As part of my Master’s coursework, I’ve been exposed to, and highly interested in, the world of creativity research. Exploring journals like The Journal of Creative Behaviour and Creativity Research Journal has opened up new questions into my main research focus of the effects of collaboration on the development of higher order thinking. This interest led me to read “The Bias Against Creativity: Why People Desire but Reject Creative Ideas” by Mueller, Melwai, and Goncalo, and now I have a whole new set of questions through which I must work.
The study shows that people have an inherent bias against creative ideas because of a fear of the unknown. The analysis of the study’s results “reveal(s) a concealed barrier that creative actors may face as they attempt to gain acceptance for their novel ideas.” It’s understandable that creative output is received with a measure of uncertainty. Erecting barriers, overt or not, to ideas because of that uncertainty is, in and of itself, a hurdle we must overcome. My focus, then, is on what education can do (and already does) to embrace and celebrate uncertainty – and, by extension, embrace and celebrate creativity.
What Is Creativity?
We know that creativity is the driving force behind discovery, innovation, and many other positive changes in our lives. Creativity is coming up with new ideas, new connections between ideas, and new solutions to problems. Creativity is seen as a result, but we don’t really know the cause. Asking someone to be on-the-spot creative is like taking a photo of a night’s sky hoping to get a clear shot of lightning… it’s not likely to happen.
Sir Ken Robinson identifies creativity as “a process, not a single event, and genuine creative processes involve critical thinking as well as imaginative insights and fresh ideas” (Azzam, 2009). While fresh ideas are necessary, they are not sufficient to qualify as creative – no, constant evaluation and vetting of these ideas is important. Creativity is about novel solutions which are also practical.
Why We’re Afraid of Creativity
I don’t suppose we are so much as afraid of creativity as we are drawn to certainty. And creative solutions are, by definition, novel and untested – so to accept an idea as creative – we must also accept it as uncertain. Mueller et al. record that novel ideas lend themselves to failure, social rejection, and unknown timelines for completion. The potential pitfalls of uncertainty create many hiccups points for people employing or examining a creative idea – making a potential evaluator less likely to test that idea.
We can appreciate creativity for all of its benefits – but we don’t want to be the one to be the first one to test those benefits. This can partially explain why pioneers, adventurers, and trailblazers are celebrated – they take the risks. Those who faced the unknown and made it known for the rest of us are heroes. Just as I would never get into a space ship destined to be a first colonizer of Mars – many people don’t want to be the first to test out a creative idea.
The rub is, that once a creative idea has been tested and proven safe – it’s no longer “creative” – it’s now just “the way we do things.” So the contextual realities of creativity need to be understood as well.
But… Is This A Problem?
Rather than solving a problem that doesn’t exist, I need you to believe that this is a problem… that the fear of taking a risk is an issue. Because, for most people, we are happy to let someone else take risks for us. Great.
I don’t want to completely move away from relying on other people – the trouble I’d have in teaching students how to find a good fit book would be immeasurable without being able to offer “what do your friends recommend?” I kid (but only sort of). I recently bought a new vehicle – a Honda CR-V… had my parents, in-laws, aunt-in-law, etc.. not all been extremely satisfied with their CR-Vs – I probably would have test driven more than just two models of CR-V (2016 and 2017). Letting others go first works. Removing uncertainty feels great.
Unfortunately, with so many problems in our world, and so many possible solutions being created to these problems – we may not be able to afford to wait for someone to test the idea out before we jump on board. Worse than that – the risk-takers may be too busy testing out other people’s ideas to even be able to get around to testing our own. This is a “all hands on deck” moment in human history. Divergent thinking is not enough – we need divergent testing if we are to tackle the threats facing our world. So we need to buck up and get past our apprehensions and start making our uncertainties certain, even if we fail in doing so.
How To Embrace Uncertainty/Creativity
As teachers, we need to teach our students that it’s okay to make mistakes. Accept multiple submissions of assignments until the student masters a skill or curricular outcome. Celebrate failures as discovering a way we are sure something doesn’t work instead of successes as ways that something might work well. It starts with our practices and modelling.
Talk about the benefits of risk-taking. Not unhealthy risks of experimenting with bad people and badder things – but those positive events like “I took a carving class, and now I can’t get my hands on enough soapstone” or “sure, Raj scraped his elbow a few times, but he’s mastered a new skateboard trick.” We learn from failure, we learn from risks – this is how we build true and authentic success.
We also can’t shy away from feedback. A criticism is not an indictment of a student’s value and worth as a person – it’s an opportunity to grow. We need to be okay with evaluating student and individual worth outside of grades – valuing long-term perseverance over temporary performance.
At the very least, this is a start. Let me know what you think in the comments below.
Azzam A.M. (2009). Why Creativity Now? A Conversation with Sir Ken Robinson. Teaching for the 21st Century, 67(1). Retrieved 31 January 2017, from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/sept09/vol67/num01/Why-Creativity-Now%C2%A2-A-Conversation-with-Sir-Ken-Robinson.aspx
Mueller, J.S., Melwai, S., & Goncalo, J.A. (2012). The bias against creativity: Why people desire but reject creative ideas. Psychological Science, 23(1), 13–17.