The dark art of creativity

//The dark art of creativity

I was recently reminded of the ‘schools are killing creativity’ trope that was so prevalent a few years ago. Tempting as it may be to nod along with Ken Robinson and his cronies, it’s worth contemplating the creative power of constraints. Without clear knowledge of forms and ‘rules’, creativity is inevitably stifled. Ideas become a kitchen-sink soup with everything chucked into the pot with little regard for structure or purpose.

Children’s imaginations are already pretty vast and the younger the child, the greater the depth of their imagination. We don’t need to teach this, it just is. Sir Ken claims that children arrive at school with genius levels of divergent thinking; by the time they’ve got to 13 they appear to have had most of this surgically removed. But education is by its nature convergent:  we teach people that no, a 13 foot paperclip is just silly. Ken defines creativity as “the process of developing ideas that are original and of value”. This process is distinct from imagination. We can imagine loads of stuff without actually creating anything worthwhile. It’s not creative to come up with ridiculous, impractical nonsense; it’s creative to work within boundaries.

This is as true of mathematics, art, music, science and engineering as it is of writing. And it’s the ‘having worth’ bit that’s important here. Writing down lots of interesting numbers but leaving out all the pesky calculations is not worthwhile. Similarly twanging randomly at guitar strings may well give vent to your feelings but is in no way a worthwhile creation. One could perhaps argue that daubing paint randomly on canvass worked for Jackson Pollock but I (and perhaps he) might argue that he went through a rigorous process of experimentation before arriving at a new and beautiful form.

And that’s the point: creativity requires form. In order to write a sonnet one has to understand the rules of the sonnet form. And in order to play with the form, to experiment with the rules and yes, to break them, you still need to know what those rules are. If you don’t know how a sentence operates how can you truly be creative in the way you construct your sentences? Just having ideas and tossing them at the page simply isn’t good enough. Providing a clear, comprehensible framework for how to structure these ideas will help pupils to have a greater ability to process their ideas into a form which has worth.

But there are some pretty unhelpful myths out there. Consider this from Steve Jobs:

Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while.

No. They didn’t ‘just see something’; you’re only able to connect things when you know an awful lot. If you don’t know stuff, what are you going to connect? This kind of synthesis is only possible with hard work and effort.

Or what about this from sci-fi writer Ray Bradbury:

Don’t think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It’s self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can’t try to do things. You simply must do things.

Bollocks! If you don’t think, and think hard, you’ll never learn anything. It’s only possible to ‘simply do things’ after lots and lots of practice.

This from Dilbert cartoonist, Scott Adams is more helpful:

Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.

Acknowledging that creativity is a process and that we make mistakes along the way is much more honest. Surely it’s only through making an awful lot of mistakes that we start to understand which ones have worth? And contrary to most other creativity gurus, TS Eliot pointed out that “Anxiety is the hand maiden of creativity.” If we’re not stressed, if we’re content not thinking and just aimlessly plucking ideas from the inchoate jumble of an undisciplined mind, we’re unlikely to come up with much of value.

So, instead of wringing our hands at children being unable to dream up daft ideas, let’s worry about the fact so many leave school with only the vaguest notion of word classes, sentence structure, punctuation and text organisation, not to mention spelling. What seems to happen is that able writers seem pick up an instinctive, implicit feel for how writing works without ever necessarily being to articulate why. And everyone else doesn’t.

If we really want children to be more creative we must feed their imaginations. We need to teach them stuff before we can expect them to question and criticise. We need to show them how ideas coalesce into something useful before they can start making their own connections. And we need to give them rules if we want to give them something to kick against and escape from. Constraints force creativity: too much freedom stifles it.

How many uses can you think of for an actual paperclip?

2014-04-12T12:32:29+00:00April 11th, 2014|myths|


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    • Diane Leedham April 12, 2014 at 8:24 am - Reply

      ‘Children’s imaginations are already pretty vast and the younger the child, the greater the depth of their imagination. We don’t need to teach this, it just is.’

      Can you share your substantiating evidence for this assertion? Thanks

      • David Didau April 12, 2014 at 10:00 am - Reply

        It’s an observation based on 42 years of existence, 15 years of teaching and 10 years of parenthood. What reason would you have for doubting it?

