I’m not a person who has a lot of quotations hanging on her walls—in fact, up until today I didn’t have any. But a friend recently sent me a wall decal I love, a quote from Albert Einstein, “Creativity is intelligence having fun.” I don’t know when or where Einstein said it, but it makes sense to me. Perhaps it makes even more sense in the midst of my cluttered office, full of things that make me smile: photographs from our travels, cat art from the Ann Arbor Art Fairs, a watercolor by a friend, an illustration from the first edition of Creativity in the Classoom, an astonishing enlargement of neural stem cells that looks like an alien flower, and a “Made in the USA” Obama mug spoofing the campaign birth certificate controversy. And, of course, a bowl of dark chocolate (but that’s a story for another day).
So much of what makes me smile is the result of looking at something in a new way. At some point someone in the University of Michigan’s Center for Organogenesis looked through a microscope and realized they were viewing beauty as well as scientific marvels. And bioartography was born (Do look, the images are breathtaking). Someone in the Obama campaign realized that it was possible to turn a campaign challenge into an asset by making people chuckle—and selling the results. New discoveries, inventions, and cartoons all can result from turning a situation on its head and saying, “What if we think about it this way?” And we can’t turn things upside down without being willing to smile and have a little fun with it.
Creativity is virtually never a straight march from point A to point B. It can’t be summoned on demand. It is nurtured in environments that have room for smiling, for experimentation and, yes, for fun. Allowing space for playfulness in our lives and classrooms is not wasting time, any more than tilling the soil in our garden wastes valuable time for planting. If anyone tries to tell you otherwise, tell them to talk to Einstein!