This is What Creativity Looks Like

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The other day I was reading articles on Zite (an awesome personalized magazine application that compiles articles from multiple sources according to your taste) and three of them ended up being about creativity. Not really a shocker considering one of my key search terms is “creativity” (although it is strange that three articles showed up in such close proximity since there are several dozen key search terms) but I thought it was interesting because each of the authors takes a unique approach to the idea of creativity and I pretty much agree with each one.

I was especially elated to read the article by Rebecca Wallace-Segall, the founder and executive director of Writopia Lab (a former partner organization to Starting Artists) and a very inspiring lady. I have excerpted parts of the articles below. Click on the article title to go to the full text.

Enjoy, Mari

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The No. 1 Enemy of Creativity: Fear of Failure

by Peter Sims

Harvard Business Review Blog

For me, the most important insight from design thinking was that you have to make sure you’ve defined the right problem before you try to solve it. So, you act like an anthropologist to understand human needs and problems before jumping to solutions. Most of us in business, if we need to discover how to do something new, use PowerPoint or Excel spreadsheets to rationalize our approach. This is what I call “the illusion of rationality.” Whether motivated by a lack of insight arrogance, or stupidity, the illusion of rationality is a waste of time and resources — yet one that keeps a lot of people employed in management consulting, as I learned first hand.

Instead, if you don’t have the data, you have to create the data. That does not mean plugging random numbers into your spreadsheet. It means generating real insight, from nothing. Designers and bootstrapped entrepreneurs I’ve worked with use rapid low cost experiments to create data. I refer to these “affordable losses” in the interest of learning, creativity, and discovery as “little bets.”

This seems like common sense; so why is it so hard? Three words: fear of failure.

If you’re an MBA-trained manager or executive, the odds are you were never, at any point in your educational or professional career given permission to fail, even on a “little bet.” Your parents wanted you to achieve, achieve, achieve — in sports, the classroom, and scouting or work. Your teachers penalized you for having the “wrong” answers, or knocked your grades down if you were imperfect, according to however your adult figures defined perfection. Similarly, modern industrial management is still predicated largely on mitigating risks and preventing errors, not innovating or inventing.

But entrepreneurs and designers think of failure the way most people think of learning. As Darden Professor Saras Sarasvathy has shown through her research about how expert entrepreneurs make decisions, they must make lots of mistakes to discover new approaches, opportunities, or business models. She frequently references Howard Schultz who, when he started Il Giornale in Seattle, the company that Schultz used to later buy the original Starbucks brand and assets, the store had nonstop opera music playing, menus written in Italian, and no chairs. As Schultz has often said, “We had to make a lot of mistakes” before discovering a model that worked.

One Is Not Enough: Why Creative People Need Multiple Outlets

by and

from Good.is

For as long as I can remember, I’ve associated creative pursuits with other activities. In every class from kindergarten through college, my head was always down as I listened to entire lesson plans while doodling superheroes, 3D cubes, and stylized words. I created logos for bands that didn’t exist, bands that did exist, comic books I wanted to make, and movies I wanted to film. Teachers often assumed I was ignoring them when I was drawing, constantly asking why I found the blank page in front of me more interesting than their lessons. But these doodles weren’t a distraction, they were a core part of my learning process, visual evidence that I was taking information in. Finding a way to put mark on the learning process made me feel like a better student.

Fortunately, my coworkers understand the concept of auditory learning, because I didn’t stop doodling after I left school. During any meeting at the GOOD office, I’m drawing faces, hands high-fiving, the words “DOPE,” “FRESH,” “HOLLA,” and “WHOA,” and more. A lot more. I try to contain my work to sketchbooks, but I’ll settle for scrap paper, napkins, or paper cups. I doom a lot of objects to a decorative demise.

Of course, doodling isn’t a substitute for another creative pursuit, and it doesn’t fully silence my gnawing need to constantly make things. Only diversity of form can solve that problem. That might mean non-design related artistic pursuits like making music, writing, or performing—or non-artistic yet brain-stimulating projects like gardening, building, or even playing a game of D&D (a pursuit I have yet to take up, but I’m told would fit the bill).

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A Passionate, Unapologetic Plea for Creative Writing in Schools

by Rebecca Wallace-Segall

from The Atlantic

In our work, we’re reminded again and again that fiction writing is as important as any other genre for children and teens as they learn to write. It not only provides them with a safe space to make sense of the human dynamics around them, but it teaches them writing at the highest level, going beyond lucidity into the realm of literary tension, and then further into humor, narrative complexity, abstraction, and metaphor.

Our writers put arguments forth, embedded within well-organized, linear narratives in various voices. The themes of their fiction then inspire the deepest of dialogues in the classroom, spur debates about race and class assumptions and other social issues, and invite empathy. As we like to say at Writopia, plot builds character. This type of dynamic discourse helps our students grow as people and thinkers — and of course, as writers.

And, on top of it all, it’s engaging. When we work with students on creative pieces, they become riveted by their stories before the end of the first lesson. Children with class-based literacy issues love trying their hand at fiction; elite children of famous authors love it as well. Students across America should write fiction before anything else, and they should continue to work on it side-by-side with academic writing. They should be given creative assignments as a reward for writing a fabulous research paper.

What’s more, a piece of fiction can be persuasive, and a memoir can be informative. Educators who are serious about this kind of writing make sure each piece is workshopped until it is compelling. And honest. And revealing of human nature. And sometimes funny, but always surprisingly complex to the outsider.

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