        • Diane Leedham April 12, 2014 at 11:51 am - Reply

          Apologies. I should have italicised for greater clarity. I meant the final assertion quoted, ‘We don’t need to teach this, it just is’, which moves on from anecdotal observation. I wondered what the objective basis was for your view that an individual child’s capacity for imagination/imaginative development is unaffected by external influences (eg teaching).

          • David Didau April 12, 2014 at 12:36 pm

            I don’t think imagination is unaffected by teaching per se – as I’ve tried to make clear, imagination, creativity et al are dependent on what you know. But trying to actively teach imagination is, in my opinion, a bit silly.

          • Diane Leedham April 12, 2014 at 3:17 pm

            Yes, I can see that if you adopt an empty vessel teaching model which identifies knowledge as a neutral commodity then you probably would say that. ‘Capacity for imagination/imaginative development ‘ not quite the same as ‘imagination’ of course but you have answered my original question so thank you. I was simply curious to see if you had anything more substantial than opinion to deploy in support of your points. It’s easy enough to Google the source of your quotations!

            With such a rich body of research and literature out there to promote a nuanced discussion of a complex subject it seems rather a wasted opportunity …but your chosen writing style suggests you are rather enjoying the role of contrarian (eg ‘cronies’, ‘bollocks’, ‘silly’) so perhaps that was the dominant creative template for this piece. Fair enough.

          • David Didau April 12, 2014 at 3:35 pm

            Would you like to add anything constructive, or did you just get in touch to criticise my writing style?

  2. Toby French (@MrHistoire) April 11, 2014 at 8:10 pm - Reply

    When I was fourteen my dad and I took my little brother to Exeter to buy a bass guitar. Once he’d picked one he liked the look of the assistant plugged it in and said, ‘Have a play and tell me what you think.’ Well, twelve year-old Jack made some awkward sounds and played a couple of notes … but he couldn’t play. Of course he smiled and said that this bass was the one (of course it was – dad was about to spend over a hundred pounds on him) but he had no knowledge of bass guitars on which to base that decision.

    That rigorous process of experimentation that Pollock, or Miró before him, or Koons after him, went through was not just based on repeated attempts with different mediums. It was also based on an understanding of the history of art. In order to even make the decision to produce abstract expressionism those artists had to have the knowledge of the deconstruction of form and colour that had gone before them, and those artists were reacting to what had at the time appeared to be radical changes in technique at the end of the C19.

    I’ve always thought Sir Ken has a point, somewhere, about the watering-down of subject matter into exam answers, but this seems to get lost amongst the eye-grabbing ‘schools kill creativity’ headline. I don’t think he necessarily means that we should let children run feral to ‘be creative’ because he’d certainly agree with the above, having worked so closely with the arts establishment. But he gets lost up a path of self-congratulatory anecdotes.

    What I’d like him to say is, ‘Yes, we want creativity and yes, there may be all sorts of problems with assessment and all the other socio-economic factors which affect children’s ability to be “creative”, and yes, the world is changing quickly which means we need to be adaptable. But without the hard work and the nitty-gritty of perfect practice and rules and form and grammar and logic there can be no rhetoric; there can be no creativity because there will be nothing to be creative with.’

    Because otherwise my brother will never learn how to play his bass, and he’s now twenty-six.

    • SurrealAnarchy April 12, 2014 at 6:27 am - Reply

      Good to see the trivium mentioned. There is the need for constraints but also freedom. Free societies that allow free thinking and expression are more ‘creative’ than those that do not. However, without the constraints of form and understanding of history, the breaking and bringing together does not take place. Technology is also important, how it can itself be created and then allow a space for new creative forms as people understand its new constraints and opportunities.

