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Creative environments: Six fundamental principles

Describing the research of creativity is like the fable of the blind men trying to describe an elephant by touching different parts of its body. One of them touches the tail and says that it is like a snake, another touches the body and says that it is like a wall and so on. Consequently, you have to see the whole picture to get the image straight. Further the image of researching creativity is becoming even more complicated since it is both mobile and interactive.

The Probability of Innovation

Basically a successful creative environment is much about increasing the probability of innovation. This has many similarities with a casino. The owner of a casino does not know the outcome of the strategies/methods used by the single players at the tables, but he or she is aware of the fact that if a sufficient amount of costumers come and if they stay long enough, the casino will profit. In the close future it is about probability, sometimes the casino wins other it looses, but in the long run the profit is granted.

With this starting point, Professor Alan G. Robinson and Professor Sam Stern have found six fundamental principles of creativity and creative environments:

1. Support
– Internal support can come from an environment in which everyone feels that they participate and can identify the ideas as positive. The basic context of this model is horizontal. The opposite of this model would be a top-down sanctioned support, best symbolized by the old Soviet system.

2. Own initiatives
– The possibility to develop and realize individual initiatives is very important. For students and employees it is an opportunity to deal with problems that interest them and that they view themselves to be competent to solve. Internal motivation next to good general support is very important for a creative environment. External motivation, on the other hand, can be harmful, as it encourages people to take the quickest and safest way, which most of the time is not the creative way.

3. Unofficial activity
– Unofficial activity is based on the official encouragement to achieve something new and useful outside of the ordinary activities. Failures should, almost always, be viewed as an opportunity to search more information and knowledge in order to find a new solution to the problem. Looking at the future prospects, as in the example of the casino above, the occurrence and a high level of unofficial activity is a requirement for profit. Who to win and who to loose in the organization is impossible to say, but it is much influenced by the next fundamental principle, serendipity.

4. Serendipity
– Serendipity is the ability to, unexpectedly and as a result of perception, run into valuable discoveries, and to find new, often unexpected combinations. It often starts with diffuse ideas, and if the process accelerates, there could be a positive outcome.

5. New input
– New input is much about remaining the senses open towards the ideas that drop in. A tool in this process is to scan the environment in order to get more input in a specified topic. New input is also a result of the communication with other people, especially people who have professional knowledge in different areas. One single input can change the direction of a project, already being worked on. Something that makes one person to change the direction, react and go forward with a new idea, can be passed by without leaving a trace by another person. This is also essential for serendipity.

6. Communication and learning inside the organization
– The larger an organization, the larger is the likelihood that the pieces of creativity already exist somewhere internally. However, the larger the organization, the smaller is the possibility that those pieces work together. It is crucial to create informal ways to communicate and one of them, vital to an organization, is learning. An education in a certain area can bring people from different departments and positions together, increasing the possibilities to find new solutions. A traditional course, though, ends, takes much time and is seldom adapted to fit the course standard. An e-learning platform is, however, accessible 24/7 365 days a year. When the ideas appear, it is there, hopefully also containing some members with different expertise.

An idea is fragile

“An idea is fragile. It can get killed by a sarcastic smile or by a yawn. It can be stabbed by an irony or be frightened to death by an unkind facial expression.”
Charles Browe

This fragility in the creative process demands supporting structures according to the six fundamental principles above. The creative environment should constantly be vitalized in professional life, and creativity should be practiced in schools. Richard Florida’s three T:s works as a good starting-point for a creative atmosphere: simplifications through Technology, support of Talent and a great deal of Tolerance towards different ways of thinking.

Creative Environment in Education

Ken Robinson, who has led the advising committee for the British Council’s creative and cultural education, highlights this on a seminar on ted.com. ”Creativity now is as important in education as literacy and should be treated with the same status.” When it comes to factual knowledge, quality, not quantity, is important for creativity and a creative environment. Starting here, creative environments and creative knowledge are two important basic criteria’s in the schools, and central to taking the students to a successful future professional life.

By LarsGoran Bostrom©

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