I often hear arguments from educators about what creativity is and how it should be ‘taught’ in schools, or if indeed, it can be ‘taught’.

In a previous article Preparing students for a world that doesn’t yet exist, we discussed the importance of fostering creativity in our students, to ensure that they are ‘future-proof’ in a world where 800 million of today’s jobs are predicted to be replaced with automated technology by the time they leave school.

With this in mind, it’s vital that our students can work creatively by the time they leave school.

The truth is: you don’t have to play the violin, write a poem or produce an artistic masterpiece to be creative. Creativity is simply finding a new way of looking at things.

So, as the debate about whether these skills can be taught rumbles on, teachers can provide students with these 5 counter-intuitive tips to increase creativity in their classroom:

1. Don’t wait for inspiration to make a start

There are many misconceptions about how breakthroughs are made. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that they’re suddenly inspired — like the often told story of the moment the fall of an apple led Newton to discover gravity. However, in reality Newton developed his theory over decades of prior research and work.

Creativity is rarely born out of divine intervention. If your sole tactic is to sit and wait for inspiration to strike, then you’re almost always setting yourself up for failure.

Eureka moments occur because of the work leading up to them. Action stimulates inspiration more often than inspiration stimulates action. Inspiration doesn’t just strike for no reason. It relies on a consistent pattern of work that sometimes manifests itself in the form of those rare moments.

2. Seek relationships between existing ideas

At its core, creativity is just a new and useful way of combining old ideas. It isn’t imagined out of thin air, and it isn’t completely abstract. It’s a fresh way of making sense of the existing components of reality that have yet to merge.

If you think about creativity as the ability to develop meaningful connections between existing parts of your reality, you can start to realize that creativity isn’t just reserved for the likes of Mozart and Picasso. It’s something that impacts all of our lives, and it’s something we all practice.

Hone your mental inventory of knowledge and let it mingle in absurd ways.

3. Be willing to produce work that isn’t perfect

Like anything else in life, the only way to master creativity is to put in work.

The difficulty, however, for some students is accepting the production of work that isn’t perfect. Nobody likes to fall short of expectations, but it’s all the more daunting when it comes to creating because the result is a tangible output, like a painting or a piece of writing.

One way to challenge this difficulty is to realise that we’re not the only ones that produce imperfect work. When we see a great creation by a genius, it’s useful to remember that they worked on more than just one piece. They produced a lot of previous work that no one talks about.

Over the course of his career, Einstein published over 300 scientific papers and about 150 non-scientific papers. An archive of his non-published work contained more than 30,000 unique documents, and he wasn’t always right.

4. Treat it like a job

To truly practice creativity, commit to a schedule, show up, and get to work, whether you want to or not. It’s about setting a schedule and just doing it.

The best way to create is to treat it as a job. Pick a time, show up, and produce.


5. Don’t expect results immediately

Extraordinary results require extraordinary commitment. That’s the secret.

John Hayes is a professor at Carnegie Mellon University and he once did a study to analyze thousands of musical pieces between 1685 and 1900. He was curious about how long it took for a musician to produce world class art.

He narrowed it down to 500 masterpieces by 76 composers. By mapping out a timeline for each individual, he looked at when a piece was produced. Outside of only three artists, every composition was written at least a decade after they started to take their work seriously.

In follow-up studies of poets and painters, he found the same result. He termed this “The ten years of silence” — a period with a high production of work but very little recognition.

To cultivate creativity, you have to not only build the courage to make mistakes, but you also have put in a lot of unrewarded time to create great work.

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