  3. chris francis @devnicely April 11, 2014 at 9:43 pm - Reply

    “Children’s imaginations are already pretty vast and the younger the child, the greater the depth of their imagination. We don’t need to teach this, it just is”. Absolutely agree with creativity needing structure and constraints, and also, ultimately, something new must come to a ‘domain’ (as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi would put it) but not so sure about putting imagination aside so quickly. The younger the child the less ability they have to piece together knowledge – what we interpret as their ‘imagination’ is…what? – Playfully finding their way? Making new connections and testing alternative situations? We don’t need to teach this when they are young, agreed, but do need to demonstrate / model the value of ‘imagination’ and it’s place alongside creativity (as in actually creating something) in the adult world . We need to do this precisely because of the levels of constraints that surround them. Amongst the essential foundations of knowledge being laid, ‘imaginative leaps’ – opportunities for risk taking, experimentation without a fear failure, connecting the seemingly unconnected and so on – must still be encouraged.
    And as for ‘the younger the child, the greater the depth of their imagination’ – If a child grows up in complete isolation, say, in a dark room with minimal stimulation and interaction,would they be able to imagine anything at all? Unlikely.
    Knowledge is definitely the foundation for creativity but best not to cement those little feet in!
    Thanks for the post David.

    • David Didau April 12, 2014 at 10:03 am - Reply

      Imagination is limited by what we know. Try to imagine something you don’t know anything about – all you can do is compare and extrapolate from what you already know. The best way to feed the imagination is with knowledge.

      • stuffaliknows April 14, 2014 at 1:49 pm - Reply

        Not according what we know of Leoanrdo Da Vinci, Alberti and Achemedes. It seems, in your post, that you are promoting a restricted, determinist view of form and function, whereas Leonardo is quoted as saying: ‘Beauty and utility cannot exist together, as seen in fortresses’. He studied the mechanics of bird flight to imagine his ornithopter without knowing about the possibility of manned flight (he had never seen any men fly). He had heard of the myth of Daedalus and Icarus and that was enough to set his imagination off. Let’s imagine that there is a place where knowledge of things, sense experience, imagination without knowing, and meaning making through creativity all collide… let’s call it an educational experience. Anything less is the factory.

        • David Didau April 14, 2014 at 3:20 pm - Reply

          Thank you – your example proves my point absolutely 🙂

  4. Education Reform (@Educ_Reform) April 11, 2014 at 9:48 pm - Reply

    Thanks for your article. But there is merit in what Steve Jobs said – the creative process may at times operate around a set of ground rules, but it also generates its own. I frequently combine disparate thoughts and notions to come up with new concepts. That such new concepts may need to survive via some frameworks does not mean that all have to – new paradigms are liberated from existing constraints.

    • David Didau April 12, 2014 at 10:06 am - Reply

      I don’t think there is much merit in what Jobs said – yes, it’s self-evidently true, but it nurtures the myth of creativity being an essentially mysterious, unknowable process. Having said that, I’d agree that the ‘new’ is born from the ashes of the old – this is the classic thesis – antithesis – synthesis model, isn’t it?

  5. Beth Budden April 11, 2014 at 10:05 pm - Reply

    I like this. I think creativity, the kind you speak of, may appear spontaneous, but is in actuality the result of many instances of practice over time…until it feels, and appears, spontaneous. The practice is then the result of much of the learning you descriibe. Education must feed this practice of creativity.

    • David Didau April 12, 2014 at 10:07 am - Reply

      When you say education must feed this practice of creativity, do you mean it should allow children to work towards mastery and automaticity?

  6. Pie Corbett April 12, 2014 at 8:34 am - Reply

    I have written about this elsewhere, but if you give a class one word – say ‘dog’ and ask them to write a sentence then give them two words – say, ‘fly’ and ”tree’ – and ask for a sentence and then give them 3 words, say ‘zebra’, ‘humbug’ and ‘because’ – and ask for a sentence, most children when asked to choose their ‘most interesting’ or ‘best’ sentence will select the one with the most constraints. Challenge and constraint can force new ideas into being more easily for most people.

    Bradbury is onto something when he talks about not thinking – it is worth reading Ted Hughes in ‘Poetry in the Making’ on this aspect – where he talks about the need to write very rapidly, without pausing to ‘worry’ – because the worry will kill the spirit of what you are writing. Writing is an act of ‘generating’ and ‘judging’ – and keeping the balance between the two is crucial. The creative classroom is both disciplined and yet each student knows that they can experiment.

