February 7, 2011, UOPX Writer Network /University of Phoenix, College of Humanities
Creativity is emerging as the premier signifier of a successful career. It takes those key attributes of improvisation, lateral thinking, pattern recognition and innovation to navigate in a global job market that is constantly updating itself. In a world where any fact or idea can be instantly Googled, the leaders are those who can observe or assemble those facts in new ways.
Rigor and routine
Although there are definitely differences in our innate capacity for creativity, there are many ways that any creative spirit can be encouraged and nurtured. A home and school setting with clear routines and expectations is surprisingly important. A structured life might seem antithetical to creativity, but it is like the mental monkey bars (playground equipment for children to swing on) we need in order to swing and play. When a child can rely on eating, sleeping and having adult attention at regular and predictable intervals, their minds are free to wander and wonder. This structure should be the norm, but plenty of variation should also be present, and children must have the ability to negotiate changes to the way their lives are run.
Be alert, not authoritarian
Paying attention to children is not a new idea, but constantly telling them what to do and how to do it reduces their creative drive to try out their own ideas. Letting a child lead a conversation or direct imaginative play is crucial to finding clues about what will engage and inspire this particular individual. Every parent can relate to being surprised by what their child can do; the key is to reflect on the abilities and interests this child is showing. What is suggested by a love of, for example, taking the batteries out of the remote control at age 3? Introducing fine motor-skill-building toys like LEGOs® or taking day trips to military or industrial museums may help narrow down a domain of interest. This is particularly important when the child's area of skill differs drastically from that of a parent.
Failure is an event, not a person, and having things turn out differently from expected can spark a whole new way of looking at a situation. Encouraging kids to take an experimental attitude to life will give them the chance to learn from mistakes without feeling shame or disappointment. A failure provides as much or more information than a success. Sometimes creativity emerges in an unexpected or shocking manner that does not at first glance appear to indicate creativity, but rather defiance or disobedience. Once any safety issues are handled, asking the child what he or she was trying to achieve and discussing what went wrong is the most helpful response. Adult interest and guidance helps build children's confidence and faith in their own judgment. Cause and effect is the best teacher.
Model and mirror
Kids learn from the adults in their lives, whether we want them to or not. Parents, teachers, relatives and friends provide role models, increasing children's ideas of what is possible in their own future. It is critical to model the attributes of a creative person, letting go of ideas about how things “have” to be or what “they” will say. We all benefit from learning to listen to our inner urgings, having faith in our own ideas and making a success from what looks like a failure. Similarly, we all need feedback when something is not working and praise when we have done well. Taking the time to make feedback specific and positive, while acknowledging any uncomfortable results, is a valuable investment in a child's creativity and self-concept.