Is creativity the right thing for everyone? It depends on how you look at it.
Creativity is Amoral
Mark Runco, a respected creativity researcher and executive director of the Torrance Center for Creativity and Talent Development at the University of Georgia also says that creativity is amoral. He writes
“…moral action is sometimes defined as “doing the right thing,” but “right” assumes a value system, and that means that the action is consistent with existing values. Doing the right thing might therefore preclude creativity, given that creativity requires originality. It may be novelty, uniqueness, unusualness, or rarity, but in some way all creativity requires originality. One complication, then, is that too often moral action is tied to the status quo, while creative action is contrarian or at least highly unusual” ( The Continuous Nature of Moral Creativity, in Morality, Ethics and Gifted Minds, Springer, 2009. p.107)
Is it possible that when we encourage people to use their creativity, say, during World Creativity and Innovation Week April 15 – 21, to make the world a better place and make their place in the world better too that it rubs some people the wrong way because they perceive using their creativeness as immoral?
Values are different from group to group: what’s important and treasured in one culture or society may be perceived as taboo or forbidden in another. Perhaps there are taboos associated with creativity in different culture groups that have yet to be fully explored.
A Greek let me know that people aren’t creative, it’s God who is, and that all creativity comes from him. An Egyptian said the same thing. I began to consider what practices and beliefs we might be challenging when encouraging people to access their creativeness. Cultural relativism is an important lens to use.
Innovation okay in business, creativeness not?
In business, energy for innovation is okay; energy for creativity, not-so much. Taboo? Forbidden?
Innovation maintains the status quo using systems, structures, measures and thinking directed to support a positive economic outcome.
Creativity, on the other hand, speaks to the human spirit, and giving free reign to the unlimited imaginative potential, without necessarily bringing it back to the bottom line.
We’ll certainly need the power of creative imagination to dream up ways business will be more relevant in months and years to come.“
“To develop great, innovative products or services that are sustainable and life giving, you have to use your creativeness.”
Bottom line: How to include people in the process of creating the new future who may believe using creativity is immoral?
Even though the WCID April 21 celebration is relatively new, it’s growing, and people are learning about it now that it is a United Nations Day of Observance.
Do you think that feeling self-conscious may prevent people from celebrating their capacity to generate new ideas, make new decisions, take new actions and achieve new outcomes to make the world a better place and make their place in the world better too? Think about it.
When it comes to creativity, many say they want to make sure they get it ‘right’ as if there is an external measure to meet, as if there is a perfection standard they must attain. There isn’t. Not where creativity is involved.*
Creativity is a natural process that results from a restlessness to change or improve the status quo. (Segal, 2001). We all feel that restlessness from time to time. We engage in new and different activities, use new patterns of thinking, perceive with new eyes, and/or seek new experiences. We might structure things differently, relate to others in new ways as a result. Examples: rearrange furniture; modify a recipe; take a new route to school; eat breakfast for dinner; hold meetings in a different location; invite unusual suspects to participate in the planning process.
Each these could be considered creative. American Anthropologist Margaret Mead said, “In as much as someone has done something new for himself, he can be considered to have committed a creative act.” To which I like to add – whether other people consider it creative or not.
Creativity is one of our resources. By celebrating it every year April 21 and during the week leading up to it beginning on Leonardo da Vinci’s birthday, April 15 we prepare for the future.
Thought catalystsFor your WCID this year, and for every year moving forward consider these thought catalysts
What is in your environment that can do with some improving? Improve it.
What ordinary activity might you make more fun? Make it more fun.
What efficiencies might you bring to a process? Bring them.
New ideas need a soft place to land. Remember there is balance in the universe. Every idea influences a reaction. Giving new ideas a soft place to land will be the focus of a future blog post.
Confusion about creativityThe term creative can be confusing. Insert the term before each of the following as an example: economies, industries, advertising, agencies, media, digital, technology, sports plays, arts, commons, market, writing, images, resumes, ideas, photography, dance, quotes. In each instance, there’s a slightly different meaning.