    One other thought is that ideally good teachers help children develop their control over technical aspects such as grammar, spelling etc through being creative. It is not one before the other.

    • David Didau April 12, 2014 at 10:17 am - Reply

      Thanks Pie – your observation about children preferring work created with constraints is identical to mine. But I’m not a believer in the type of automatic writing advocated by many creative types. For me, the ideal is to remain as mindful as possible, to engage meta-cognitively in the process. I like the idea of balancing generation & judgement – but then we have writers like Joyce who was overjoyed if he managed a sentence a day – for him concentrating on generation without judgement was anathema.

      And I’ve never advocated that grammar come before rhetoric, I think your right that they should be taught concurrently but I also think they are best taught separately (at least initially.)

  7. Rachel April 12, 2014 at 10:47 am - Reply

    Do you think able writers instinctively pick up a feel for how writing works or could it possibly be that they actually read more? Could an able writer write well if they’d never been exposed to the works of others?

  8. John Armshaw April 12, 2014 at 2:36 pm - Reply

    I voiced an almost identical objection, in a recent inset, where Ken Robinson’s animated talk was used to illustrate the point that school closes down divergent thinking. Actually, this is the nature of a growing understanding of the world. We need to make some distinctions about what is real and useful just to survive. Similarly, a chick in a nest has to recognise that a shadow cast by a cloud is not a threat.
    The crux, for me though,and I suspect for Ken Robinson too, is whether placing value only on that which is immediately, obviously useful closes the space required for those important leaps of imagination to squeak through, cross contaminating, mutating ideas and generating new future possibilities. We are highly evolved beings after all, not slugs (no offence), and we would have achieved an awful lot less, culturally and technologically without looking up from our work to dream a while even amongst the myriad limitations imposed by the reality of what we do and the laws of physics.
    Imagination might not be teachable but curiosity can be fostered by exposure to creative ideas, people and outcomes. It’s a way of life, it is richness, it’s an end in itself, an appreciation of culture, nature, economics and philosophy. In my opinion, this should be the cornerstone of every school’s offering. What students choose to do with it is up to them.
    Ken Robinson is right to rail against a certain kind of narrow mindedness that would have stamped on Duchamp, Andre and Oldenburg (or even young Sasha’s idea that she might want to be a dancer) As a profession, we should model openmindedness, encourage adventurous spirit and teach strategies which gives space for and allow ideas to flow.

  9. cherrylkd April 12, 2014 at 5:01 pm - Reply

    I have little or no imagination. Everything I can do comes from what I’ve been taught. That is the reason why I find writing relatively easy, I had a cracking English teacher who taught me well. That said, I know my limits. I am better with English literature. With literature there is a subject or book to discuss. As a child, when asked to write a story on any topic I fancied purely from imagination I couldn’t do it. I needed to be given a title. Once given a title I could apply all the English rules I’d been taught and produce a half decent piece of work. So, for me to succeed I need someone to be creative for me and give me something to work with, then I can succeed. I appreciate this is not the same for everyone. Your post has really made me think. Thanks.

  10. Mike McGalliard April 14, 2014 at 1:08 am - Reply

    I agree with much of this commentary. Great piece. But the last statement through me off – about needing to teach kids stuff first, before they learn to question or criticize. What is teaching if it isn’t about helping a child question and criticize. Look at Sugata Mitra’s work to see how powerful and useful child questions are as the driver of learning.

    The idea of teaching kids “stuff” feels old fashioned to me. Stuff is at a child’s fingertips – tons and tons of stuff, immeasurably more than was at our fingertips. Sifting through that stuff – ie learning how to question and criticize is perhaps the most important skill a child can learn.

    I certainly agree that creativity is about imagination taking form and function – I agree with that. But imagination isn’t fed through stuff – it’s fed through a child engaging that stuff through questions and criticisms.

    • David Didau April 14, 2014 at 1:19 am - Reply

      Hi Mike – thanks for getting in touch.

      Beguiling as his message is, Mitra has been thoroughly debunked:

      If the idea of teaching kids stuff feels old fashioned, then I’m more than happy to be labelled as such. Despite our wishes that we can get kids to ‘just look it up’, that doesn’t work either:

      And the thing about dialectics (questioning & criticism) it only works when you know something to question and criticise. Imagination is fed through stuff. It just is.

