Creativity

Most people are secretly threatened by creativity

14 March 2017

From Quartz:

Creativity is highly prized in Western society—much touted by cultures that claim to value individualism and the entrepreneurial spirit. But scratch beneath the surface, and it turns out that a lot of schools and businesses aren’t actually all that excited about bold new ideas. By and large, we tend to be threatened by creativity—and eager to shut it down.

The problem begins with education. We know that teachers say creativity is important. But research shows that many teachers define creativity as a skill that’s mainly associated with the arts—thereby downplaying the essential role that creativity plays in everything from math and science to argumentative writing and sports. Furthermore, teachers routinely label creative students as “disruptive,” treating outside-the-box thinking not as a strength but as a problem to be dealt with. So it should be no surprise that independent studies with thousands of participants, in the US and elsewhere, have confirmed that millennials are less motivated to elaborate on creative ideas, and more anxious about embracing them, than prior generations. Recent data show that millennials are also less likely to start new businesses—a trend that has contributed to the lowest number of US startups since the 1970s.

The same pattern holds true in business. IBM recently asked 1,500 executives which leadership characteristics they most desired in employees. The number one trait: You guessed it, creativity. But the same study noted that more than 50% of executives said they struggled with, and felt unprepared to recognize and embrace, creative solutions. Study after study shows that new ideas are chronically rejected at many companies, even businesses that say they want more innovation.

. . . .

The upshot is that we are in an ongoing war against creativity, yet we are loathe to admit it. Our negative feelings about unusual ideas are a knee-jerk reaction; we may not even be aware that we’re having them.

Link to the rest at Quartz

PG has had a group of Google Alerts running ever since he learned about the service several years ago.

A couple of those alerts are designed to pick up interesting stories about creativity. Over time, PG has noted the largest groups of news reports, etc., that talk about creativity tend to be centered on public education and municipal government stories.

Without demeaning anyone who works in those two areas, PG doesn’t associate big-time creativity with either endeavor. Both arenas tend to be dominated by bureaucracies which are difficult to move from their habitual ways of doing things (and are also constrained by a thicket of laws).

Why are schools in China looking west for lessons in creativity?

28 January 2017

From The Financial Times:

In the auditorium of Beijing Bayi School, on a cold morning thick with smog, props are broken, lines unlearnt and the mechanical curtain has blown a fuse. In four hours, my cast of 22 Chinese 14-year-olds, who have never acted before, will perform Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to an audience of 1,500 — in English. All their education has told them that drama is an irrelevance. As I race around the theatre, trying to track down an absent Grandpa Joe and a missing Golden Ticket I ask myself, not for the first time: what am I doing here?

Chinese education has increasingly been hailed as “superior” to the way we teach in the west in recent years. Its success in global tests for 15-year-olds reinforced this sense of a world tilting to the east: in the 2012 round of the Programme for International Student Assessment tests (Pisa), Shanghai, representing China, came first in science, reading and mathematics. Fretful western governments took note, amid mounting concern that China’s educational success would inevitably pave the way for economic and cultural dominance. Or, as the former UK government minister Michael Gove baldly stated when he was secretary of state for education, the UK can either “start working as hard as the Chinese, or we’ll all soon be working for the Chinese”.

. . . .

As I can confirm from my five weeks at Bayi School last year, school days are definitely a lot longer than in the west. Older pupils started at about 7.30am and continued until 6pm, usually backed up by evening self-study classes. Most schools have classes on Saturdays, too. If they don’t, middle-class parents will arrange private lessons with tutors. Asia is the fastest-growing market in the global private tuition industry, which is forecast by Global Industry Analysts to be worth nearly $200bn by 2020. Students in Shanghai also spend almost 14 hours a week on homework, close to three times the average given by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

. . . .

