Creative Thinkers in School – Play and Experimentation over Rigour and Focus

For many of us, as we mature in years our ways of thinking freeze a little, and we start making decisions based on what we know works.  However, if we are to stay at the top of our game and provide real momentum and development to the work we are doing we need to think creatively. It has been said many times before: don’t ask ‘why’? Ask ‘why not’?

John Maeda (President, Rhode Island School of Design) highlighted in a talk some years ago that Creative folk are the great exception to this ‘brain freeze’; they have:

“…the unique ability to live with ambiguity and to live with mistakes. Without a certain comfort level with ambiguity – an uncertain outcome – we would never experiment. If we never experimented, we would never make mistakes. And if we never made mistakes, we would never learn anything”.

The creative process of inventor and entrepreneur James Dyson is a wonderful example. Although Dyson is now one of the wealthiest men in Britain, it took him 15 long years and thousands upon thousands of failed prototypes to arrive at his first success.  In an interview with ‘Fast Company’, Dyson explains:

I made 5,127 prototypes of my vacuum before I got it right. There were 5,126 failures. But I learned from each one. That’s how I came up with a solution. So I don’t mind failure. I’ve always thought that schoolchildren should be marked by the number of failures they’ve had. The child who tries strange things and experiences lots of failures to get there is probably more creative.”

As Dyson acutely observes, from an early age much of our school training encourages us to be ‘risk-averse’ by rewarding those who deliver exactly what’s expected – rather than those who try something new and dare to look foolish (take the risk). We are taught to uphold rigour and focus over play and experimentation.

However, it is these same qualities, playfulness, wonder, an element of risk and a lack of inhibition, that have fostered the greatest creative breakthroughs.

Teachers and educational leaders take note.

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