      • eddiekayshun April 21, 2014 at 8:46 pm - Reply

        From conclusion to Arora article Donald Clark refers to:
        “HiWEL as an experiment is an important initiative. It has evidenced the ingenuity of children and their capacity for self-learning through play and experimentation, something that is all-too often lost in much traditional schooling in India. It has shown that it has the potential to provide educational opportunities for those denied formal schooling, enhance and extend formal schooling, and remind schools of their purpose and duty to the community. It has even shown that children can be the ‘pundits’ of the new digital age.”
        Issues with HiWEL and with implementation of project – yes. Mitra debunked? Not yet. Would love to see you take him down in one of your posts David!

  11. Mark Carstens April 14, 2014 at 7:43 am - Reply

    Thanks for yet another thought-provoking post, David. Your work continues to evolve my teaching.

    From where I sit, your assessment is spot-on. It’s hard for me to imagine creativity as an endangered species in the typical classroom. In my experience, it’s quite the contrary, actually.

    In my experience, when breaking new conceptual ground, or learning “how things work,” the initial constraints I impose on free association seems more apt to promote useful creativity down the line than if I encourage students to set loose their ideas, unrestrained, at the outset. In working with my students, growing their knowledge base generally requires a good deal of structure, scaffolding and a clear path forward before they can make new tasks meaningful. And so it is that, while first establishing this knowledge base impedes creativity, sometimes deliberately, it also sets the experience from which the ability to productively “create” will follow. In my view, this is an essential trade-off. If you’re skeptical, have a read of my students’ pre-instruction fictional narratives; unrestrained “creativity” run amok.

    More to my point, I’ll extend yours about Jackson Pollack, and artists in general. An artist’s creativity does not simply materialize in a flurry of inspired genius or coalesce from the haze of deep contemplation (apologies to Steve Jobs) the first time they put brush to canvas. Successful artists study the masters of their craft assiduously, and learn how to be an artist before they experiment and challenge convention (with plenty of useful “failures”). They borrow, mashup, and remix established ideas and, finally, unleash their own muse into the world. An apprenticeship like this, and those we would have our students serve, seems to require that study and knowledge-acquisition precede creativity; at least if we want their efforts to yield something worthwhile and lasting.

    In short, when initially approaching a concept (writing fictional narrative with ten year olds comes to mind), focusing student thinking on the conventions of the craft does not squash creativity, it properly defers it. For it is only after learners know what they are doing that they can challenge conventional thinking in a productive way and nurture their ideas to fruition.

  12. Alex April 14, 2014 at 1:53 pm - Reply

    I fail to see how the article you posted debunks Mitras work, or that the other article shows that looking things up doesn’t “work”.

    could you help clear this up for me?

    also could you point out this thing Ken Robinson and his cronies have written about that you disagree with? I seen his TED talk is that what your referring to?

    • David Didau April 14, 2014 at 3:19 pm - Reply

      If the articles don’t make sense to you, I’m not sure that I can help you. And yes, I was referring to Ken’s talk and his book, Out of Their Minds

  13. Diane Leedham April 16, 2014 at 10:05 am - Reply

    In the interests of factual accuracy, readers should be aware that the views of Ken Robinson are misrepresented in the blog post ‘The Dark Art of Creativity’. Sources reviewed for the purposes of this reply are ‘All Our Futures’ (Ken Robinson DfEE 1999), ‘Out of Our Minds’ (revised 2010 edition : David misquotes the title); transcripts of the RSA Animate presentation and subsequent TED talk dated 2012. These sources, which include those identified by David as his reference points, do not provide any substantiation for the claim that Ken Robinson challenges the value of constraint/s and teacher direction in education in favour of the provision of unfettered classroom freedom. He does not write or say this.