To China’s educationalists the timing of the western love affair with their system is striking. For the past decade or so wealthy Chinese parents, keen to avoid the test-dominated regime of their own educations, have been sending their teenage offspring to study in America in dramatically increasing numbers: 46,000 Chinese students attended American high schools in 2015, up from just 637 in 2005. In the UK, Chinese are also “by far” the largest group of international students according to the 2016 Independent Schools Council census.

Now these parents are also demanding a more “western” option at home. Wealthier parents have flocked to enrol their children at the newly opened Chinese arms of traditional British private schools such as Wycombe Abbey and Harrow. UK state schools are beginning to get in on the action too; Bohunt, the school from the BBC programme, is opening a private school in Wenzhou, Zhejiang province, next year. And it’s not just parents who have an appetite for something different.

More than a decade ago, the Chinese Ministry of Education issued a statement denouncing the “exam-oriented education” of China. In the past few years, the ministry has introduced a policy calling for the formal encouragement of “creativity” and “innovation” in schools. The school where I taught has clearly taken heed. Among sections about a “military training that builds spirit” and “an education in Communism”, its prospectus boasts of Bayi’s commitment to “encourage creative awareness and creative acts”.

Link to the rest at The Financial Times (if you hit a paywall, you may want to cut and paste “Why are schools in China looking west for lessons in creativity?” and see what happens)

How Being Bored Out of Your Mind Makes You More Creative

26 January 2017

From Wired:

“I’m dying of boredom,” complains the young wife, Yelena, in Chekhov’s 1897 play Uncle Vanya. “I don’t know what to do.” Of course, if Yelena were around today, we know how she’d alleviate her boredom: She’d pull out her smartphone and find something diverting, like BuzzFeed or Twitter or Clash of Clans. If you have a planet’s worth of entertainment in your pocket, it’s easy to stave off ennui.

Unless it turns out ennui is good for us. What if boredom is a meaningful experience—one that propels us to states of deeper thoughtfulness or creativity?

That’s the conclusion of two fascinating recent studies. In one, researchers asked a group of subjects to do something boring, like copying out numbers from a phone book, and then take tests of creative thinking, such as devising uses for a pair of cups. The result? Bored subjects came up with more ideas than a nonbored control group, and their ideas were often more creative. In a second study, subjects who took an “associative thought” word test came up with more answers when they’d been forced to watch a dull screensaver.

Boredom might spark creativity because a restless mind hungers for stimulation. Maybe traversing an expanse of tedium creates a sort of cognitive forward motion. “Boredom becomes a seeking state,” says Texas A&M University psychologist Heather Lench. “What you’re doing now is not satisfying. So you’re seeking, you’re engaged.”

Link to the rest at Wired

Bob Dylan – Nobel Prize Speech

12 December 2016

From Nobelprize.org:

Banquet speech by Bob Dylan given by the United States Ambassador to Sweden Azita Raji, at the Nobel Banquet, 10 December 2016.

. . . .

If someone had ever told me that I had the slightest chance of winning the Nobel Prize, I would have to think that I’d have about the same odds as standing on the moon. In fact, during the year I was born and for a few years after, there wasn’t anyone in the world who was considered good enough to win this Nobel Prize. So, I recognize that I am in very rare company, to say the least.

I was out on the road when I received this surprising news, and it took me more than a few minutes to properly process it. I began to think about William Shakespeare, the great literary figure. I would reckon he thought of himself as a dramatist. The thought that he was writing literature couldn’t have entered his head. His words were written for the stage. Meant to be spoken not read. When he was writing Hamlet, I’m sure he was thinking about a lot of different things: “Who’re the right actors for these roles?” “How should this be staged?” “Do I really want to set this in Denmark?” His creative vision and ambitions were no doubt at the forefront of his mind, but there were also more mundane matters to consider and deal with. “Is the financing in place?” “Are there enough good seats for my patrons?” “Where am I going to get a human skull?” I would bet that the farthest thing from Shakespeare’s mind was the question “Is this literature?”

