Cognitive Enablers, Creativity, The Science of Learning

Science of Learning: Creative Environments

In addition to the dispositional aspects of creativity that I previously wrote about, there are environmental aspects that we have more control of. There are definite cultural and social environments that enhance the higher order thinking skill of creativity and the creative process and will allow dispositional aspects to flourish.

Most creative individuals report that, although the creative process (a future article) is highly individualized, the environment plays a larger role than internal processes. I will cover convergent creativity first before moving on to divergent creativity and finally, how we support (or not) an environment fostering creativity. The creativity that arises when a group of individuals are working, whether individually (not ideal), or as a group to solve a problem leads to convergence.

The number one aspect in a creative environment that is reported as being important is working together with others who are working on the same project. The role others play in creativity is to inspire the creative person to try something new, coming from small suggestions by colleagues to larger discussions in groups. Another important aspect of creativity is a positive reception for the idea. Others with expertise need to recognize the possibilities that the new idea represents. Positive, critical feedback is important to develop and expand a new idea.

Working with a collective is important, but the makeup of the collective is just as important. There must some technical expertise in the group who will be the first to recognize the importance of an idea. As well, having high-quality experts from other, somewhat related disciplines is equally important in order to offer slightly different perspectives. The importance of open, supportive discussion within a group of closely related, as well as more distantly related experts can’t be understated. Mutual inspiration arises from constructive discussion laying the groundwork for a creative breakthrough.

An interactive environment is the most important element of convergent creativity. The interaction causes creative individuals to look in different directions for solutions or answers. Interaction with other experts forces creative individuals to consider differing opinions that are brought together to bring about the emergence of a new and different outlook.

The structure of an organization looking for creativity is important. Loose, open hierarchies are often mentioned. Mutual respect for members of organizations towards every member, regardless of position or rank, fosters a creative environment. Being able to follow individualized lines of inquiry within mutually agreed frameworks is conducive for creativity.

Working together in the above-outlined environment with an interdisciplinary team of highly qualified experts is a condition that leads to a more divergent form of creativity – producing a novel idea that is not the focus of any particular problem. The need for discussion and inspiration from others, as well as respect and cooperation within a loose hierarchy, are vital for this kind of creativity.

Another environmental influence that needs to be considered for both types of creativity, is the background training of an individual. If an individual is rigorously trained in a single way of doing things or indoctrinated in a particular point of view, creativity is unlikely to occur. Excessive training or indoctrination leads to dogmatism and the inability to consider, let alone produce, novel ideas or ways of doing things. Conformity and creativity do not co-exist.

When considering an ideal creative environment, higher educational institutions fail miserably. We force individuals into group work situations, but without the environment to encourage creativity. The problems are virtually all canned problems with a single desired outcome. There are rigid deadlines and rigid structures defining the setting. There is a rigid hierarchy, often heavily enforced by insecure teachers afraid of losing control. Rarely are students allowed to explore their own interests within a loose framework of a broad topic. The self-imposed constraints of content coverage require absolute conformity with no room for creativity.

In laying the groundwork of foundational knowledge, some of these constraints are necessary. However, because of the traditions of higher education (new traditions evolved with the massification of higher education), these constraints are almost always carried through to the final years of a qualification. As pressures on postgraduate education continue to increase, all of the vestiges of environmental support for creativity are disappearing.

These constraints are choices that we have made, both individually and institutionally. It is no wonder that creativity is becoming ever rarer in our society. We are quickly becoming satisfied with minor innovations that maintain the comfortable familiarity we have become accustomed to. Higher education has become the new universal church, insisting on an ever-increasing membership, reinforcing established dogmatism, and supporting the status quo. The only thing left for us to do is to gain control over the confirmation of our leaders and our societal ascendancy will be complete.

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