    On the contrary
    ‘All Our Futures’ explicitly and categorically values the teacher and what is taught.
    ‘Serious creative achievement relies on knowledge, control of materials and command of ideas. Creative Education involves a balance between teaching knowledge and skills and encouraging innovation’.
    ‘Out of Our Minds’ offers a range of quotation throughout which is entirely supportive of the kind of teaching for knowledge/skills which David describes in his post.
    ‘I am not arguing against formal instruction, or for traditional approaches to be replaced exclusively by ‘progressive’ teaching methods. Both have an important place in creative education. Sometimes it is appropriate for the teacher to give formal instruction in skills and techniques, or to convey specific ideas and information; at other times it is more appropriate for the students to explore ideas for themselves.’
    ‘Creative achievement is related to control of the medium. Simply asking people to be creative is not enough.’
    There are also reiterated references to the value of knowledge, practice, rehearsal, mastery and diligence in all the sources.

    Readers will need to evaluate for themselves the persuasiveness of Ken Robinson’s ‘new paradigm for schooling’ but they should not discard the model on the basis of inaccurate claims about its principles. Individual teachers will position themselves differently regarding the desired ‘balance’ between freedom/constraint; it is also quite possible that this position will not be fixed but responsive to different ages/stages/individual children/specific activities. However, in the context of this blog post they will also need to evaluate David’s conceptualisation of the learner as an empty vessel prior to arrival at school, someone who requires culturally freighted knowledge from the teacher in order to create anything of value at all. I hope this ideology will prove problematic for many readers, including those who prefer the balance of their teaching to be more instructive and less exploratory. It’s quite an extreme position. The sources do indeed show that this view has nothing in common with Ken Robinson’s.

    I have the humility to acknowledge the possibility that I am not infallible and I may have missed a crucial detail in my reading But in the interests of academic credibility and reasoned debate it would be helpful if David provided exact supportive quotation and avoided the Molesworth ‘any fule kno’ gambit applied to the last poster.

    I am not an apologist for Ken Robinson per se. Like any critical reader, my experience of reading ‘Out of Our Minds’ is dialogic; there are moments I concur wholeheartedly, moments I would like to seek further clarification/evidence and moments when I wish to challenge him. I have reservations about the most recent TED talk in particular in which the delivery of any significant content is unsupported by its format and context. If TED is now the main medium whereby Robinson’s ideas are communicated to teachers then that should be a source of concern to him. Nevertheless, according to the transcript of the talk, he doesn’t say that schools should avoid ‘killing creativity’ by removing constraints and instruction.

    In the context of the line of argument developed in the blog post it is also potentially misleading to include and critique random quotations from other public figures Whatever you think about the views of Steve Jobs, Ray Bradbury and Scott Adams, they are just the opinions, quoted out of context, of people who make stuff, theorising about how that happens for them. They are not trying to tell anyone how to teach and most importantly their ideas are not quoted or discussed by Ken Robinson. There is no connection and no coherent ‘liberal/progressive’ ideology to be constructed by discussing them together.

    That said, it’s an interesting and generative activity to include such quotations to stimulate response and debate about the nature of creativity .. many posters have responded with respect and insight and I have really valued reading their thoughts. Perhaps some kind of open link Pinterest or Google docs space online could be created to support ongoing collaborative exploration of the topic? There are hundreds of ‘practitioner quotes’ out there to ‘pin up’ and discuss. But it’s doubtful what significance any quotation has out of context. The soundbite reply a high profile ‘creative’ gives to an annoying journalist may or may not not be a reliable indication of their views or provide worthwhile inspiration for classroom practice. Ken Robinson prioritises innovation in his definition and this has become his ‘brand’ – but then his model is underpinned by an affiliation to business interests and entrepreneurship which requires novelty and obsolescence to make a profit. Should those interests be key drivers in classrooms? Whatever your take on these thorny issues, in my view, accurate quotation and contextual referencing are essential as a starting point to constructive conversation.

    The happy outcome of my follow up research is that David’s concerns that classroom constraints are somehow under threat are unfounded. The issue is inevitably something of a red herring in relation to creativity in any case. Everyone is ‘constrained’ in one way or another whether it’s the tools or whether it’s the rules; sometimes, as with Monet and Matisse, it’s the limitations created by human frailty, time running out and the onset of blindness ….. So, despite potential ideological differences, we can be reassured by a moment of consensus, go out and enjoy the sunshine. I hope that counts as a constructive contribution. Thanks to David for providing grist to the mill.