When I started writing songs as a teenager, and even as I started to achieve some renown for my abilities, my aspirations for these songs only went so far. I thought they could be heard in coffee houses or bars, maybe later in places like Carnegie Hall, the London Palladium. If I was really dreaming big, maybe I could imagine getting to make a record and then hearing my songs on the radio. That was really the big prize in my mind. Making records and hearing your songs on the radio meant that you were reaching a big audience and that you might get to keep doing what you had set out to do.

. . . .

 © The Nobel Foundation 2016.

General permission is granted for immediate publication in editorial contexts, in print or online, in any language within two weeks of December 10, 2016. Thereafter, any publication requires the consent of the Nobel Foundation. On all publications in full or in major parts the above copyright notice must be applied.

Link to the rest at Nobelprize.org and thanks to Jan for the tip.

Virtual Reality is in Desperate Need of Real Storytellers

9 October 2016

From Literary Hub:

Elevator doors opened to what looked like a disco. An enormous darkened room pulsed with music and blue light from screens. People twirled in swivel chairs, wearing what looked like ski goggles, topped by huge headset earphones. Others stood waiting, watching their faces—what little of their faces was visible under machinery—alert as straphangers surveilling sitters for signs that a seat will soon vacate.

Now, watching others doing it, hearing them talk about how cool it was, I was suddenly anxious to lose my VRginity.

I looked around to see which line was the shortest. Only a few people were queued forSeeking Pluto’s Frigid Heart and soon a young man wearing a T-shirt marked “Crew” guided me into a swivel chair. He advised me to set my bag a few feet away, so my feet wouldn’t trip over it. I worried that the bag might be stolen as goggles were fitted over my head, making me blind, and I became deaf when cushioned headphones slid over my ears. But in the next moment, I forgot about my bag, the room, even my physical coordinates on the planet. A movie started on a screen just inches from my eyes, but I wasn’t watching a movie, I was moving inside it, floating bodiless through space, serenaded by surround-sound opera, hurtling between stars, over rugged Plutonian mountains, through snow flurries so real I could almost feel them pinging my incorporeal cheeks.

Some people get what’s called “VR vertigo” because of the disconnect between brain and body. Your brain is convinced your body is doing something it’s not: flying or walking or running or falling. I didn’t get vertigo as I flew over Pluto, the planet that no longer was. What I did feel was scalp-tingling recognition that what I was experiencing was an entirely new medium with the potential to impact my life as momentously as the internet had. Here was a way to be in a place where my body wasn’t.

When the movie was over and I pulled off the goggles, I saw my bag was just where I left it, undisturbed. But it was I who was dislocated, my consciousness altered by experiencing an entirely new way to tell story.

. . . .

The show getting the most buzz was Allumette. It was twenty minutes, twice the length of other features. Its animation was astonishingly high-caliber, from a studio headed by alums of Pixar and DreamWorks. But the power of Allumette lay only partly in the quality of its production. The real reason that the waitlists were up to nine hours long, was that unlike other productions on offer, it went beyond the spectacle of its technology. It told a story.

Allumette reconceptualizes Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Match Girl” as a modern allegory about love and loss. It takes place in a cloud-borne village populated by thumb-sized characters. The stop-motion-like animation is wordless; the music haunting. Watching it is like peering into a diorama in which characters come to life. A few minutes into it, I realized that I didn’t have to stand in one place. I could walk around in the scene, crossing bridges, winding down streets, peeping through windows, examining things from all angles. But at first, I couldn’t make myself move. My brain knew I was standing on a linoleum floor, but my heart believed my feet were on a cloud and if I stepped off, it would be into thin air. I had to muster actual bravery to push myself forward, and as I did, I tingled with amazement at this entirely new kind of entertainment and at the possibilities I sensed in VR for storytellers.

. . . .

When televisions first came out in 1939, shows aired just twice a week, created by manufacturers who knew no one would buy their products unless there were reasons to watch it. The shows weren’t created for television; they were created for the platform that preceded it: radio. Programs were basically announcers on mics until storytellers figured out that filming stories about the Wild West could keep viewers tuning in.

