At a recent Creative Scholars meeting, I brought up an article that appeared in the New York Times earlier this month. The article examined the idea of “creativity as academic discipline,” focusing on specific undergraduate and graduate programs that aim to teach creativity. The article was interesting, but the reader comments were what really drew me in and sparked a discussion at the meeting. The basic takeaway: Readers talk about creativity in so many different ways. Varying associations with the term colored the responses to the article, highlighting the widespread disagreement about creativity’s value and ability to be taught.
So I asked the Creative Scholars around the table for ideas on how to address the challenges associated with this misunderstood word. Their answers, often infused with descriptions of their work, highlighted the commonalities that underlie much of what happens in universities and other institutions across fields, regardless of whether these common elements are formally recognized as “creativity.” It’s typical to think of creativity in terms of products—whether paintings or iPhones—but the responses at our meeting really came down to process. As an idea, creativity is hard to nail down and often carries very particular connotations, but when we distill it down to its elements, it’s clear that creative processes permeate everything from sculpture to theoretical physics.
If we talk about these elements in an intentional way, it might be easier to convey the role of creativity both within and beyond the university. Rather than thinking generally about creativity, let’s delve into its parts: How do you overcome blocks? What materials do you play with? What’s your methodology for improving your own ideas? Who’s innovating in your department, and why?
Asking these kinds of questions can get us past the initial roadblock inherent to the word “creativity” and lead to real insights into the creative processes that drive work in all kinds of fields.