    • Mark Carstens April 18, 2014 at 4:29 am - Reply

      To one of your assertions…“Whatever you think about the views of Steve Jobs,… they are just the opinions, quoted out of context, of people who make stuff, theorising about how that happens for them.”

      True enough, especially if all we have to work with is that original bite of a quotation or no backstory. And so it spurred me to look more closely at Steve Jobs’ views on creativity. This brought me to the rest(?) of the cited quote, courtesy of Wired Magazine via Brain Pickings:

      The original quote… “Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it; they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while.

      The “rest” of the quote… “That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people. Unfortunately, that’s too rare a commodity. A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.” ~ Wired, February, 1996

      Ironically, completing the quote (after that first quick bite) essentially validates David’s follow-up point: “You’re only able to connect things when you know an awful lot. If you don’t know stuff, what are you going to connect?”

      I think the remainder of Jobs’ quote not only casts the original citation in a different light, but also offers a renewed perspective that includes diversity of experience as a vital layer to the creative horizon. And while we may dismiss Jobs’ sound bite as little more than a personal mantra, if knowledge and diversity in what we know is universally valued, then maybe a deeper reading of the *full* quotation provides insight that can be generalized.

      A minor point, maybe, but if we’re going to keep digging deeper into this topic, don’t we want to dig in the right spot?

  14. Alex April 17, 2014 at 9:04 am - Reply

    well going from this article ( Dr. Mitra proposed the following hypothesis:

    The acquisition of basic computing skills by any set of children can be achieved through incidental learning provided the learners are given access to a suitable computing facility, with entertaining and motivating content and some minimal (human) guidance.

    ” The results, which have been uniformly encouraging, show that children learn to operate as well as play with the computer with minimum intervention. They picked up skills and tasks by constructing their own learning environment. ”

    so whilst I could agree that some amount of scepticism can and should be raised about any experiments that are done, I think that this article that you posted is a little miss leading as it was never his intention (as far as im aware) to use the hole in the wall as a means to “hail the idea of replacing schools with hole-in-the-wall computers”

    as regards to the other article “You Can Always Look It Up” — Or Can You?
    “Take for example some research conducted by Professor George A. Miller and his colleagues, who studied what happens when children actually do look things up…. he and Patricia Gildea published a report on children’s learning that included some experiments in their use of a dictionary to learn word meanings.”

    this was a researched in 1987 when computers were 32 bit and used floppy disks, I think its safe to say that technology has come on a long way since then, and so has learning and now with people frequently “googling” or asking siri for the answers “looking things up” has become common place.

    have you seen this?
    it links into to similar things.

  15. Terry Pearson April 17, 2014 at 9:09 pm - Reply

    I wonder if the claims made in this blog apply to blogging itself. Can someone create a blog without constraints? Do well created blogs require form and in order to write a well created blog does one have to understand the rules of creative blogging? Without clear knowledge of the forms and ‘rules’ of creative blogging is the blogger’s creativity inevitable stifled?

    Perhaps it is true to claim that it’s not creative to come up with ridiculous, impractical nonsense in a blog; maybe it’s creative to work within boundaries. Should this be the case then where are the universal rules that apply to blogging? Do all current bloggers, all over the world, know about and understand these constraints? I really do wonder if it is possible to create these constraints and rules in such a way that they apply to all contexts of blogging.

    When it comes to the academic blogging context then it might just be possible that Dianne has eluded to some of the constraints that make creative blogging successful.

    • Diane Leedham April 17, 2014 at 10:34 pm - Reply

      That sounds good …. I think …. Could you perhaps tease out in more detail what you mean? As you can tell, I don’t think an individual blogger’s creativity should extend to misrepresenting original sources in order to score a point. Not sure how your exploratory concept of ‘rules’ could be agreed and enforced though. It’s kind of up to each writer to take accountability for their own practices and for each reader to question and challenge so that the next reader can evaluate for themselves and each new reading adds an additional layer to shared understanding. Could work fine as long as the exchanges are conducted in a genuinely dialogic spirit of courtesy and respect. This feels like ‘dream on’ at the moment!

