Getting to know Creativity

For this module I read four articles,

  • Amabile, T.M., Goldfarb, P., & Brackfield, S.C. (1990). Social influences on creativity: Evaluation, coaction, and surveillance. Creativity Research Journal, 3(1), 6–21.
  • Frank, T. (2013, October 13). Ted talks are lying to you. Salon. Retrieved from
  • Martin, J.R. (1996). There’s too much to teach: Cultural wealth in an age of scarcity. Educational Researcher, 25(2), 4–16. doi: 10.3102/0013189X025002004
  • Mueller, J.S., Melwai, S., & Goncalo, J.A. (2012). The bias against creativity: Why people desire but reject creative ideas. Psychological Science, 23(1), 13–17. doi: 10.1177/0956797611421018

Our task for this module is to define the following terms:

  • Innovation
  • Creativity
  • Teaching
  • Learning

Each of these terms are loaded with latent meaning. How we end up defining them is affected by our own societal understandings and prejudices.

When we are discussing these terms in the context of the classroom, a strong implication of positive suggestions exist. As mentioned in many of the articles, we are culturally conditioned to praise creativity and innovation, not only as driving factors of our economy/society, but also as supportive of our own self-worth (to consider oneself as creative is a positive attribution).

However, we must then come to consider how these terms have become tools of the “self-help” phenomenon. As mentioned in the article TED Talks are Lying to You – the narrative on creative development and the imbedding of creativity and innovation into education (and other fields) is written for the members of the “Professional Managerial Class.” Frank laments how “the literature of creativity [is] a genre of surpassing banality,” serving to build up self-conceptions, and encourage personal innovation by repeating anecdotal accounts on historical innovators.

At this time, I hope to take a minute to reflect on the ramifications of the previous statement (partly because I can, partly because I will otherwise confuse myself).

The terms to be defined, specifically creativity and innovation have taken on an “almost buzz term” character.

We praise them socially, and encourage them in education, but they are at least partly defined as aspects of internal self-worth.

Let us draw the following conclusions,

  • Creativity and innovation hold positive connotations in society
  • There is a cultural desire to promote these techniques, but the methods of doing so approach banality and are engrained in a “algorithmic” philosophy, creativity is treated as a skill that can be learned

Due to the rise of entrepreneurial culture and the effects that creativity and innovation has had on the economy, creativity and innovation are treated as economic boons, should we be able to endow the younger generation with them.

The conclusion reached in the second point, that creativity is treated as algorithmically attainable, is meant to be partly ironic. It refers to Amabile, Goldfarb and Brackfield’s conclusion that creativity necessitates the existence of a heuristic task. Musings on human tendencies for control and how it could relate to the promotion of creativity amongst the general population will be addressed in a later post. I will try and remember, but if I forget, please remind me!

Going forward, let us consider The Bias Against Creativity (Mueller, Melwai, Goncalo). We can see how in some aspects, creativity is discouraged (at least internally). The primary argument is that when faced with uncertainty, participants will err away from creativity.

If we compound this with the data espoused in Social Influences on Creativity (Amabile, Goldfarb, Brakfleld), and their support of Zajonc’s idea that “dominant (less novel) responses will increase in the presence of others,” (p. 16) we can begin to draw some anecdotal conclusions.

Let us consider that according to Amabile, Goldfarb and Brackfield, the existence of an evaluator led to lower levels of creative expression amongst participants. In order to explore this further, we must first define what an “evaluator” is, in our present social-educational construct.

What is an evaluator?

In schooling, evaluation happens throughout our experiences. Originally, evaluation starts with the teachers, this is later broadened to include the students’ peer groups on one extreme, and ministry/expert evaluation on the other (through contests and standardized assessments).

Evaluation serves to develop a sense of individual “worth” or “valuation” (quite depressing terms) with regards to the community. It creates a hierarchy amongst the class, if not of intellect, then at least of proficiency. This is reflected in grade structures and other forms of summative assessment.

If we consider this exploration further, we can look at methods of education, and how we have traditionally treated them. A simple construct to view this from is that of the apprentice/master relationship. The apprentice will follow the master and copy what they do over and over again until becoming proficient. Aspects of this can be seen in our current education model as well. Developmental rubrics are designed to encourage understanding of basic skills, and the following of foundational methodologies, so that students can then construct understandings and deal with them intelligently.

Considered as such, we can see how our education system places learners in a position of uncertainty. They are expected to accumulate knowledge and skills from experts, and the mechanisms by which our educational system approaches learning, is one of algorithmic repetition. A large desire in education is towards equal opportunities for all learners. This is a great ideal to work towards, however, one of the difficulties arising therefrom are formalized equations and approved methodologies.

Inherent in the constructs of summative assessment and formalized curriculum is a conception of correct methodology. As well, there is the summative placement of students amidst the other members of the class, and conception as one of a variety of learner profiles.

The desire inherent in students to place themselves in an ideal social position, as well as the acceptance of an expert figure in the classroom (the teacher), leads to a situation where thinking creatively carries a lot of negative weight. Students are passively encouraged against being creative.

As a result, in order to develop the confidence necessary for creativity, students require a strong foundational concept of self-efficacy and intrinsic motivation. This will be explored further in a future posting.

To finish up this post, let us consider the nature of creativity, and try and wrap up these ramblings in some kind of thoughtful nugget or coherent passage, that the reader can take home.

Creativity is viewed as a novel way to approach a situation, that also accomplishes the task at hand. There are four different situations in which we might find ourselves.

  • Naively, within a naïve group – such as with a new cutting-edge technology
  • Naively, within a knowledgeable group – as a learner in a traditional education model
  • Expert, within a naïve group – as a teacher in a traditional education model
  • Expert, within a knowledgeable group – as an expert in a field

Considering this outline, we can draw the conclusion that situations (b) and (c) will lead towards formulaic understanding – the focus of a traditional education model being towards the amelioration of uncertainty with the intent of developing proficiency. This is because in situations (b) and (c) one of the parties is knowledgably defined in contrast to the other. This creates an inherent sense of uncertainty and a tacit acceptance of a correct (or at least preferred) approach to a situation.

In categories (a) and (d), subjects are equal within their social group, and therefore do not face contrasts of self vs. peer-group. There are no social superiors by which their actions will be judged, and so they are able to act creatively without undermining their social reputation/value, an instinct developed strongly from the earliest ages of schooling. By eliminating the uncertainty of being wrong, and the potential demotion within an established social hierarchy, participants in situations (a) and (d) are free to be creative without reprisal.

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