Just saw this Blog post on Popular Science about a company that claims can teach babies to read by 9 months old: No, You Can’t Teach Your Baby To Read.
Amazing this escalation of “false” impression of making smarter children by enrolling them in tons of structure learning and courses. Young children learn by playing, and “free-form” playing is, in my mind, what’s best in building their creative thinking.
Creative peoples are those that imagine a different world. They come up with innovative technologies, push us to new scientific boundaries, create arts, musics and great screen play.
Do not get me wrong, knowledge is important and is acquired through out the school years. However, creativity is rarely taught in a classroom. In fact, a student that asks to much questions and does not conform to school “directive” tends to be seen as a problem in our system.
However, creativity start with children playing with the kitchen pots, the wooden blocks, the Lego (the generic ones, not the model-specific version), playing in the dirt, falling and get up again. If you miss those early years, their difficult to come back.
I even think that elementary school is getting too much performance oriented nowadays.
In the end, your children will learn to write and read he/she reaches school. Guest what? At the university level, it won’t make any difference if those skills were acquired at 4 or 5 or 6 years old! However, graduate school performance (where you get to ask – and answer – questions yourself!) will be strongly dictated by the numerous hours thinking, creating and building by yourself those Lego/Blocks and others …
It is not enough to be busy… The question is: what are we busy about?
― Henry David Thoreau
Productivity is not the same creativity, though being creative will get you lots of things to do for which you will need to be productive to get them done. In short, you need both 😉
I have known individuals who define their work productivity by being present at work 7 days a week, non-stop for 12 hours per day. I must say these encounters were mainly while working as a postdoctoral fellow in the USA. While it might appears more acute in that country, it is encountered in others as well.
“Creativity is contagious, pass it on”– Albert Einstein
- Being in the lab long hours, does not make you more creative.
- Throwing brute force at a problem can work but it is creative thinking?
- Creative thinking does happen anywhere and anytime.
- I found that some of the best ideas I had did not happen while at work…
- Be ready to capture that great idea when it happen.
- Do not censured yourself with possible practical limitation yet (money, engineering, theoretical limitation, …).
- Brainstorming is great: to refine a good idea or to launch a creative process that will be completed after the session i.e. the best idea might not be obtained at the end of such session (I contend that it is almost never the case).
- Once in a while, take time to explore your ideas more deeply to see if it sticks. Throw them at colleagues (see brainstorming above).
- Store all of your ideas, even the weird ones, in a system (physical or digital) where you can go back at them once in while.
Everyone who’s ever taken a shower has had an idea. It’s the person who gets out of the shower, dries off and does something about it who makes a difference. — Nolan Bushnell
Creative thinking happen anytime, anywhere. But have you noticed that it tends to happen more often when your brain can wander at will. A simple thing like a long walk away from work is sometime beneficial. It is not because you are at work, sitting at your desk and typing on your computer 10 hours a day that your are automatically creative. A great idea won’t happen as often (if at all!) if you keep your brain busy at all the time with the necessity to tweet, respond to e-mails, passively watch TV (which is usually done to turn off your brain) and so on.
“Keeing busy” is the remedy for all the ills in America. It’s also the means by which the creative impulse is destroyed.”
― Joyce Carol Oates
Once in a while, turn it all off and do something else for a few hours or a few days, especially during a difficult portion of your thesis or of an ongoing project. See what comes out of it 😉
Seth Godin has written an very interesting (and free) manifesto about the US school system (though the birth of Canada school system is very similar in origin): Stop Stealing Dreams. The book is very well written and will take only a few evening to get through.
Many instances had me stop reading and ponder. The example of LEGO (item 51 in the book) is something me, friends and colleagues have been discussing for a while; it is the concept of pre-made LEGO model which comes with instructions. It removes much of the creative process and turns the fun of doing LEGO into a purely technical step-by-step process. Generic LEGO are clearly missing (not to say that the new LEGO cannot be fun).
Similarly, I found more than often very bright students finishing their undergrad studies with extremely good grades but in a situation where they are unable to to function in graduate school because the “questions” are not given to them: they now have to ask their own questions and also find the answers. These students had become extremely proficient at performing on “imposed” questions with very clear answers such as exams, finals and so on, but are lost when they have to tackle a much less rigid projects (e.g. a PhD thesis).
The majority of graduate students that I had the chance to supervised (yes I consider student supervision as a core mission of being a researcher and university professor) have this spark in their eyes. Creative thinking is usually not the biggest problem they will face. In fact, for most of you getting tons of ideas is rarely the issue. Selecting, focusing and successfully bring one or a group of ideas to completion (meaning scientific publication most of the time) tends to be critical issue. As Vince Lombardi once said: “if you don’t keep score its just practice”.