What is Creativity? A Parents Guide

‘The world no longer cares how much you know; the world cares about what you can do with what you know.’

Tony Wagner

Why care about creativity?

This page serves as a parent’s guide to some of the key concepts behind creativity and creativity research. However, before we begin exploring theses concepts, I think it’s helpful to consider the value of creativity in society. As apparent in the quote above, creativity is vital in a world where we care less about what we know and more about what we can do with what we know. I suppose some might consider this concept an oxymoron, but it’s particularly relevant in education. The system is built to distribute existing information and knowledge to students. As children advance grades, they add more information and knowledge on the subjects we’ve identified as most important (see video clip below).

The idea of a system that measures our progress in learning isn’t bad. There is a clear relationship between what we know in a subject (e.g., biology) and the creative outcomes we produce in that subject. However, we will continue to prioritize the things easily measured on a test until we perfect assessment and accountability systems. Simply put, we haven’t got good at quickly measuring skills such as creativity and knowledge application. This issue in our system of assessment and accountability is where Wagner’s quote becomes particularly relevant. Creativity is what moves a field and society forward; it’s our ability to apply knowledge in new and different ways. 

What is creativity?

When tasking people to define the concept of creativity, I’ve found it produces many responses. Generally speaking, these responses typically evolve around novelty (e.g., originality) and exist inside the arts. This concept is apparent inside a 1958 speech delivered by Joy Guildford to the American Psychological Association. In response to the Soviet launch of Sputnik, Guildford presents the teaching of creativity as something now vital to the interests of American prosperity. This speech is often cited as the beginning of the field of creativity research.

‘I think of creativity as being something that lies behind behavior; behavior that is imaginative and inventive. Such behavior can be found in clearest form in the lives of certain people – scientists who make new discoveries and construct new theories; artists, designers, writers, and composers; and architects, designers, and builders.’

Joy Paul Guildford

However, as the scientific field of creativity grew over the years, we began to expand upon this concept. We now consider two other factors when studying and teaching creativity in education. These two factors are represented inside sentence: Creativity considers the production of new and useful outcomes as related to a social context.

Although the newness factor is somewhat easy to understand, the usefulness and contextual factors are where things get a little interesting. I will explore these concepts a little more in the paragraphs below. Before I do, I should highlight that I continue to engage with people who present other thought-provoking creativity concepts. Often, these concepts assume a more personalized and subjective view of creativity. If you’re interested in expanding your understanding of Creativity and it’s meaning, I’ve shared a couple of relevant episodes from the Fueling Creativity Podcast.

Creativity and the Environment

Much of the articles in DadsforCreativity consider creativity inside the context of the home environment. The environment represents the social context to where creative actions occur; this includes the thinking and the doing elements for this topic. It also considers the relationship between the outcome produced by our children and the newness and usefulness it brings to a given situation. For example, we can view outcomes from how they addressed a problem inside a children’s game. We can consider the production of those outcomes inside the home. And, we can think about all the things we do as parents to influence both. As you’ve probably figured, popular researcher examines the production and outcomes of creativity inside a classroom or within a professional context. These represent two other environments for Creativity discussion. Vlad Gleavenu is a leading Creativity researcher who explores the concept of creativity and environment in the podcast below.

Can Creativity be taught?

Yes, creativity can be taught. In the field of creativity, researchers and scholars believe creativity can be taught. Professor E. Paul Torrance, often referred to as the Father of Creativity, conducted some of the early work to explore the teaching of creativity in the classroom. His work identified a creativity skill set that we can develop and teach. This skill set supports the production of creativity in the classroom and in the real world. Some of these skills are referenced in other articles on DadsforCreativity.com, they include the ability to:

  • Produce and Consider Many Alternatives
  • Be Original
  • Be Flexible
  • Use Fantasy
  • Be Open
  • Use Humor

These characteristics naturally manifest in young children, but as they transition to older years, they become underutilized in a society that still struggles to celebrate and promote creativity in education. I explore some of these concepts in the film, Creativity in Education: Exploring the Imbalance. Free access to this film is available to anyone who comments on my blog!

Resources

Below is a list of online material that support the question – What is Creativity? The first two are reasonably light, the second two are more scholarly endeavors.

You can also comment on any of the blog articles and/or subscribe to receive free access to the documentary, Creativity in Education: Exploring the Imbalance.