Investment is pouring into the industry; what it needs now is an infusion of creatives who can figure out how to tell stories in this pioneer medium.

Writers in every media are bemoaning the dearth of paid gigs. The Author’s Guild cites a 30 percent decrease in annual income for authors since 2000. Newspapers and magazines are going out of business. Risk-averse Hollywood is doing remakes. Could VR be the equivalent of a modern WPA project, putting writers back to paid work?

Link to the rest at Literary Hub

Where Creativity Comes From

18 September 2016

From Scientific American:

Creativity has enabled humans to conquer every corner of this planet. Indeed our yen for innovation is one of the most salient characteristics of our kind. Yet our species is not the only one given to inventiveness. Researchers have documented the capacity in a growing number of other creatures. And some of their findings run counter to received wisdom about the origins of creativity and how to foster it in human minds.

The old adage about inventiveness, of course, is that it stems from necessity. Based on his studies of orangutans, primatologist Carel van Schaik of the University of Zurich has come to a very different view. “When food is scarce, orangutans go into energy-saving mode. They minimize movement and focus on unappealing fall-back foods,” he observed. Their strategy in this scenario is quite the opposite of innovation, but it makes sense. “Trying something new can be risky—you can get injured or poisoned—and it requires a serious investment of time, energy and attention, while the outcome is always uncertain,” van Schaik explains.

Research on humans faced with scarcity echoes van Schaik’s orangutan findings. In 2013, Science published a study by economist Sendhil Mullainathan of Harvard University and psychologist Eldar Shafir of Princeton University describing how reminding people with a low income of their financial trouble reduced their capacity to think logically and solve problems in novel situations. A subsequent study found that Indian sugarcane farmers performed much better on the same cognitive performance test after receiving the once-a-year payment for their produce, temporarily resolving their monetary concerns. (Farmers who did not take the test previously did comparably well after getting paid, so it is unlikely that the improvement was simply the consequence of prior experience with the test.) People will do whatever it takes to survive, of course, which may occasionally lead to innovations. But as these and other studies suggest, if one’s mind is constantly occupied with urgent problems, such as finding food or shelter or paying bills, there will not be much capacity left to come up with long-term solutions to better one’s livelihood.

So where does creativity come from? Insights have come from the surprising observation that orangutans can be incredibly creative in captivity. “If food is provided for and predators are absent, they suddenly have a lot of time on their hands, free from such distractions,” van Schaik explains. Furthermore, in their highly controlled environments, exploration rarely has unpleasant consequences, and there are many unusual objects to play around with. Under such circumstances, orangutans appear to lose their usual fear of the unknown.

. . . .

Similarly, studies of a variety of bird species, as well as spotted hyenas, have shown how individuals that are more eager to explore new things tend to be the most innovative ones. Could such curiosity be a driving force behind the emergence of creativity in humans as well? To answer that question, experts have typically attempted to study innovative problem-solving in children. But such investigation has turned out to be quite challenging, not least because kids do not seem to be very innovative.

Link to the rest at Scientific American

The stunning geographic divide in American creativity

6 September 2016

From The Washington Post:

Urbanist Richard Florida popularized the term “creative class,” describing the millions of workers in fields such as the arts, sciences and technology whose work largely involves coming up with new ideas and innovating on old ones.

The creative class has, for better or worse, primarily been associated with big American cities along the coasts: out of Richard Florida’s top 20 creative-class cities in 2015, only one — Dublin, Ohio — was located in a non-coastal state.

But new data recently released by the National Endowment for the Arts suggests that there’s an awful lot of creativity happening far inland from America’s coastal tech and arts hubs.

. . . .

Among other things, the NEA worked with the Census to poll residents of all 50 states on their participation in the arts, particularly whether they performed or created works of art in 2014.

Those data reveal a somewhat surprising pattern: America’s Great Creative Divide isn’t between the coasts and the center, but rather between North and South. Take a look.

