Long Live Convergent Thinking and Knowledge! 

One of the first articles I wrote about when I was getting my MA Creative Thinking was In Praise of Convergent Thinking, by Arthur Cropley.  I was a fan of divergent thinking, and praised it often! I was intrigued by the idea that convergent thinking should be praised in creativity, as well. After reading his article, I agreed! Convergent thinking and knowledge are  super important parts of creativity.  Look: “In the area of convergent thinking, knowledge is of particular importance: It is a source of ideas, suggests pathways to solutions, and provides criteria of effectiveness and novelty.”  (Cropley, 2004, p. 2) Makes sense, right?

Then I discovered the work of Teresa Amabile — among other things, her componential theory of creativity. In a working paper summary from 2012  she writes that the componential theory of creativity “specifies that creativity requires a confluence of four components: Creativity should be highest when 1) an intrinsically motivated person with 2) high domain expertise and 3) high skill in creative thinking 4) works in an environment high in supports for creativity.” (Amabile, 2012) Domain expertise includes, — you guessed it — knowledge.

I spend a ton of time outdoors and enjoy playing around with plein air watercolor painting. The other day, I stowed my new travel water color set — 24 colors — in my backpack and set out. Reaching the summit I broke the kit open and began. I quickly realized there is a plethora of different colors in nature, and I wasn’t sure how to create them from my 24.

What was I to do?

Funny, at that moment, I saw the beautiful faces of my kindergartner artists asking me the same question. I told myself what I tell them. “Do your best and don’t fret!”

So, that’s what I did!

I wasn’t sure how to make the many colors I saw, but I did my best. I had a blast! I looked at the beauty before me for a long time — soaking it in. I sketched some rough ideas, and looked some more. I noticed shapes, colors, gradients, clouds, glints of light and much more. Finally I picked up my brush, made my best decisions, and ended up with a rather pleasing product.

But, I hadn’t forgotten what I’d learned from Cropley and Amabile, so when I got home I got out some sheets of watercolor paper, created a grid, opened my watercolors, poured myself a glass of sparkling water, and set to work. I was amazed, and really quite surprised, by the colors that were created when I mixed the paints.

This chart contains the colors obtained by combining only two colors at a time. Imagine what might happen if I mixed more than two at once!!! Or, just think how much more I might learn by contemplating the chart and noticing characteristics about each color.

The possibilities are endless.

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This was such a simple, pleasant lesson about the importance of convergent thinking and knowledge for creativity. Of course I can be creative with the knowledge I already have. I understand some things about color theory and how colors combine. But, I learned so much by doing this work. I have no doubt it will impact me next time I paint. I’m excited to see how this will increase my creativity — not my talent — but my creativity.

To further sing the praise of convergent thinking and knowledge, several times I had to use them as I created the chart. I would absent-mindedly move to wash my brush in my sparkling water, and once even lifted the brush-washing water glass towards my lips! Thank goodness for convergent thinking and knowledge which reminded me that it might be unique, but not at all useful,  to wash my brush in my sparkling water, or to drink the brush-washing water that was in the small glass!

Long live convergent thinking and knowledge!

 

RESOURCES:

Amabile, T. (2012, May 22). Componential Theory of Creativity. Retrieved August 18, 2017, from http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/componential-theory-of-creativity

Cropley, A. (2006, July).  In Praise of Convergent Thinking. Creativity Research Journal,18(3):391-404. Retrieved August 18, 2017, from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/247807708_In_Praise_of_Convergent_Thinking

 

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Replace Negativity with Creativity!

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What a great thought! Replace negativity with creativity.

I found this gem while reading Beautiful Faces by Jane Davenport. (Which by the way, is an awesome book. The link is her website.)

When I first read it “replace negativity with creativity,” I laughed out loud. Not because it was funny, but because it was remarkably good. It is such a brilliant, simple visual that holds profoundness beyond its uncomplicated beauty. I adore artistic creativity and engage in it often. But, when I read Jane’s words I immediately thought of creative thinking.

“YES!” I thought. “Let’s replace negativity with creativity. Let’s replace negative thinking with creative thinking!”

Unlike negativity, creative thinking “bridges the gap between what is dreamt and what is desired; it knows no bounds and is not restricted by possibilities.” How fantabulous is that?!!

I recently returned from my yearly appointment at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. I gotta say, those doctors, nurses, and researchers are some seriously brainy men and women! They are constantly engaging cancer, and all its destructive negativity, with their brilliance and creative thinking.

