Tuesday, September 2, 2008

What is creativity?

When we think of defining creativity we naturally think of having novel ideas. Some creativity gurus would add that the ideas should be actually useful. I think that that addition points toward something vital to creativity: creating. No doubt a great many novel and useful ideas eventually die of neglect, and the world is the poorer for it. Without the ability to bring an idea to life by crafting its form and following it through to completion, ideas that might otherwise be recognized as creative instead come to be seen as mere daydreams, or, if there are abortive efforts toward achievement, failures.

Imagination is only the beginning.

Some sort of craft must always be applied to the idea to bring it to life, whether it be hewn from marble, composed in verse, painted on canvas with oils, or told to a receptive hearer. But craft alone is not proof of creativity. A factory robot can precisely craft a screw, a chair leg, or a particular shade of purple paint. But nobody would argue that the robot is being creative. Neither is the skilled craftsman who is executing someone else's design necessarily being creative himself. Yet without craft, the idea never takes shape.

It is still possible, even with adequate skill being applied to the idea, that it never comes to fruition due to lack of follow-through. Even with a brilliant idea and exquisite craftsmanship, sometimes life gets in the way. Things happen; unforeseen changes are needed. Without the ability to change course, a ship will almost certainly strike a hazard and founder. The same happens to creative endeavors without proper execution. The ability to achieve the goal often requires careful management of the boring details.

Imagine. Craft. Achieve.

Sounds simple. Unfortunately, the ability to do all three well is rarely found within one individual. Many try to go it alone, and end up with only daydreams or failures. We need the humility to recognize our limitations, to set aside our egos, and to work collaboratively with others who are in some respect superior to ourselves. We need to cooperate.

The great thing about Odyssey of the Mind is that it gives kids the chance to put all four vital ingredients of creativity together:
Imagine. Craft. Achieve. Cooperate.

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