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The Creativity Mindset

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I absolutely love all of the emphasis on mindsets these days. There are growth mindsets (which I discuss in The Educator with a Growth Mindset: A Staff Workshop) and maker mindsets (which I discuss in The Mindset of the Maker Educator). Mindsets are simply defined as “the ideas and attitudes with which a person approaches a situation.” Mindsets imply that mental and attitudinal states can assist one in being successful with a given skill set. I believe this to be true for engaging in the creative process, that a creative mindset is a prerequisite to being creative.

Creativity is a process in which the elements of mind consolidate in a completely new manner and something original comes into existence, a form of behavior in which a person resists routine answers, tolerates, and even seeks out the ambivalence, insecurity and vagueness that may serve as a basis for a new order (Gyarmathy, 2011). (http://www.academia.edu/2506344/Creative_climate_as_a_means_to_promote_creativity_in_the_classroom)

To be highly creative you first need the right creative mindset. Having the outlook, attitude and beliefs that empower and support you to be as creative as you can. (http://www.mind-sets.com/html/mind_power_programs/creativity_mindset.htm#sthash.ihA6Ng2q.dpuf)

A creative mindset gives meaning and value to how you approach your life, creative endeavors, and pretty much everything you do. Having a mindset for creativity opens you up to opportunities and possibilities because you are able to relish the creative process and embrace innovative thinking. Creativity is how we make our lives meaningful and by valuing your creativity, owning, and honoring it, you will move into a life that is purposeful, truthful, and feels free. (http://www.awakencreativity.com/a-creative-mindset/)

Some of the characteristics of the Creativity Mindset include:

  • Believes in One’s Own Creativity
  • Embraces Curiosity
  • Suspends Judgement – Silences the Inner Critic
  • Tolerates Ambiguity
  • Persists Even When Confronted with Skepticism & Rejection
  • Taps Into Childlike Imagination; a Child’s Sense of Wonder

creativity mindset

Believes in One’s Own Creativity

Central to a creativity mindset is the belief that one is and can be creative. It becomes self-statements that revolve around, “I can be creative.”

You have to believe that your creativity has meaning. You have to believe with all your heart that if you don’t express your creativity that you are not living up to your full potential, will never experience true happiness, or find the ultimate meaning of your existence. (http://www.awakencreativity.com/a-creative-mindset/believe-in-your-creativity-part-one-of-a-creative-mindset/)

Tina Seelig writes in inGenius that “in order to find creative solutions to big problems, you must first believe that you’ll find them. With this attitude, you see opportunities where others see obstacles and are able to leverage the resources you have to reach your goals” (p. 180). (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/creative-synthesis/201404/when-it-comes-creativity-attitude-is-key)

Embraces Curiosity

Creative people want to know things–all kinds of things– just to know them. Knowledge does not require a reason. The question, “Why do you want to know that?” seems strange to the creative person, who is likely to respond, “Because I don’t know the answer.” Knowledge is enjoyable and often useful in strange and unexpected ways. (http://www.virtualsalt.com/crebook1.htm)

Suspends Judgment – Silences the Inner Critic

The ability to hold off on judging or critiquing an idea is important in the process of creativity. Often great ideas start as crazy ones – if critique is applied too early the idea will be killed and never developed into something useful and useable. (note – this doesn’t mean there is never a time for critique or judgement in the creative process – it’s actually key – but there is a time and place for it). (http://www.problogger.net/archives/2007/05/09/9-attitudes-of-highly-creative-people/)

Many new ideas, because they are new and unfamiliar, seem strange, odd, bizarre, even repulsive. Only later do they become “obviously” great. Other ideas, in their original incarnations, are indeed weird, but they lead to practical, beautiful, elegant things. Thus, it is important for the creative thinker to be able to suspend judgment when new ideas are arriving, to have an optimistic attitude toward ideas in general.