A practical approachFor our purposes, to enable everyone to celebrate WCID and WCIW here’s the understanding used: Generating new ideas, making new decisions, taking new actions and achieving new outcomes that make the world a better place and make your place in the world better too.
Remember to upload your WCID2018 and WCIW2018 actions to share with the world.
Segal, Marci (2001) Creativity and Personality Type: Tools for understanding and inspiring the many voices of creativity. Huntington Beach: Telos Publications.
Happy to share this video with you – it’s the 15-minute Ted-like speech I gave in Buffalo this past fall at the Creativity Expert Exchange in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the International Center for Studies in Creativity, my alma mater.
The founding of WCID is shared, as is the tale of how the day became a United Nations Day of Observance and why that is important. Spoiler alert: it’s centered on using creativity in problem-solving especially with regard to meeting the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. Imagine applying creative thinking and creative evaluation to assess and address the challenges – to find solutions that work.
Now scroll further for information on the Global Goals Interconnectedness and see what you can do to help meet any of the goals by reviewing the Global Goals List that follows.
The Global Goals are Interconnected
The goals’ interconnectedness and influences are spelled out in a paper Water, Peace and Global Security: Canada’s Place in a Changing World, delivered by R.W. Sandford, EPCOR Chair, Water and Climate Security, United Nations University, Institute for Water, Environment & Health at the University of Victoria, British Columbia Jan 23, 2018.
“All 17 of the UN’s 2030 Transforming Our World global sustainable development goals can be achieved by realizing the link between water security, climate stability and human and planetary health. Water security means clean water and sanitation for all. It also means managing water on a basin scale which means protecting aquatic ecosystems which improve life on land and life below water which leads to improvements in agriculture which will help end hunger; which also helps to end poverty.
Managing water in a manner that will help end hunger and poverty, however, cannot be achieved without industry innovation and infrastructure; but innovation and infrastructure development cannot come into existence without quality education which demands gender equity which in itself leads to reduced inequality. Quality education, gender equity, and reduced inequality lead to economic growth. It is only through economic stability that we will be able to make a smooth transition to affordable and clean energy for all which is a critical step toward climate action. Climate action will help restore planetary health thereby contributing to better physical and mental health and well-being for all.
Improved human health and well-being allows an ever more crowded world to react more proactively and be more resilient to growing public health threats like epidemic outbreaks which, in tandem with climate action will reduce the specter of large-scale forced human migration. This, in itself, will lead to peace and justice and strong institutions. Such institutions are necessary to guide humanity toward responsible production and consumption. It is only through strong institutions, responsible production and consumption, clean water, sanitation and climate action can we have sustainable cities and communities.
Making and acting upon the link between water security, climate stability and human and planetary health will demand the creation of the new kinds of partnerships that are necessary if we are to achieve all 17 of these global goals simultaneously. The building of such partnerships will build trust which will contribute to state and military security globally.”
*Global Goals List
1. No Poverty
This goal, which seeks to eradicate extreme poverty by 2030. The UN defines extreme poverty as living on less than $1.50 a day. Perhaps most importantly, this goal includes measures to protect those who have had to leave their homes and countries as a result of conflict.
2. No Hunger The UN seeks to both improve the access that the world’s poorest have to food, and the ways in which that food is produced.
3. Good Health and Well-being This goal focuses on continuing to reduce child mortality, the health of mothers, and combating other diseases.
4. Quality Education Improving worldwide access to education is a top priority. It calls for free education through high school, rather than limiting it to primary school only.
5. Gender Equality This goal advocates for the elimination of violence and discrimination against women. It also calls on countries to improve women’s social and economic standing.
6. Clean Water and Sanitation The UN reports that by 2050, at least one in four people is likely to live in a country affected by chronic or recurring shortages of fresh water. This goal aims to improve sanitation and hygiene practices, including access to fresh water, in developing nations by 2030.
