How many times have you said, or been told, to “Think outside the Box?” We’ve heard this so many times. Yet, how do we learn novel or creative thinking? It’s not a typical school subject; it’s not on most MBA syllabuses. It’s required to compete in the global market yet we’re not preparing today’s children for success.
Too often creativity is misunderstood to mean artistic. IBM has conducted numerous polls among global CEOs that expound the importance of creative thinking. Are we to believe these global organizations seek painters, potters and sculptors as executives? Clearly not. Creativity needs to be understood as a way of thinking. That thinking is a discipline called the creative process. There are many definitions of the creative process; boiling it down to its most simplistic form, the creative process is like a whirlwind of inspiration, iteration, and collaboration that leads to innovation.
Children need to learn the creative process to prepare for life, for academic and career success.
The U. S. was the world innovation leader from late in the 19th century through most of the 20th century. Not anymore. When our schools started reducing art, music and liberal studies in an effort to replicate the success Asian students were having in math and science we lessened the innovative thinking power of future generations. With the release of the 2016 Innovation Index, Bloomberg now ranks the U. S. as eighth. We’re slipping because our children are taught to memorize and repeat; to perform well on standardized tests. We are not teaching children how to learn, how create or how to innovate. Over the last few decades, the emphasis on performance through standardized testing has become a singular focus in most schools. This is instilling a fear of failure.
When did failure become such a bad thing? Ask any successful person if they’ve failed. The answers range from “many times” to “early and often.” Sir James Dyson recalls that he had 5,126 failures, or iterations, until he eventually invented the world’s best-selling vacuum cleaner. Even legendary sports icon Michael Jordan says, “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” Our children have such a fear of failure that they are no longer exploring new ideas and this cripples their chances of success.
The National Endowment for the Arts in 2008 and the SMU Meadows Prize Report in 2010 looked at the impact of art education on children. These studies show positive outcomes such as better problem solving skills, a higher likelihood to attend college, earn a degree, do volunteer work, and hold a full-time job.
It’s not just about art and music education in schools. Those things have been measured because they’re easy. These typically are the only creative disciplines taught in schools. When we dive deeper into understanding creativity, we learn that it’s a way of thinking and it drives innovation. Dr. Paul Torrance studied nearly 400 children from childhood into their careers and proved that creative thinking skills can be learned. His creativity index is able to predict who will have high performing careers such as entrepreneurs, inventors, college presidents, authors, doctors, diplomats, and software developers.
So much energy is focused on the product while little or no time is spent on the process. It’s the process of creating that gives children space to fail, that teaches them to seek alternative viewpoints, answers or solutions. If we continue to score every effort and punish the kids who attempt new things, we’ll continue to discourage innovation. Let’s seek out opportunities that allow children to explore, to iterate and to create. For children today, there are very few safe places to fail.
When children work through the creative process they develop higher self-esteem and take pride in their abilities to overcome obstacles. There is a light in their eyes that is unmistakable.
When our eyes shine with pride, we take on greater challenges and achieve greater things. When that light is on, failure doesn’t weigh so much. Let’s awaken our children to the joy of creating.