduring applied creativity perspective regarding need for organizational adaptability in a continuously changing world, it completely misses the central point that rapid adaptation did occur in some academies decades ago, while slow adaptation occurred in numerous knowledge neighborhoods, including many graduate business schools. The fact that many universities have been slow to adapt, slow to integrate applied creativity/adaptability knowledge is a rather different, more nuanced, less politically-correct message than to simply suggest the knowledge has just become available…:-)
As is evidenced in the reader comments, anyone suggesting that applied creativity is just launching as a discipline today would cause considerable head scratching among already informed readers. Of course many seasoned professionals will know that an enthusiastic author’s arrival in a subject terrain is typically considerably different from the arrival of the subject itself.
Many of our Humantific readers know that applied creativity pioneer Sid Parnes *(P) began, decades ago, articulating the various development eras of the modern applied creativity movement. Building from where he left off, Humantific *(H) added some time ago several eras to update Sid’s Modern Eras list.
Modern Applied Creativity Eras:
1940s: Era 1: The Cry in the Dark Stage*(P)
1950s: Era 2: The Hope and Hunch Stage*(P)
1960s: Era 3: The Research, Replication and Report Stage*(P)
1970s: Era 4: The Widespread Application Stage*(P)
1980s: Era 5: The Mainstream Application Stage*(P)
1990s: Era 6: The Deepening Research & Innovation Stage *(H)
2000-2010: Era 7: The Rediscovery & Readaptation Stage *(H)
2011-Present: Era 8: The Global Collaboration & Readaptation Stage *(H)
Perhaps most unfortunately the dumbed-down resequenced approach seen in the Times article unfortunately leaves out the possibility to articulate/appreciate that the initial launch of applied creativity Stage 1 (1940s) was considerably different from what is going on inside Stage 8 (2014) today. Such a resequencing misses that significant rethinking, and reinvention is underway inside the applied creativity community of practice, and that is where much of the innovation action is today. Practice leaders working on the front lines of real-world engagements well know that how smart organizations are rethinking innovation involves continuous adaptation. The newness of Stage 8 today is, and by necessity has to be, significantly different from what was once new in the now long gone Stage 1.
Underway for some time, applied creativity readaptation movement includes the addition of numerous tools, process redesigns, instruments, systematization to ecologies, culture building, enhanced skill-building programs, and the systematic integration of visualized data/information.
As per the earliest applied creativity eras, today often organizational leaders facing the very real need for timely change-making have the appetite for rapid adaptation and real meaningful action in advance of the slow-moving adaptation going on inside many graduate institutions.
Today leading applied creativity practices are moving into the future from Stage 8 not Stage 1.
Suffice it to say that today there is a lot more to organizations building capacity for “Learning to Think Outside the Box” than the resequenced and foreshortened picture created by this Times article!