7. Affordable and Clean Energy This goal seeks to broaden both the development and use of renewable energies by 2030, the next deadline date for achieving these goals.
8. Decent Work and Economic Growth The UN is interested in both the creation of new jobs, and the development of those jobs that are sustainable enough to lift employees out of poverty. According to UN estimates, “roughly 470 million jobs are needed globally for new entrants to the labor market between 2016 and 2030.”
9. Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure This goal focuses primarily on the building of roads, rail systems, and telecommunications networks in the developing world.
10. Reduce Inequalities This goal aims at reducing the inequalities in income distribution among the most marginalized populations in the world, both within developed and developing nations. The UN estimates that “a significant majority of households in developing countries – more than 75 percent of the population – are living today in societies where income is more unequally distributed than it was in the 1990s.”
11. Sustainable Cities and Communities With urban populations on the rise over the past decade, the world is on a hunt for ways to house, feed, and employ that burgeoning population. This goal seeks to tackle that problem by reducing the number of people who live in slums by 2030. It also aims to reduce the pollution output coming from those urban centers.
12. Responsible Consumption and Production This goal, a continuation of Goal 6, seeks to improve the access that people in developing countries have to food and clean water, while at the same time improving how food is produced on a global scale. It also aims to address the global obesity crisis.
13. Climate Action The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals looks at quickly and efficiently reducing greenhouse-gas emissions in both developed and developing nations.
14. “Life Below Water” The UN is interested in sustainable fishing practices and protecting marine life. They estimate that nearly “40 percent of the world oceans are heavily affected by human activities, including pollution, depleted fisheries, and loss of coastal habitats.”
15. Life on Land The UN is also interested in protecting creatures on land, with an emphasis on reducing deforestation and desertification.
16. “Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions” A goal that envisions fair and free elections, as well as governmental accountability at every level. The UN estimates that “corruption, bribery, theft, and tax evasion cost some US $1.26 trillion for developing countries per year.”
17. Partnerships For the Goals In keeping with practices established with the 2000 Millennium Development Goals, the UN continues to envision a global framework of support to make sure that its goals are realized. Adapted from: https://www.csmonitor.com/World/Global-News/2015/0926/UN-s-17-global-goals-What-s-on-the-list See what you can do. Release human potential for a purpose.
“Optimism starts with what may be the most extraordinary of human talents: mental time travel. That is, the ability to move back and forth through time and space in one’s mind. To think positively about our prospects, it helps to be able to imagine ourselves in the future. Although most of us take this ability for granted, our capacity to envision a different time and place is critical for our survival. It allows us to plan ahead, to save food and resources for times of scarcity, and to endure hard work in anticipation of a future reward.
While mental time travel has clear survival advantages, conscious foresight came to humans at an enormous price — the understanding that somewhere in the future, death awaits. This knowledge that old age, sickness, the decline of mental power, and oblivion are somewhere around the corner, can be devastating.”
Here’s an idea – what if you viewed the Ted talk, and keeping sustainability in mind, wonder about how and when you think or feel people are most likely to express their creativity to make a difference?
“… the ability to make connections across disciplines-arts and sciences, humanities and technology-is a key to innovation, imagination, and genius.” Walter Isaacson (2017) Leonardo da Vinci. p3.
Imagine you have a day of freedom to explore cross-disciplinary thinking, and that you take the opportunity to combine what you’re working on now with sustainable development to create something new, to innovate.
You have that day – it’s World Creativity and Innovation Day, April 21.
See what you can do.
FYI World Creativity and Innovation Week April 15-21 begins on Leonardo da Vinci’s birthday, April 15.
Check out where your search engine points when you query his name. Who knows what you’ll find out that you can use for inspiration.
Dr. Kim’s 2017 research on the creativity crisis is presented as a think piecefor you, to help prep for World Creativity and Innovation Day, April 21.
