Friday, September 06, 2013

Thinking about Creativity

Thinking about Creativity

My great-grandfather was a master craftsman. He was a general contractor who built numerous structures in and around Long Beach, CA in the 1920’s-’50’s. One bit of family lore- “Pop” (as he was known) was building the Long Beach Mausoleum which features a  Foucalt Pendulum. The story goes that the architect couldn’t figure out how to install the pendulum in a way that it would actually keep accurate time. Pop went home, figured it out, installed the pendulum,  and it still works to this day.

My grandfather was also a craftsman. In later life he demonstrated this skill through his work with wood. If any of us in the family wanted a piece of furniture, all we’d have to do was bring him a picture and he would figure it out and build it. Here’s a picture of a hat rack that he built for himself but which was passed on to me when he died.

This “construction creativity gene” wasn’t passed on to me. I got a C- in woodshop in High School and now the closest to woodworking I get is cutting up firewood with a chainsaw.

For many years I struggled with questions about my own creativity. As I grew older I definitely had moments of creative thinking- like planning out activities for a summer camp where I worked in college. However, these “creative times” usually involved large quantities of Diet Pepsi.

Over the past years there have been a number of circumstances which have shown I do have more creativity within me than I originally thought. I’ll share just a couple here.  

The first circumstance involved living in an entirely different culture. In 1993 my wife and I moved to the UK where we lived and worked for seven years. During that time I was pushed and stretched outside my embedded culture and was exposed to different world-views. I was able to experience life from different perspectives and was challenged to defend the way I thought about a number of beliefs.

During our time in England because I was outside what, up until that point had been my “norm,” I practiced creativity in a variety of new ways. For example, I found I could “see” how a program or plan would work and could make tweaks and changes to that program before implementing it. I also grew to appreciate the unique creativities of others and was stretched by how I might apply what I was learning to my own context.

The second circumstance that helped me accept my creativity came when I took the Predictive Index. When we returned from the UK, my new employer required this inventory of all new employees. The Index indicated I was a “craftsman.” At the time I didn’t think much about this designation, but as time has gone by I’ve come to embrace this description of me and the link it gives me to my grandfather. The Craftsman designates someone who takes existing materials and creates something new and beautiful with them. This fits my experience in the UK.

Currently, I work in Higher Education. I’m designing an online Master’s program from scratch which allows me a lot of flexibility and opportunities to be creative.  In the next two weeks I have to complete a proposal to send to our accreditation body and I’m almost finished with the design for the program. Last week I was talking through my plan with the President of our institution and he affirmed my progress and the creative direction I was headed.

Then this week I took the Creative Style Estimation Exercise. I scored in the mild adaptive category which again confirms the creativity I express comes out in more conventional means. This exercise was a good tool to help me explore my own unique expression of creativity.

In the past few years as I’ve become older (and hopefully wiser) I’m coming to see that although I’m not a master carpenter or woodworker, I have been wired with creativity that comes out in different ways. I’m looking forward to pushing that creativity one step further through the Creativity, Innovation, and Change MOOC. #cicmooc