Monday, July 12, 2010

As Dr. Einstein said, "Creativity is intelligence having fun."

The Creativity Crisis
Linked above is a FANTASTIC article. Please, go read it! It's about creativity, but it also explains what science can tell us about creativity and how to foster it--and why we should. I'll quote some of the bits I found most galvanizing:
What's shocking is how incredibly well Torrance's creativity index predicted those kids' creative accomplishments as adults. Those who came up with more good ideas on Torrance's tasks [as children] grew up to be entrepreneurs, inventors, college presidents, authors, doctors, diplomats, and software developers. Jonathan Plucker of Indiana University recently reanalyzed Torrance’s data. The correlation to lifetime creative accomplishment was more than three times stronger for childhood creativity than childhood IQ.
Emphasis mine. I was surprised when I learned that optimism is a better indicator than IQ or talent for which people will go on to be successful, but this statement blows my mind! Creativity, rather than pure intelligence, is what drives humanity's great leaps forward--and in a huge range of fields, too.

Yet there is one crucial difference between IQ and CQ scores. With intelligence, there is a phenomenon called the Flynn effect--each generation, scores go up about 10 points. Enriched environments are making kids smarter. With creativity, a reverse trend has just been identified and is being reported for the first time here: American creativity scores are falling.
Okay, setting aside the whole THE SKY IS FALLING insinuations here, this "Flynn effect" fascinates me.

We know that reading to a child early in life increases their success in school when they're older, and studies have found children given books at the end of the school year do better the next academic year than children who weren't given books, but this goes further--this says the more you stimulate a brain, the more capable that brain becomes. You concretely increase the person's mental capacity.

This is stunning to me. I know humans are learning machines, but I always thought stuff like talent, intelligence, and creativity were things you were born with--that you could improve upon them (enormously, even), but they were at least nascent in you from the beginning. The Flynn effect implies that some of your intelligence doesn't exist until you create it through use.

Overwhelmed by curriculum standards, American teachers warn there's no room in the day for a creativity class. Kids are fortunate if they get an art class once or twice a week. But to scientists, this is a non sequitur, borne out of what University of Georgia's Mark Runco calls "art bias." The age-old belief that the arts have a special claim to creativity is unfounded. When scholars gave creativity tasks to both engineering majors and music majors, their scores laid down on an identical spectrum, with the same high averages and standard deviations. Inside their brains, the same thing was happening--ideas were being generated and evaluated on the fly.
This doesn't surprise me; I've said before that art is just as hard as science and science is just as creative as art. Still, it's gratifying to learn this has been tested and there's convincing evidence to support my flakey opinions on the matter.


This next bit is particularly interesting in light of what I've said regarding the Show, Don't Tell principle and what you're trying to accomplish with it--chiefly, to make both hemispheres of the reader's brain become engaged in the process of understanding the story.

Given that idea, isn't the following explanation of the process of creativity fascinating? It mirrors engaged reading.

When you try to solve a problem, you begin by concentrating on obvious facts and familiar solutions, to see if the answer lies there. This is a mostly left-brain stage of attack. If the answer doesn’t come, the right and left hemispheres of the brain activate together. Neural networks on the right side scan remote memories that could be vaguely relevant. A wide range of distant information that is normally tuned out becomes available to the left hemisphere, which searches for unseen patterns, alternative meanings, and high-level abstractions.

Having glimpsed such a connection, the left brain must quickly lock in on it before it escapes. The attention system must radically reverse gears, going from defocused attention to extremely focused attention. In a flash, the brain pulls together these disparate shreds of thought and binds them into a new single idea that enters consciousness. This is the "aha!" moment of insight, often followed by a spark of pleasure as the brain recognizes the novelty of what it's come up with.

Now the brain must evaluate the idea it just generated. Is it worth pursuing? Creativity requires constant shifting, blender pulses of both divergent thinking and convergent thinking, to combine new information with old and forgotten ideas. Highly creative people are very good at marshaling their brains into bilateral mode, and the more creative they are, the more they dual-activate.

This next bit tells you why you should write every day:
In the same way, there are certain innate features of the brain that make some people naturally prone to divergent thinking. But convergent thinking and focused attention are necessary, too, and those require different neural gifts. Crucially, rapidly shifting between these modes is a top-down function under your mental control. University of New Mexico neuroscientist Rex Jung has concluded that those who diligently practice creative activities learn to recruit their brains’ creative networks quicker and better. A lifetime of consistent habits gradually changes the neurological pattern.
Emphasis mine. We think of creativity as being a "struck by lightning" affair, but practising creativity on a daily basis makes you more lightning-prone.


This next bit is cool because I'm an instructor, and the sort of applied, integrated learning they're talking about here is something everyone involved in education is alert to right now and trying to work into how they teach. Thus, reading this was a great bit of synchronicity for me.

Active teaching methods interest students, engage them, inspire them to work harder, and they learn so much more. Demanding creativity from students is a fantastic way to unlock their passion for learning, but it's also hard work and quite terrifying--for both the instructor and the students, particularly if they're used to the passive teaching of lectures (which most of us are.)
Consider the National Inventors Hall of Fame School, a new public middle school in Akron, Ohio. Mindful of Ohio's curriculum requirements, the school’s teachers came up with a project for the fifth graders: figure out how to reduce the noise in the library. (...) Along the way, kids demonstrated the very definition of creativity: alternating between divergent and convergent thinking, they arrived at original and useful ideas. And they'd unwittingly mastered Ohio's required fifth-grade curriculum--from understanding sound waves to per-unit cost calculations to the art of persuasive writing. (...) Two weeks ago, when the school received its results on the state's achievement test, principal Traci Buckner was moved to tears. The raw scores indicate that, in its first year, the school has already become one of the top three schools in Akron, despite having open enrollment by lottery and 42 percent of its students living in poverty.

And here's the most mundane of reasons to be creative: It's a basic tool for keeping yourself from feeling overwhelmed by life.
The new view is that creativity is part of normal brain function. Some scholars go further, arguing that lack of creativity--not having loads of it--is the real risk factor. (...) A subset of respondents, like the proverbial Murphy, quickly list every imaginable way things can go wrong. But they demonstrate a complete lack of flexibility in finding creative solutions. It's this inability to conceive of alternative approaches that leads to despair.

Amazing stuff in that article. I'd love to hear what you all think of it!

Author website: J. J. DeBenedictis

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