“I’m not creative.”
I say (and hear) this much too often. And when I do, my creative friends cringe because they view creativity as a skill you can cultivate and learn (not something you’re born with). They are frustrated with my fixed mindset about creativity. Unfortunately, after several years of facilitating parent, teacher and student workshops about creativity, I realize that I’m not alone in my thinking about creativity.
However, I’ve recently started combining 3 of my favorite videos as a set in training sessions and watching these three together has helped me believe that even I can become more creative with practice and effort (and really, if I can do it, that means anyone can do it)!
1. How To Be Creative
It all started with this fantastic mini-documentary from PBS Off Book, first introduced to me by Frank Curkovic, one of the most creative people I know, and a fantastic role model for putting in the creative work on a daily basis (side note: if you don’t know PBS Off Book yet, I highly encourage you to explore their YouTube channel – so many amazing resources and such high quality – all available for free):
I have shown this video at dozens of trainings and every time I notice something new. Most recently I showed it at a Parent Tech Coffee Morning for NIST parents, at an Eduro Learning training for Marysville teachers in Washington State, and our Eduro Learning Institute: Create, Capture, Curate, here at NIST. At each showing in the last month or so, the following ideas really resonated with me:
Anyone can be creative, you just have to find the medium that works for you
This is something I don’t know if I considered before – I think I had always thought about creativity as “traditional” forms of art (drawing, painting sculpture, singing), and perhaps those are not the right medium for me – and that’s ok – everyone has their own “just right” creative outlet.
While we were sharing this with the Marysville teachers, Jeff and I talked about our preferred mediums and I realized that I really enjoy expressing myself through photography, and that connects to my love of designing presentations that are very visual. There’s something about capturing a moment in time that inspires me. It’s strange to think of presentation design as a creative outlet, but I have to admit, when I’m into it, hours can go by and I don’t even realize it (hello, flow!), and I get really excited about finding exactly the right (Creative Commons) images to tell the story. The same happens when I’m really into a blog post, or training with heavy weights, or editing video clips.
Creativity happens in stages
In this week’s parent tech coffee morning we showed this video as the opening conversation starter. As soon as the second section of the video finished, I realized that those stages of creativity match so well with the MYP Design Cycle that I’ve been teaching with for 16 years. In fact, we used this video also as an opener for Create, Capture, Curate in February to help participants understand the structure of the day (which followed the MYP Design Cycle process).
But it wasn’t until this viewing that I realized that following that cycle can actually help students (well, anyone) actually learn how to become more creative. By breaking down the process into stages, and valuing each stage of the process, we are giving ourselves the incubation time to let ideas percolate, before we move on to the next step. That pause between each stage in the design cycle gives us that incubation time to let our minds wander and see connections or new ideas rise to the surface.
We have to do the work – creativity doesn’t just spring fully formed out of nowhere
When we were watching this at Create, Capture, Curate, this notion of just doing the work really jumped out at me. The idea of creative expression being work means it might be hard, we might not really want to do it, it might take time, and we have to make an effort. It’s that effort that helps us get better, so we have to make the time to keep practicing.
Maybe your creativity time is like your 20% time that you give yourself during the work week. I’m realizing that I have to schedule it in, otherwise it will be the first thing that drops off the to do list (as evidenced by the inconsistency of my blogging). I’m also realizing that I have to find opportunities to practice my creativity in different settings, to take the opportunity when it is available. Lately I’ve been capturing more video in an effort to practice capturing and editing on my phone. Usually this happens when I’m at the gym or during a photowalk, or leading professional development, but I am now always on the lookout for the opportunity.
Working with someone that thinks just like you means you might as well be working alone
This is why I love working in teams. Even when the teams frustrate me. I’ll admit, I do like it better when we’re all starting from some common ground, but especially when we’re not, that’s when I find myself doing the most writing, the most thinking, the most creating. Because I need to process all the dissonance among the group and see where I stand. I’m not sure if that’s “officially” being creative, but it leads to one of my forms of creative work.
But, there’s a problem….
We watch that first video and get excited to work. Personally, I like to start by talking it out (I process by talking – as anyone who has ever met me has had to tolerate). And as soon as I talk out my idea (usually with my amazingly patient, and very smart, husband, Alex) I think, “oh, duh, everybody knows that”. Why would I write a blog post about that, it’s been done before. Why would I make a presentation about that, I’ve seen it all before.
