This is the first in a series of posts from veteran educator and interview coach Charlie Margolis on creativity, higher order thinking and raising creative children.
A Bucket, Mop and…
For many years, I washed my floors with a rag mop and a bucket. Eventually, I bought a Swiffer. What a difference! In the book, Imagine, John Lehrer describes how the Swiffer was invented. Back in the 1980’s, Proctor and Gamble needed a new type of floor cleaner. They taped hours of monotonous floor cleaning. When the team analyzed the tapes, they found that people spent more time cleaning their mops than the floors. Then, the team observed a woman picking-up coffee grounds. She carefully swept the debris and used a wet paper towel to wipe the linoleum; something I have done, more than once. The idea for a mop with a disposable pad was born. Still, it took a year to convince P&G to test the radical new device that no one wanted. In 1999, the Swiffer entered the market. It generated $550 million in sales the first year. The Swiffer is an example of how an innocuous idea can have a big impact.
Creativity…It’s for everyone
Say the word creativity and most people think of artists and inventors. There is a prevailing assumption that creativity is a talent; either you’re born with it, or not… Certainly, some people are inherently creative. They seem to be driven, curious and have a need to express their internal vision. But, given the opportunity and motivation, everyone is creative. It was once thought that there was a “creative” personality type. Subsequently, this has been shown to be false. Creativity is not some sort of magic. It had been observed, researched and identified. Most importantly, creativity can be learned. All it requires is the right attitude, motivation and commitment.
What is Creative Thinking?
There are many definitions of creativity. But, the basic idea is that creativity is a process for producing original ideas. The old adage, “There’s nothing new under the sun,” contains a nugget of truth. Ideas are built upon ideas, like a house on a foundation. Eventually, from this amalgamation, something new arises. It is this next step that we call the creative leap. The idea of the “Eureka” moment – that original ideas unexpectedly arrive out of “thin air” – is a myth. The insight that is often associated with creativity is always at result of hard work. Creativity is most often applicable to open-ended problems; those which have no finite answer. Our usual way of thinking is convergent thinking, which brings a set of facts to bear on a particular problem. From these, we draw a conclusion. Alternately, divergent thinkers identify characteristics and make unexpected associations. The chess player who has memorized thousands of moves is different from the player who invents an entirely unprecedented combination. This kind of creative problem solving is characterized by divergent thinking.Creativity is a process of thinking that follows a predictable course to an unpredictable outcome.
For more on this topic, read Charlie’s next post on higher order thinking and exploring the question “can creativity be learned?”