Seven Principles of Creativity

Seven Principles of Creativity



1.  All people have the capacity to be creative.

All people have the natural gift of creativity. Humans are born with it. Creativity is hard-wired into our brains.  We can’t really teach a child to be creative, any more than we can teach a child to be tall.

However, we can foster creativity and help it grow. We can teach some of the skills that support and undergird creativity. We can create environments that cultivate creativity and help it to flourish. We can build relationships with children where they feel comfortable and encouraged to practice their creativity. We can provide experiences to children where they exercise their creative muscles.

Some children will have more of a creativity-cultivating upbringing. Some children have had parents that stirred the passions of creative thinking. Others will have had teachers that worked to foster creativity. All children have creative potential, but some have had that potential cultivated, others have had it quelled.

Few of us are creative in multiple disciplines. Most of us are creative in just a few disciplines, the ones with which we are most familiar.  Some people are creative in art, some in math, some in history. Some adults are creative in administrative duties, and others are creative in big-picture activities. All of us have the natural ability to be creative, although some people’s creative abilities have been nurtured more than others. But all of us have the natural ability to be creative.


2.  Creativity is a critical skill in a rapidly changing world.

It’s not news to say that we live in a rapidly changing world. Any of us can attest to the dizzying pace of social changes, technological advancements, and geopolitical transformations. When we live in a world where the only constant is change, we are bombarded with questions that we have never had to answer. We are confronted with questions that no one has ever had to answer. Constantly, we are faced with brand-new problems.

New problems require new solutions. We need creativity to solve these new problems.  We need to diagnose these problems accurately and apply new thinking to them. We need to create new and innovative solutions to these new problems.

Research done with leaders of organizations reinforces this point. CEOs say that the most important leadership characteristic today is creativity. Creative individuals can look past “what is,” and see “what could be.” Creative teams can look past old solutions that no longer work, and find new solutions and new innovations.


3.  Creativity can be nurtured in any subject.

Parents can and should foster creativity, but schools are a vital place to continue that nurture. Learning and creativity are intimately bound up together. Teachers have an opportunity to use creativity to enliven learning, and used learning to develop creativity. Teachers can teach to make both creativity and learning blossom.

Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking that only arts and drama can develop creativity. We start to think creativity is relegated to a few particular disciplines. We get invited to draw a picture and we decline, saying “No, I can’t. I’m not creative.” We look at arts and crafts and say, “I could never do that, I’m not creative.” We even make a distinction between “non-fiction writing” and “creative writing,” as if no creativity is required for non-fiction writing.

The reality is that art, drama, and writing are great places to practice creativity, but not the only places. Any discipline or subject can develop or reveal creativity.


4.  Children (and adults) can be taught out of creativity.

Sadly, children can be taught out of being creative. Like a houseplant that is never watered or cared for, creativity can wither. People become afraid to use their creative capacity, and so suppress it, never letting it out in the open.

Schools can suppress creativity when kids are taught that there is only one right answer—and the worst thing is getting the wrong answer. Schools can teach kids out of creativity when schools don’t let kids think independently. Schools make creativity wither when they care more about curriculum than learning.  Schools kill creativity when they become hyper-focused on testing and assessment—to the exclusion of all else—as if the recall of factoids means something about the interconnectedness of knowledge that is important in learning.

Long-term research has been conducted on classrooms where the kill-and-drill methods are the dominant form of teaching. In the short term, kill-and-drill methods of teaching often produce higher test scores. However, if used for the long term, children learn to hate the subject matter, forget all they learned, and avoid learning anything about that subject in the future.

Schools kill creativity when they present every problem in life as a neat, tidy, easily definable problem with a single correct answer. When questions are refused, when tangents are discouraged, when children’s interests are unimportant, then creativity withers.

Children are resilient. Kids who have been had their creativity quelled can inch their way back toward their full potential. With caring adults and teachers who are focused on children’s learning, creativity blossoms.


5.  Creativity is a weaving of several skills and capacities.

Creativity is a merging of different capacities. Creativity is composed of at least three primary capacities, and undergirded with many other skills. The primary capacities are curiosity, problem-solving, and imagination.

Curiosity is the passionate drive to explore; the push to understand and know more. Kids who are curious can look deeply into a subject, losing themselves for hours. Curiosity is the engine that pushes creativity to the next level.

The second component of creativity is a desire to problem-solve. The problem-solving child desires to fix things, invent things that are needed, or in some way solve a problem. They are not afraid to problem-solve in front of others, even when they know they might be wrong. Problem-solving is the public face of creativity.

Imagination is the third component of creativity. Imagination is the ability to see that which is not. Imaginative people can see how things could be. Imaginative people are able to step outside current paradigms and look at situations as no one else does. Imagination is what gives creativity it’s novelty and newness.

Research suggests that creativity is not well-correlated to intelligence. This means that those who score well on tests are not any more or less creative than those who score poorly on tests. Creativity and intelligence seem to be relatively unaffected by each other.


6.  Creativity enlivens learning and engages the learner.

When we have to use creative skills to acquire learning, we find it especially exciting and fun. When we use skills that are innate, in a fun way, it is engaging.

When we are forced to do something, either because someone told us to, or because we get a grade for it, then we are motivated extrinsically. Our motivation comes from the outside—someone is telling us to do it, forcing us to do it, or somehow getting us to do it. Anytime we reward a project with a grade or create a time limit, we are being motivated extrinsically.

When we are motivated by our love of learning, and we do it because we want to, then our motivation is intrinsic. Intrinsic means “from the inside.”

One of the clearest threads in the creativity research is how intrinsic motivation makes creativity blossom, while extrinsic motivation quells creativity. When children pursue projects that they want to pursue, creativity blossoms and learning is engaging and enlivening. When children do projects that they are told to do, with the specter of grades, time limits, and formal evaluations, then creativity is quelled. When creativity is quelled, learning is no longer fun and engaging, and we are left with bored, apathetic learners.


7.  All kids have creative potential, but it is not always easily seen.

Often times, it is an adult who has been in the field for 8-10 years, when they do their best creative work. It takes years to develop creative skills in a particular discipline.  Many creative people have breakthroughs every 10 years or so.

Children don’t always have the deep knowledge of a particular domain to have creative skill. What we can develop in classrooms is creative potential. We can nurture and cultivate their creative potential so that they can increasingly utilize their creative skills as they go through life.

Creative potential, however, is not always easy to see. Albert Einstein was one of the most creative scientists in history. However, as a child, he was so slow to develop that family members called him “the dopey one.” Children develop at different rates, and if their creativity is nurtured, their creative skills will blossom when they are ready.


© 2013, Jim Ollhoff & Laurie Ollhoff



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