Untitled-1

Nationwide, 45 percent of American adults said they personally performed or created artwork in 2014. “Art,” in this case, was defined by a wide variety of activities. Rather than recite all of them, I’ll just leave the definition, from the NEA’s report, here:

Personal performance or creation of artworks: Created pottery, ceramics, or jewelry; created leatherwork, metalwork, or woodwork; did weaving crocheting, or other textile art; played a musical instrument; did actiing; performed or practiced dance; did social dancing; performed or practiced singing; created films or videos as an artistic activity; took photographs as an artistic activiey; created visual arts such as paintings, sculptures, or graphic designs; did creative writing.

As you can see from the map, the study found a surprisingly wide range of arts participation between states. At one end of the spectrum, folks in places such as West Virginia, Oklahoma and Florida seemed to have little interest in doing art — participation levels there hovered around 30 percent.

By contrast, people in states such as Colorado, Vermont, Montana and Oregon were roughly twice as likely to personally create or perform artwork.

Link to the rest at The Washington Post

The Washington Post has a particularly-annoying paywall. If you’re not a subscriber, you can probably access the article at the link by opening it in an incognito window. If you’re using the Chrome browser, right-click on the link and you’ll see “Open link in incognito window” as the third option from the top.

How Solitude Enriches Creative Work

16 July 2016

From Brain Pickings:

“Nourish yourself with grand and austere ideas of beauty that feed the soul… Seek solitude,” young Delacroix counseled himself in 1824. Keats saw solitude as asublime conduit to truth and beauty. Elizabeth Bishop believed that everyone should experience at least one prolonged period of solitude in life.

. . . .

That vital role of solitude in art and life is what the great artist Louise Bourgeois(December 11, 1911– May 31, 2010) explores in several of the letters and diary entires collected in Louise Bourgeois: Destruction of the Father / Reconstruction of the Father: Writings and Interviews, 1923–1997 — an altogether magnificent glimpse of one of the fiercest creative minds and most luminous spirits of the past century.

. . . .

In September of 1937, 25-year-old Bourgeois writes to her friend Colette Richarme — an artist seven years her senior yet one for whom she took on the role of a mentor — after Richarme had suddenly left Paris for respite in the countryside:

After the tremendous effort you put in here, solitude, even prolonged solitude, can only be of very great benefit. Your work may well be more arduous than it was in the studio, but it will also be more personal.

A few months later, Bourgeois reiterates her counsel:

Solitude, a rest from responsibilities, and peace of mind, will do you more good than the atmosphere of the studio and the conversations which, generally speaking, are a waste of time.

Link to the rest at Brain Pickings

Truman Capote, Groucho Marx and Dick Cavett

3 July 2016

On writers and writing.

How Does “Creativity” Translate Across Different Cultures?

15 June 2016

From Co.Create:

What is creativity? What does it mean to be creative? And, assuming you can come up with your own definition, how do you think it differs from others around the world? Those are just a few of the questions addressed in a new report from agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky London and Vlad Glaveanu, an associate professor at Aalborg University’s International Center for the Cultural Psychology of Creativity in Denmark.

Interviewing 806 young professional men and women in the U.S., U.K., Germany, Brazil, Turkey, Russia, China, and India, the report highlights three key topics. First, it defines a new global definition of creativity—combining originality, meaningfulness, and value—and the way that this manifests itself around the world. Second, it reveals a surprisingly lower degree of creative self-confidence in Europe and, in contrast, the creative optimism on display in markets that are currently growing economically. And third, it highlights the increasing importance of seeing creativity as a process to engage in collaboratively, rather than rely on a lone creative genius to dream up a solution.

In response to the statement, “creativity matters for professional life,” agreement peaked in Turkey (88%) followed by China (80%), India (79%), Brazil (78.3%), and the U.S. (76.2%). Meanwhile, respondents from Russia (59.8%), Germany (58%), and the U.K. (57.8%) were more reserved about the role of creativity in the workplace.

Link to the rest at Co.Create

Next Page »