And that’s where video number two, (originally shared with me by Clint, another amazing creative thinker!) comes in handy:
2. Obvious To You Amazing To Others
How many of us have thought that we have nothing to share? That what we do is what everyone else does and there’s nothing special about it? Facilitating the COETAIL program, with the public blogging requirement, for the last 10 years means I have had this conversation more times than I can count. Yet, I still feel the same way when I have a new idea – that feeling of your idea being so obvious it’s not worth sharing doesn’t seem to go away, no matter how much practice you have.
So, I watch (or share) this video. There’s just something about the way Derek Sivers describes this process that is so relatable and so easy to understand that as soon as you watch, you feel empowered again to share your everyday, obvious, thinking with the world.
3. The Gap
And sometimes, when you put yourself out there, and you start doing the work, you realize, it’s not quite as good as you want it to be. When I write, I think “ok, this might be interesting, but it needs editing”, or it when I take photographs, I think “this might be visually stimulating but it’s crowded”.
And that’s where the next video fits (I can’t remember where this one came from, but I’m sure it was from a YIS COETAIL session, and the first version I saw was this one. I like the one below better):
Our first try is never as good as we want it to be. But the more we try, the better we get. We have to do the work. For me the work includes watching others to see what inspires me, as well as just getting down to it, and creating my own work.
So, I’m giving it a try, again and again. With things I have lots of practice at (like blogging and designing presentations), but also with new things, like filming and editing video on the fly (blog post to come shortly on that process!).
And what I’m realizing is:
We have to make time to create
We have to make the time – not just to get better – but also to process our thinking. We are exposed to so many different ideas each day, it’s almost impossible to process them all. But if we make some time for thinking about them, talking about them, sharing them, connecting them to other ideas, we will solidify our own understanding and make sense of them for ourselves in a way that we are unable to do with just reading or watching:
Too often, technology seems to isolate us from one another rather than allowing us to forge connections. One way to push back against this phenomenon is to use our media consumption as fodder for real-life conversation. So grab a buddy and debate a think piece, discuss a scientific breakthrough or analyze Beyoncé’s latest music video. And even if the conversation hits a lull, stick it out—according to psychologist Sherry Turkle, it takes at least seven minutes to find out whether a conversation is going to be interesting or worthwhile.
Creative time helps us feel happier, as this article describes:
Perspective shift: Fun and Purpose are kind of the point
I would argue, though (that “regrets of the dying” piece has my back on this) that your fun, your happiness, your work-that-doesn’t-feel-like work, is precisely the point of your life. It’s your piece of the puzzle, your original medicine, your what-the-world-needs-is-more-people-who-have-come-alivethang.
Maybe you can’t quit your day job or fire your kids to turn that into your full-time vocation. But here’s the thing: A little tweaking can do wonders.
Making time to create means that we’re opening ourselves up to failure, and therefore to learning, helping us instill a growth mindset. John Spencer just created this video last week, but it fits so well into this series, that I think I’m going to start adding it when I facilitate sessions about this topic again in the future (my next one will be with gr8 students at NIST in late April):
Finally, if your creative outlet is one where you are sharing your work, making time to create helps us connect with others. Other people that can help continue to push our thinking, or inspire us, or help us make sense of the work we’re doing.
Update: here’s one more that I use all the time, but didn’t include when I originally wrote the post:
What about our students?
We can see by all of the videos above that the creative process is not easy. We need practice, we need encouragement, we need time. And if we, as adults, need all of this, so do our students. How can we make sure we bring these kinds of experiences to our classrooms on a regular basis? How can we make sure we are providing them with the time to explore and find their medium for creativity? How can we build in structures that help them develop understandings about how to be creative? How can we give them that incubation period – perhaps without even requiring an actual product – to understand the value of that process?
Perhaps most importantly: How can we help them close their “taste gap”? When I show that video to students, they can immediately relate. They know exactly what Ira Glass is talking about and it’s perhaps even more frustrating for them than it is for us. They want to be able to create what they see, and they need to be reminded that it’s not easy, but it’s worth it.
In the last year, especially, I’ve seen a lot of classrooms and met with a lot of teachers all around the world, and so many of them struggle with allowing students the space to be creative, to follow their passions, to make something that they define as valuable and purposeful for them.
I am always inspired by my husband, Alex, who looks at every unit as an opportunity for students to express themselves, to engage in their learning through creating something, and to make it personal for them. How can we step away from the fear of “that’s the way we’ve always done it” or “the students need to know this for the test” or “this is what’s in the ‘the curriculum'” to allow them to make time for their own creativity?
Can we start by modeling and understanding the process for ourselves?