Join me in spreading the creative spirit, knowledge about it, opportunities for it, and ways to use it to help create a decent life for all on a sustainable planet. WCID2018.
New ideas, new decisions, new actions, new outcomes to make the world a better place and to make your place in the world better too.
Here’s the Research
The Creativity Crisis: It’s Getting Worse
Children are born to be creative, like eagles are born to soar, see the world, and find food, not scratch and fight for scraps in a coop. Instead of competing against each other on memorization tests, when children utilize their creativity to its full potential, creativity can contribute to healthy lives and future careers.
How High-Stakes Testing Has Caused Exam Hell in Asia
High-stakes testing has shaped the main Asian cultural values: 1) filial piety (e.g., to be a good son or daughter by achieving high scores), 2) social conformity (e.g., to think and act like others); and 3) social hierarchy (e.g., to obey the authority). High-stakes testing has made millions of young men focus on preparing for tests, instead of challenging the social hierarchy. It has resulted in exam hell, the excessive rote memorization, and private tutoring, starting in early childhood, to achieve high scores among students in Asia. This situation has fostered social conformity and structural inequalities. It has cost Asians their individuality and creativity.
How High-Stakes Testing Has Caused The Creativity Crisis in the U.S.
During the 1990s, American politicians, fearing the educational and economic success of Asia, began to focus on test-taking skills to emulate Asian success. Today, high-stakes testing costs American taxpayers tens of billions of dollars each year, but the real cost is much higher
Highly-selective university and graduate school admission procedures rely on high-stakes tests such as the ACT and the SAT. Testing companies and test-preparation companies have reaped enormous financial benefits and lobby Congres heavily for more testing. However, because students’ scores are highly correlated with both students’ family income and spending on test preparations, high-stakes testing has solidified structural inequalities and socioeconomic barriers for low-income families.
American Education Before and After the 1990s
Creativity is making something unique and useful and often produces innovation. Prior to the 1990s, American education cultivated, inspired, and encouraged. However, since the 1990s:
Losing curiosities and passions. Because of the incentives or sanctions on schools and teachers based on students’ test scores, schools have turned to rote lecturing to teach all tested material and spent time teaching specific test-taking skills. Students memorize information without opportunities for application. This approach stifles natural curiosities, the joy of learning, and exploring topics that might lead to their passions.
Narrowing visions. Making test scores as the measure of success fosters students’ competition and narrows their goals, such as getting rich, while decreasing their empathy and compassion for those in need. However, the greatest innovators in history were inspired by big visions such as changing the world. Their big visions helped their minds transcend the concrete constraints or limitations and recognize patterns or relationships among the unrelated.
Prior to the 1990s, many schools had high expectations and offered many challenges. However, since the 1990s:
Lowering expectations. Schools focus on students whose scores are just below passing score and ignore high-achieving students.
Avoiding risk-taking. High-stakes testing teaches students to avoid taking risks for fear of being wrong. The willingness to accept failure is essential for creativity.
Prior to the 1990s, educators sought to provide students with diverse experiences and views. However, since the 1990s:
Avoiding collaboration. Because teachers have been compelled to depend on rote lecturing, students have few opportunities for group work or discussions to learn and collaborate with others.
Narrowing minds. Schools have decreased or eliminated instruction time on non-tested subjects such as social studies, science, physical education, arts, and foreign languages. This contraction not only narrows students’ minds but gives them few opportunities for finding or expressing their individuality and cross-pollination across different subjects or fields. Low-income area schools, especially, have decreased time on non-tested subjects to spend more time on test preparations.
Prior to the 1990s, schools provided children with the freedom to think alone and differently. However, since the 1990s:
Losing imagination and deep thought. Test-centric education has reduced children’s playtime, which stifles imagination. With pressure to cover large amounts of tested material, teachers overfeed students with information, leaving students little time to think or explore concepts in depth.