Tolerates Ambiguity

Ambiguity tolerance may be… the “willingness to accept a state of affairs capable of alternate interpretations, or of alternate outcomes,” (English & English 1958). In other words, ambiguity tolerance may be central to creative thinking. (http://knowinnovation.com/tolerating-ambiguity/#sthash.XqxhaQh3.dpuf)

With the toleration of ambiguity, creativity gives way to new ideas, stimulates the acceptance of others’ viewpoints, and thus raises tolerance, understanding and cooperation. (http://www.academia.edu/2506344/Creative_climate_as_a_means_to_promote_creativity_in_the_classroom

Persists Even When Confronted with Skepticism & Rejection

Creative people who actually see their ideas come to fruition have the ability to stick with their ideas and see them through – even when the going gets tough. This is what sets apart the great from the good in this whole sphere. Stick-ability is key. (http://www.problogger.net/archives/2007/05/09/9-attitudes-of-highly-creative-people/)

Most people fail because they spend only nine minutes on a problem that requires ten minutes to solve. Creativity and problem solving are hard work and require fierce application of time and energy. There is no quick and easy secret. You need knowledge gained by study and research and you must put your knowledge to work by hard thinking and protracted experimentation.  (http://www.virtualsalt.com/crebook1.htm)

Taps Into Childlike Imagination; a Child’s Sense of Wonder

When children play, they often do so in very original ways. However, with the responsibilities of adulthood, this playful curiosity is sometimes lost and conventional responses often result. In a control condition, participants wrote about what they would do if school was cancelled for the day. In an experimental condition, the instructions were identical except that participants were to imagine themselves as 7-year-olds in this situation. Individuals imagining themselves as children subsequently produced more original responses. Merely being primed to think like a child resulted in the production of more original responses on a subsequent measure of creativity. (http://psycnet.apa.org/?&fa=main.doiLanding&doi=10.1037/a0015644)

Learning to ask ‘why’, ‘what if’ and ‘I wonder…’ are great questions to build into your life if you want to be a more creative person. (http://www.problogger.net/archives/2007/05/09/9-attitudes-of-highly-creative-people/)

Look at the clouds outside your window. When you were a child, you would probably find yourself looking at the clouds and seeing all kinds of shapes and figures and developing stories. Many adults, however, look at clouds and see them as nothing more than the threat of rain. Psychologists call this “functional fixedness”–we see things for their main function and thereby circumvent our imagination. To think creatively, we need to stop thinking, “What it is…” and instead think, “What could it be?” (http://www.inc.com/suzanne-lucas/the-5-attitudes-that-stifle-creativity.html)

Creative people are comfortable with imagination and with thinking so-called weird, wild, or unthinkable thoughts, just for the sake of stimulation. (http://www.virtualsalt.com/crebook1.htm)

I wholeheartedly believe that both educators and learners in any educational setting need to have a Creativity Mindset to grow, flourish, and feel accomplished with their learning.

In order to teach creativity, one must teach creatively; that is, it will take a great deal of creative effort to bring out the most creative thinking in your classes. (http://www.celt.iastate.edu/teaching-resources/classroom-practice/teaching-techniques-strategies/creativity/techniques-creative-teaching/)

There are some conditions that the educator can establish to facilitate a Creativity Mindset. Coleman and Deutsch (2006) summarize guidelines for fostering creative problem-solving, which also underlie the importance of optimal environmental conditions. These include:

  • Challenge the common myths that block creativity. Many ideas about creativity have developed in people’s minds that influence the procedure of creativity in a negative way.  Ken Robinson (2011) states that every person possesses a huge creative potential, simply by virtue of being human.
  • Create a time-space oasis for creativity. According to John Cleese (1991) the most important factor is to provide an appropriate physical environment and enough time to become absorbed in a task, then work persistently on the solution, this is called a time-space oasis, a necessary condition for creative production.
  • Formulate a serious but playful atmosphere. Humor and playfulness decrease anxiety and thus make us more open to new approaches.
  • Foster learner’s self -confidence to bear the risk of unusual behavior. Some self-confidence or assertiveness is indispensable if we want to come up with new ideas, so self-reliance should be enhanced to encourage people to be more willing to take risks and consider novel ideas. http://www.academia.edu/2506344/Creative_climate_as_a_means_to_promote_creativity_in_the_classroom)

As a parting shot, here is a short RSA Animate video on the power to create:

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

March 15, 2015 at 1:44 pm

2 Responses

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  1. Thank you for your posts and for this one in particular!!! You use the phrase, “Tolerate Ambiguity.” I would strengthen it to “EMBRACE Ambiguity.” I heard this mentioned years ago at a presentation and have unfortunately lost the source. But it’s part of my thinking on finding the best outcome possible – the creative one as you note. I often state that it’s not enough to acknowledge ambiguity, tolerate ambiguity as you write; I believe you need to embrace it – consider it, understand it, and creatively address it!!!

    jcbjr9455

    March 16, 2015 at 8:16 pm

    • Thanks for your comment – I agree, it really is about embracing tolerance – in all of its many forms!

      Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

      March 16, 2015 at 10:10 pm


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