This visit, my oncologist and I talked about a drug they are creating specifically for Waldenstrom’s macroglobulinemia. He shared a myriad of thoughts, ideas and wonderings that they are encountering in their work. He was apologetic as he told me they hadn’t yet completed the drug.

I chuckled inwardly and said, “Oh my! I’m not surprised at all that it’s super difficult and entails a boat load of hard work. It is one crazy, fabulous, brilliantly-complicated piece of creative thinking and doing!”

Like me, and all creatives, my doctor and his team employ many processes and strategies as we work to replace negativity with creativity. Here are a few I regularly employ.

  • Possibility thinking
    • Being open to the notion that there are many possibilities. Possibilities not yet conceived, as well as those imagined but not yet realized.
  • Lateral thinking
    • Looking at the problem/issue from all different angles, even those that might seem a bit ridiculous, implausible or less than useful.
  • Divergent thinking
    • Generating all sorts of ideas — ones that are outside, as well as inside, the box.
  • Making connections
    • Many times these connections are between seemingly unrelated things.
  • Conversation
  • Silence
  • Fermentation
    • LOL! I’m not sure anyone else refers to it as fermenting, but I enjoy the image. This is when I stop deliberate consideration of the problem or any possible solutions. Much like actual fermentation it mught look like nothing is happening. But, nothing could be farther from the truth. My unconcious mind is working to make sense of my ideas, and at some point, clarity and/or new ideas blubble up to my conscious mind, bursting forth as flashes of insight or revised ideas.
  • Questioning
    • I’m like a 5 year old! I ask lots of questions – especially, but not limited to, “How might we?” “What if?” “How come?” “How do you know?” and “Why not?”
  • Sleeping
  • Walking
    • My MA tutor Karl K. Jeffries — also quite a brainy dude — suggested a walk, whenever I was being overcome by “existential angst” thinking my research and effort was meaningless, and would never amount to anything. The stepping away and moving — especially walking outside — was always valuable.
  • Deep sighs of relief
    • Uri Alon — yet another brainy guy in my universe — talks about deep sighs of relief in his systems biology lectures. In a relaxed state he says “we tend to be more curious, playful … it’s good for learning.” Uri states there is actually a feedback loop between the relaxed state and breathing. We breathe more deeply when we are relaxed, and we can induce that more relaxed state by breathing deeply  — by taking, as he explains “deep sighs of relief.” Try it, it actually works! I use deep sighs of relief regularly with myself and my Kindergarten students. Depending on the vigor of your exhale, it can be very funny!
  • Looking deeply
    • This deep looking sometimes involves research, but often is simply prolonged purposeful staring at my ideas and thoughts.
  • Openness to the new, surprising, and unexpected.
  • Risk taking
    • Sometimes all of the above is the risk taking endeavor, sometimes the risk is about the action, sometimes about the product.
  • Critical Thinking and evaluation
    • Having done all these things and more, I then need to think critically and see if my ideas, products or processes are actually useful.
  • Perseverance
    • It’s super important to continue — even when it is tough, frustrating, and we’re deep in the cloud. Rethinking, starting the process all over again, remaining open, hopeful and determined are essential if we are to replace negativity with creativity.

I’m going to keep at it in my life and my work. I have no doubt the Dana-Farber people will too. My fingers are crossed they will succeed in creating a drug for WM treatment sooner rather than later — successfully erasing a bit more negativity in the world.

How about you?

What will you do?

I hope you’ll give it a go.

Replace negativity with creativity!

I believe in you!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Power of Language

Lately I’ve been struck by the profound power of language.

Last night at a mindfulness session someone pointed out the difference between saying: “I am a worrier!” and “I am experiencing worry.”

Do you hear a difference? Do you feel one? They are very similar statements, but the small variations cause large differences in meaning and impact.

The first statement says something about me, and therefore about the possibility of my actions or thoughts. I AM a worrier. If I am a worrier, I have no choice. I worry. If, instead, I am experiencing worry, I have choices. I can notice the worry. I can observe it. I can choose to turn towards the worry and learn from it. I can choose to do something to alleviate it. Or, I can worry, lol.

The point is, the change in my language opens possibilities for me! It gives me options. It creates space to be, and to do.

I share the worry example because it helped me to understand my experience of another rather subtle change in language.

I’m writing an article on creativity and leadership. My editor suggested I change “How might we?” to “How can we?”