Fostering conformity. American education has increasingly fostered conformity, clipping eagles’ wings of individuality (All schools preparing students for the same tests and all students taking the same tests). It has stifled uniqueness and originality in both educators and students. Wing-clipped eagles cannot do what they were born to do – fly; individuality-clipped children cannot do what they were born to do – fulfill their creative potential.
Fostering hierarchy. Students’ low scores are often due to structural inequalities, which start in early childhood (e.g., the number of words exposed to by age 3), affecting their later academic achievement. Yet, high-stakes testing has determined the deservingness and un-deservingness of passers or failers. The claim of “meritocracy” has disguised the structural inequalities by conditioning disadvantaged students to blame themselves for their lack of effort.
Results of The 2017 Creativity Crisis Study
In “The Creativity Crisis (2011)” I reported that American creativity declined from the 1990s to 2008. Since 2008, my research reveals that the Creativity Crisis has grown worse. In addition, the results also reveal that the youngest age groups (5 and 6-year-olds) suffered the greatest.
The significant declines in outbox thinking skills (fluid and original thinking) indicate that Americans generate not only fewer ideas or solutions to open-ended questions or challenges, but also fewer unusual or unique ideas than those in preceding decades (Figure 1).
The significant declines in new box thinking skills (elaboration and simplicity) indicate that Americans think less in depth, with less focus, and they think less critically and in more black-and-white terms than those in preceding decades (Figure 2). The significant decline in open-mindedness (creative attitude) indicates that Americans are less open to new experiences and different people, ideas, and views than those in preceding decades (Figure 3).
The greatest declines in creativity among the youngest age groups suggest that the younger children are, the more they are harmed by American test-centric education.
Similarities between American high-stakes testing and Asian exam hell have appeared. Increasingly, fewer American innovators will emerge. The longer test-centric education continues, the fewer will remember or know that eagles can fly, and the more we will see creativity and innovation decline. America must not abandon its traditional way of raising eagles. Eagles that soar high will see the whole big world, and children who maximize their potential will become world’s greatest innovators. The world has improved from breakthroughs made by eagles, not by wing-clipped chicks.
Leading up to the 90th Academy Awards Ceremony is a great time to honour the 1968 winner of the documentary short subject – Why Man Creates.
We watched Why Man Creates every semester when I was an undergraduate and graduate student at the International Center for Studies in Creativity at Buffalo State College; from September 1977 through to December 1983.
Students and faculty at the Center quoted lines from the film because it was shown with such regularity, ‘I’m a bug, I’m a germ, I’m a bug, I’m a germ. Ha – Louis Pasteur, I’m not a bug I’m not a germ.’
Creativity Principle: Look beyond the obvious
Every semester when our professor, Dr. Ruth Noller, showed it, I’d moan.
“I’ve seen it already,” I’d say.
“Then find something new in the film,” Ruth replied; like clockwork, every semester.
And so I did. Ruth modeled an important principle you can use to fashion your WCID and WCIW celebrations. I learned to look beyond the obvious, to dig deeper, to see new things in the old – skills I use to this day.
Creativity Principle: Harsh immediate judgments are like a shot in the gut
One scene, in particular, stood out. An artist, who, in creating a sculpture, experiences an insight of grand proportions. He adds this new idea to his artwork and then, puts the sculpture on show.
We see a crowd gathered, commenting on this piece of art. Each utterance is a criticism. “It’s unAmerican.” I can’t say what I think because I’m from Nebraska, and you know what we are like.” “It will never fly Orville.”
We see the artist dressed like an American cowboy, receiving the comments as if each is a bullet. With each comment, he buckles over as if hit in the gut.
This scene profoundly moved me. Still does. Every time I hear an immediate ‘no’ to a new idea, it feels like a shot to the gut. From that I generalized this must be how others feel with rejection, immediate harsh criticism to their new thinking, that, in turn, discourages them from using their creative imagination and contributing new and different ideas, thinking, or potential solutions.
