Busting myths of creativity in education

mythsofcreativityEducation isn’t the most creative or innovative sector of society. Sure, we have classrooms within our system and schools around the country known for innovative practices. Generally, though, the field of education is firmly rooted in an industrial model and not too willing to change.

As a superintendent, I work with those in my district to embrace a more progressive vision of education (Make School Different) and want to see our students, teachers and school leaders embrace a growth mindset where creativity and innovation bring about the changes so necessary in our system. Recently, I’ve been exploring the idea of innovation in education (blog post, Edcamp Hershey, upcoming #currichat on August 5), and when I heard that David Burkus, author of The Myths of Creativity: The Truth About How Innovative Companies and People Generate Great Ideas is scheduled to be the featured speaker at the PASA Education Congress in 2016, I wanted to give the book a read. The ideas in the book, backed by examples from research, provide every kind of leader with the basis for rewriting the myths of creativity found in his/her organization.

Of the 10 myths, 4 stand out to me as particularly applicable to education:

  • The Expert Myth: Great ideas only come from people with an expertise in the problem. A diversity of perspectives, including those not in the domain area of the problem, bring about the most creative solutions. There is a bit of irony, however, in this myth relevant to education — all of the tinkering from policymakers, mostly considered non-experts in the field. In fact, policymakers do a pretty good job of ignoring the real “experts” — teachers, students and administrators – those with an insider perspective, too often without a voice at the policy level (we bear some of the responsibility for this).
  • The Breed Myth: The fixed mindset that only those with some special genes or born talent can develop creative or innovative ideas. In education, we take this myth a step further and believe only those with titles can/should be doing the creative/innovative work. Since becoming a superintendent in January 2015, I find that people often associate some kind of magical power with the title.
  • The Eureka Myth: Great ideas appear out of nowhere. Great ideas have a history of incubation where divergent ideas and thoughts are synthesized, resulting in something creative or innovative. In education, we are far too reactionary, generating mediocre solutions, typically in isolation, pressed by some sort of “urgency.” The need for idea incubation tells us we should slow down the train of urgency, and take the time to collaborate with other minds (experts and non-experts in education) to generate the most powerful solutions.
  • The Constraints Myth: Access to unlimited resources improves the quality of creative/innovative solutions. There isn’t a place on earth where resources are unlimited, least of all in education. Constraints on resources provide inspiration to be as creative and innovative as possible. Innovation, after all, is generating novel solutions using the resources you have while finding ways around the resources you don’t have.

Based on what David tells us about the myths of creativity, what can educational leaders change now to foster more creativity and innovation in the organization?

  • Engage a more diverse set of stakeholders – teachers, students, parents, board members (the expert myth) around problems of “significance” – those matters that will have a long-term, high impact on our vision and mission for education. How do we want teaching and learning to change? How can we engage a variety of stakeholders, particularly students, in these conversations and decisions? How does the constraint of time play into our decision making (the constraints myth and the eureka myth)? Time is actually on our side, I believe. “Urgency” is often fabricated by others, and we too easily respond while we push aside the more significant issues we ought to be dealing with. Time is also an invaluable opportunity to connect with other (sometimes opposing) viewpoints, and synthesize new and old ideas, arriving at the best creative solution (the breed myth).
  • Work to create a school/district culture where a flat hierarchy exists (the breed myth). We can do this by engaging the stakeholders mentioned above, getting out of the office and onto the front lines where the day-to-day work is happening. When we can make people feel good about their work and appreciated, perceptions that leadership titles and hierarchy correlate with creative and innovative ideas will be busted.
  • View every constraint (financial resources, human resources, time) as an opportunity to be creative and innovative (the constraints myth). Just about anything is possible if we’re willing to put in the time and the hard work to get there. Along the way, we’ll need to push back on the myths of creativity.

What are the barriers to creativity and innovation in your organization? How do you work to debunk the myths of creativity?<

Want to learn more about all 10 myths of creativity? In addition to consulting David’s book, to to the Change This site, and download  Rewriting the Myths of Creativity.

Check out David’s podcast on leadership, innovation and strategy, LDRLB, on iTunes and Twitter. This is one of my favorite podcasts, with interesting guests, thought provoking ideas and useful takeaways.

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2 comments on “Busting myths of creativity in education

  1. I support your thinking on innovation and creativity in education. The direction of education in the United States will be determined by the most creative and innovated educational leaders.
    Thank you for sharing your response to the book, The Myths of Creativity. With you permission I would like to send David a copy of your blog.

  2. Hi, Patrick! Thanks for taking the time to read my blog. You are welcome to share with whomever. I am really looking forward to David’s presentation at the Education Congress. His work has many connections to what we need to do in education.

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