What do you think? Say the questions to yourself a few times. What do you experience when you read the questions? Do you notice a difference? Do you have pull or preference for on or the other?

I definitely experience the questions differently, and I have a clear preference!

I am experiencing — in my life and in my practice — that the power of “How might we?” far exceeds the power of “How can we?” Sounds a bit crazy, right? But, it’s not!

“How can we?” offers two options: we can, or, we can’t. That’s it. Too often, when given the choice of can, or can’t we choose can’t.

I can’t do that! I can’t walk a half marathon! I can’t solve that problem. I can’t write a story. I can’t do a multimedia presentation. I can’t pass this test.  I’m not able. There is no way. (sigh)

If we avoid the “I can’t!” quagmire. We may fall into the “I don’t know” trap because”How can we?” suggests we are looking for the correct way to do whatever we are doing. If the person being questioned is at all unsure, this often leads to the answer: “I don’t know.”

In both instances — “I can’t” and “I don’t know” — the problem remains unsolved understanding stagnates, learning is limited, and, perhaps, most tragically, the one questioned is now more convinced than ever that they really don’t know, and they really can’t .

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In contrast, “How might we?” is more flexible and less prescriptive. “How might we?” invites divergent thinking, allowing us to go wide with our answers. Even the uncertain can offer ideas because the “rightness” of the answer is not demanded.

Often the answers which fail, are more valuable than those that immediately succeed. They allow us — demand it actually — to reflect, examine, explore, talk, learn and try again. In this process many positive things happen. To name just a few:

  • Understanding (of ideas, materials, students, ourselves, others) deepens.
  • New strategies emerge.
  • Trust, confidence and relationships grow.
  • Thinking and ideas are valued.
  • New ideas are formed.

The power of simple changes in language is intriguing. I’m super excited by the possibilities of HMW questions, and am working on using them more often in my life, and in my practice.

Give them a try. If you do, I’d love to hear your reflections.

Encouraging Young Inventors

Recently, in our Kindergarten Maker Space …

Me: “Hey, may I take a picture of what you’re working on?”

Student: “Sure. It’s a bug playground.”

Me: “A bug playground?”

Student: “Yeah, because otherwise they just get stepped on.”

Me: “Wow, they do get stepped on, don’t they? What a great idea. I bet the bugs will like it!”

How awesome is that?

A 6-year-old,  using all sorts of creative thinking (human/bug design thinking, possibility thinking, positive thinking, lateral thinking, divergent thinking, convergent thinking) to problem-find and problem-solve. I love it!

It’s what happens when students are given recycled materials, duct tape, and, most importantly, the opportunity, space and encouragement, to think, risk and build.

Thomas Edison and Kindergartners

They are more alike than you might think at first glance!

According to the Edison Innovation Foundation, Thomas Edison once said:

“I find out what the world needs. Then I go ahead and try to invent it.”

Given the chance, any kindergartener would say that! Ok, perhaps they wouldn’t say “what the world needs” but they surely would say “what I need” or “what my friends need” or “what my dog needs.” They are natural problem-finders, and problem-solvers!

Like Edison, they are constantly observing, investigating, wondering, and asking questions. This, coupled with their imagination, and a rather intense desire to have things that do not yet exist, often leads them to a plethora of problem-finding. This car I just made is too long. We need a zip-line on the playground. Why don’t we have a container that holds all that stuff?

They often also share Edison’s intense confidence, boundless energy, imagination, and love of tinkering. Given the opportunity, time, resources, and a little encouragement, they create many prototypes as they engage in focused and determined problem-solving.

One of my kindergarteners recently discovered a problem she deemed worthy of her thought, time and energy. “How can you open a card without touching it?” Hmmmm …

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“Add some handles!”

We might be inclined to relegate this to the “ah, isn’t that cute” category. While it is cute, it is so much more! It is sophisticated problem-finding and problem-solving. This student took her present knowledge – about cards, sticks, handles, tape, hands – and thought about it in a new way. She used that knowledge to envision something as yet non-existent – a card you can open without touching it. She then took the materials available to her, and used them in novel ways to solve her problem. She created a card with handles. And, it can even be place in an envelope.

Finding problems, thinking divergently as well as convergently, tinkering, testing, and finally, problem-solving are important skills and habits. My fingers are crossed that my students will continue in this way, and one day say, with Thomas Edison “We found out what the world needed, and we went ahead and invented it!”

Resources:

Edison Innovation Foundation http://www.thomasedison.org/