Wouldn’t it be great for people to inquire about new ideas rather than judge them harshly and critically upon first learning of them? That’s one of my wishes for World Creativity and Innovation Day, April 21, that the portal for considering new ideas opens wider to enable free use of imagination applied to create a decent life for all on a sustainable planet.
Prepare for World Creativity and Innovation Day, April 21: An Invitation
I invite you to take a step back in history and to participate in the worldview of the times. Watch the 1968 film. Highlight your connections and insights in the comments section.
What principles emerge for you?
It’ll be interesting to see the meanings we make today.
World Creativity and Innovation Day, April 21 has a purpose: to encourage people to use creativity in problem-solving to create a decent life for people on a sustainable planet.
What does that mean? How does one use creativity in problem-solving? How does one know if creativity has been used?
In a May 2017 post, I asked for input about this question. Here’s one reply, from Dr. Fatou Lo Planchon, France/Senegal
Sustainable development is crucial for our society. Your initiative is a big step forward in this issue.The complex and multifaceted challenges associated with global change and sustainable development occur on various scales.
Achieving solutions to these challenges has fostered the multiplicity of decision making levels, and the plurality of financial and regulatory instruments. However the transition to proactive and sustainable solutions is still tricky because it implies various interacting factors and requires a holistic and creative mindset.
Adaptation and resilience to climate change, water and energy issues, to name a few, are primordial questions to answer.
Using creativity to solve these burning environmental issues means clarifying the issues at stake, involving a diversity of people, widening our perspectives, and stretching our thinking to shift paradigms and come to new ideas. To make this participative cross disciplinary collaboration happen, a climate that fosters idea exploration, trial and errors, and experimentations is needed.
Using creativity in problem solving means:
– Using a robust process to find new ideas, make better decisions, co-create and innovate.
– Combining periods of divergent and convergent thinking
– Deferring judgment, freewheeling, leapfrogging, focusing on a lot of ideas
As an environmental scientist, a doctor in climatology, and a creative facilitator, the role of creativity in solving environmental problems is a question I have to often answer, and keep on searching for new answers to.
Wouldn’t it be great to have a tool available for people to use to review how they might have used creativity in problem-solving in the past? My hunch is that many already do. Imagine everyone able to seize and use their creative power moving forward.
This infographic may help you prepare your project or activity to share for World Creativity and Innovation Day, April 21, 2018 (WCID). Thanks to blogger Daisy Hartwell for her creation. Be patient – it may take a moment to load.
As you review the list, make a mental note of which are new to you, ones you can add to your creative thinking. behaviour repertoire.
Remember to upload your WCID April 21 and WCIW April 15-21 celebrations for this coming year to serve as examples and inspiration for others!
Scarcity is attractive. Research shows imposed limits motivate people to act: consumers are led to purchase using phrases ‘limited time offer’, ‘ first 30 people get a 30% discount’, and ‘only 100 left’ for example. [Other scarcities such as clean water, nourishing food, arable land, honeybees, and so on are also motivating people to take action.] Creativity is not scarce. It is common. I was quoted once saying, “if you breathe, you create”. Remove the scarcity of creativity, the common beliefs that some have it, others don’t, or some people are more creative than others, and so on, and creativity may become less attractive. Except… Creativity signals a restlessness to improve conditions. To explore, discover, experiment, question. We create because we are members of the human race, and the human race is filled with passion. It’s human nature to use the power of imagination to adapt to and initiate change for the better. Once we have the idea, insight, framework, ability to compare what can be with what used to be, we gather with others to innovate; to make it so. Celebrate World Creativity and Innovation Week April 15-21 this year, and every year. Share how you’ll be exercising your passion for new, different, better with the world.
Passion Comment adapted from Dead Poet’s Society: We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, “O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless… of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?” Answer. That you are here – that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play *goes on* and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?
Open minds, hearts, eyes to new ideas, new decisions, new actions: one week worldwide