For the last few weeks, I’ve been thinking about the affective or social/emotional elements of creativity—the attitudes and habits of mind we must support if we hope to help our students develop their creativity. I started my explorations with Modeli, a model of innovation from The Henry Ford museum. Unlike many models of design thinking, Model i includes both cognitive and affective skills needed for innovation. The attitudes or habits of mind proposed in Model i as essential for innovation are:
- Be Empathetic
- Challenge the Rules
- Take Risks
- Stay Curious
- Learn from Failure
Today I’ve been thinking about the fourth habit, collaborate. It may seem a strange habit to associate with creativity. Since early Greece and Rome, and probably before that, there have been stories of highly creative individuals, inspired by Muses or gifted with personal genius, who create astonishing works of art or scientific discoveries on their own. And, even today, there are individuals whose individual creativity is breathtaking. But the truth is, almost all scientific creativity today happens in teams, research of all kinds almost always requires, collaboration, and even individual writers, artists, and musicians have to work with teams of people to bring their works to the public. Without collaboration, creativity can falter or disappear.
There are shelves of books on cooperative or collaborative learning, so I won’t try to describe it here. The best cooperative activities are those in which a variety of skills and knowledge are genuinely needed in order to complete the activity, as opposed to groups in which the “team” works on something that many individuals could complete more easily alone. Often these are projects that allow students to come together to use content in creative ways that are more difficult to do alone—create a song to help remember some key facts, imagine dialog among characters in a book or a moment in history, plan a video to demonstrate a scientific principle.
Other times collaboration can serve to strengthen individual creative efforts. One way to express this aspect of creativity is “Be better together.” Being better together means creating a classroom climate in which each person’s success is everyone’s success. The task is not to “beat” the other students creatively, but to celebrate each person’s best and help them get there. Depending on the project, this could entail giving various types of feedback as an editor, reader, or viewer. Helping students understand feedback as a genuine gift is tricky, particularly when dealing with projects that have required significant effort. But the ability to listen to feedback, and think carefully about where to adapt and where to hold your creative ground, is a key part of the creative process.
I recently had the opportunity to review some interesting materials from a major international company. There was much to praise but a few things that caused me concern. I sent back a memo raising some issues, with a note at the beginning that I was likely providing more feedback than the reader really wanted. I’ll admit, after sending the message I had second thoughts. I was critiquing a major company like one of my students. Were they going to be annoyed and insulted? Not at all. I quickly received a reply indicating there was no such thing as too much feedback and expressing gratitude that I’d read the materials so carefully. I thought, “Ah, yes. That is one reason why this company is so successful. They understand feedback as the key to “Be[ing] better together.” It is a lesson that will serve our students well.
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