      • Terry Pearson April 18, 2014 at 8:28 am - Reply

        I am not fully sure what I mean yet Diane. I think I need to let it incubate for a short while. So many questions arise out of this blog for me, nonetheless your point about misrepresentation seems particularly valid… but then what if someone is unaware of their misrepresentation? At the moment I think my need to ask questions is more about my concerns relating to rhetorical blogs, the tensions between fact and fiction, evidence and opinion and whether in an academic context bloggers should always strive to be accountable for their comments.

  16. John Armshaw April 18, 2014 at 12:46 am - Reply

    A creative person is able to recognise
    that, within the constraints, there are many options, even perhaps,adjusting or removing the constraints. To simultaneously teach rules and encourage students to express themselves with all the anxiety and potential joy that comes with that. Feel the fear and do it anyway, no matter that you spelt that wrong there, I hear you! This seems a reasonable approach. Too much focus on rules can kill the jazz and doesn’t inspire all students.

  17. John Armshaw April 18, 2014 at 1:11 pm - Reply

    In the cold light of day, last comment seems too biased towards free form, hey let’s just go with the flow. I am just saying there is no one true way that can be rolled out for everyone.

  18. eddiekayshun April 21, 2014 at 8:35 pm - Reply

    Mitra “thoroughly debunked” by one blogger’s opinion? Have you read the Arora article Clark refers to?

  19. John Armshaw April 21, 2014 at 10:24 pm - Reply

    There are occasions when rules stifle creativity. For example, my daughter was making a birthday card for my Mum. I could have given her a brief introduction to the form e.g Dear Nana, etc.. Instead, given free rein, she set it out like a multiple choice question. Creative and funny, she’s clearly a genius. One has to be careful, when communicating constraints, that one doesn’t nip potential creative outcomes in the bud by inferring one’s own ideas about what’s appropriate. That’s why the short statement of intent designers work to is called a brief. It briefly outlines constraints without closing down avenues of creative exploration.

  20. Jamie Sarner April 25, 2014 at 1:01 pm - Reply

    I think this is something very complex. The point with learning the rules is essential, but to focus on them too much can easily demotivate. The example with the sonnet (“creativity requires form”) shows for me the perfect way, also every artist had to learn the rules to break them. I was raised in a family which was rather traditional and as an adult, I appreciate that I had to learn some things exactly as they are. On the other hand, I was missing a little bit of free space to find the ways to express myself. I’m trying to avoid this mistake in raising my son but it’s not easy to find the balance.

  21. evidenceintopractice April 25, 2014 at 1:58 pm - Reply

    The fact that imagination arises spontaneously and cross-culturally in childhood suggests to me that it is a ‘primary biological ability’ – something humans have evolved because of its adaptive value – and does not need to be taught. I don’t think imagination ‘goes away’ either. Are children really more imaginative? Or are they simply disinhibited when it comes to sharing their ideas? If children learn to reign in the expression of their thoughts – that is likely more a result of socialisation than education. The ‘spark of imagination’ is safe and sound throughout a child’s education – we simply learn that many of our ideas are not as clever or original as we first thought.

    If education really stifled creativity, then modern culture would be dull place. Yet it is not, our cultural lives are vast and diverse compared to any other period of history – science, art, music, dance, philosophy and computer games all seem to thrive ‘despite’ the dreamers of our age ‘suffering’ formal education.

    Genuine creativity requires learning the cultural tools of the mind and the technologies required to express originality Our greatest creative endeavours stand upon the shoulders of giants. What dreams might Da Vinci have had if he’d been alive to witness the moon landings, the discovery of dinosaurs or the invention of the computer?

  22. dbarlex April 28, 2014 at 10:02 pm - Reply

    Fasinating discussion – have responded in detail at

  23. […] creative. A long series of comments ensued with folk both disagreeing and agreeing with David (See . However it seemed to me that a major point had been missed. Something that those who have taught […]

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  26. […] aren’t up to snuff. Maybe instead she’s talking about the idea I’ve written about here that creativity is forced through constraints? If you give someone, anyone, a constraint, they are […]

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