Are we born to create? Does the drive to learn represent what it means to be human?
About twenty years ago, I began to think deeply about the relationship between creativity and learning, perhaps because of family and friends who represent a continuum of creative directions in their life pursuits. A recent article on the decline of creativity also caught my attention. Sir Ken Robinson examines this decline from a different perspective, describing it graphically as a school-induced “war on talent.”
My brother rejected a comfortable career to become an artisan knifemaker, learning instead to make a living by creating 18th century knives. I’ve watched him study the craft, the history, and knife design processes, adding his own creative spark in his journey to become a valued knifemaker in his field. I cherished the artist I found within my son before he turned three. Today, he’s immersed in the digital design revolution, pursuing an MFA along learning pathways I could never have envisioned twenty-one years ago. I’ve seen school kids motivated to engineer bridges from spaghetti, create 3-D fabrications, and work like cave painters from 30,000 years ago. What do they all have in common? In each case, they pursue passion-driven learning grounded in personal creativity as they:
wonder, question, play,
design, make, construct,
imagine, engineer, build,
originate ,compose, devise…
These verbs represent the legacy passed to us from ancestral cave painters, campfire storytellers, tool inventors, village songwriters, cathedral designers, and bridge builders. In reality, are we not all gifted with the DNA of poets, artists, painters, artisans, musicians, builders, designers, and inventors? What happens to our gifts?
When toddlers play, we marvel as those ancestral gifts come alive. Then, we watch as the contagious creativity of childhood fades away in most children as they march towards adulthood. Why did we choose to disconnect “to play” from “to create” from “to learn?”
Around 500 years ago when Gutenberg’s press led to a new world order, print information consumption became the driver of learning, rather than the sparks of the creative learning processes once so essential to the survival of hunter-gatherers.
Today, we’re caught in a tense turning point in which learning again seeks a creative identity. In the late 1800s, Charles Peirce defined wondering as the starting point for design, not observation. Rotman’s Roger Martin recently wrote to the critical need to embed not just deductive and inductive thinking in our design tool crib, but also Peirce’s notion of the great abductive leap from wonder into inquiry. DARPA’s created tech possibilities never before conceptualized. Several states talk about an index to assess how well schools support creativity within learning. And, the design ethos of Jobs resides on the best seller list. What are the implications for those of us on the turning point?
Are we reawakening in education, in business, in society, and even, government, to the essential relationship between creativity and learning?
Is it possible in a “democratized culture” of digital possibilities, that access to opportunities to create and learn will renew inventiveness? What if we kept alive the iridescent spark of creativity we’ve often extinguished in children who, as they’ve entered mostly factory schooling, are held in thrall by an obsolete, 20th century destiny of repetitive, assembly line school work? What if we allowed learning to emerge from our innate urge to create? What might be different?
If we reconnect the power of creativity and learning, what are the implications for contemporary schooling? work? life at home?
How might our world change as a result?
Join @irasocol and me at 9 a.m. EST on February 11 during #ideachat to converse about creativity and learning.