Creativity Conundrums: Helping Students Get Comfortable With Pauses and Puzzlements

Creativity Conundrums: Helping Students Get Comfortable With Pauses and Puzzlements

Creativity Conundrums
conjuring meanings and feelings . . . 
fiercely smashing thoughts . . . 
eeking out playful intensities . . . 
bringing forth surprise and query . . . 
the essence of the creative mind.
P. Shade

Conundrums . . . conjuring meanings and feelings . . .

We all harbor the shared goal of helping students gain the competence and confidence needed for life and work once they leave us. One way to achieve this is to regularly get them out of their comfort zones. Asking how can we: 1) make students more at ease with not “filling in the blanks?” and 2) prepare them for times when there is more than one right answer or direction. In other words, “How can we challenge students so they can be more comfortable with conundrums?” Situations they will continually face throughout their lives.

A number of years ago Dr. Edward de Bono wrote a book called Po: Beyond Yes and No. In it he describes provocation (Po) as one of the most powerful of all his Lateral Thinking tools. In many situations (for some very good reasons), especially in the school setting, questions are asked in search of the correct answer. Those answers require singular responses; either yes or no. de Bono has provided a third alternative: Po. Possibility thinking. Stimulating thinking by asking wonderment questions.“What if?” 

We strive to establish normal patterns, routines, and behaviors within the school setting to help us obtain and maintain efficiency. Those serve us well, but they can also be limiting – hindering the ability to create the new. Helping students disrupt “comfort zone thinking” productively and provocatively (po-ing) throws patterns and routines into disarray. The stimulus needed for enhanced creative thinking.

Po-ing a question launches students into further explorations and inquiries of a concept or idea. It encourages students to keep digging and researching into the unknowns inside their creative minds. Po increases both cognitive and emotional engagement as students pursue creative investigations. Searching and seeking their answer – not the answer.

Fiercely smashing thoughts . . .

When searching for the  elusive, focusing intensely on producing a creative idea or product, thoughts begin to “smash” together fiercely. When students haven’t “seen” the answer before, their senses, thoughts, and emotions whirl and merge in the hopes of bringing forth new meanings or concepts. Sounds a bit exhausting? It can be. 

One technique that temporarily calms this shower of “smashing thoughts” is purposely infusing periods of incubation. We’ve all experienced versions of this before. Passive disengagement. Skipping a difficult question, sleeping on it. Giving yourself a break from frustration. 

Active, engaging incubation is more purposeful and planned. This pause allows students’ minds to push aside failed solutions, thoughts, misconceptions, and “not so hot” iterations. Emotions cool. Actively letting the “puzzle” simmer is a powerful step in the creative process. Don’t worry. Behind the scenes, there’s still a lot of creative smashing of thoughts when ideas are turned down to simmer!

Eeking out playful intensities . . .

Capturing ideas by employing divergent tools such as brainstorming or mind mapping can get ideas flowing. Unfortunately, the end can begin just as quickly. Subjugation to definition, evaluation, approval, and consensus squeeze ideas to the point of being dull. Allowing ideas to simmer SLOWLY (incubation) is the recipe for audacious and effervescent ideas! 

You realize students need to put on their mental brakes to fruitfully answer creative conundrums. But there’s the challenge. You feel pressured. No time for downtime. No time to reflect. No time to think slowly. So how can we make this happen? How can we plan for it? You can start by breaking the Project due on Monday Syndrome. Plan for drafts 1, 2, 3 . . . let the reflections, rejections, and rejuvenations begin!

“A person might be able to play without being creative, but he sure can’t be creative without playing.”

Kurt Hanks and Jay Parry

Play is a secret ingredient. One of the most powerful steps of the creative process. Once students have used Po and incubation to start generating thoughts and feelings outside of their comfort zones, play will quite naturally creep into play! Provide your students time to play with ideas and possibilities to stretch and challenge their imaginations. Try it. Test it. Laugh at it. Get others to play with it. Bounce ideas off of it.

“It‘s good to rub and polish our brain against that of others.”
Michel de Montaigne

Bringing forth surprise and query . . .

What happens when students begin to play with an idea instead of merely capturing one? Remember playing with Legos? They came with a picture of the product on the box to build. But did you even look at that box? No, you just dove into the many pieces and began to pretend, imagine, and play. As you played, you discovered some things worked and some did not. Helping students realize these moments in your classroom gives them the freedom to tinker, twist, and rearrange. Watch the wonder happen as they wrestle, ponder, and reflect. And perhaps begin all over again! 

The essence of the creative mind.

The creative mind emerges when equal parts of emotion and cognition are present. These two meet up when students become more comfortable with mind clutter, confusion, disorder, and ambiguity. In other words – a challenging mess! All accompanied by intense emotions. Running the gambit from worry to exhilaration. 

The challenge of getting students out of their comfort zone may be difficult at first. They have been conditioned. Accustomed to immediate consumption and instant gratification, and there is no place for some emotions like sadness, anger, discouragement, and frustration. Yet, these emotions shape students’ ability to create.

You have worked hard to teach and establish the comfortable patterns, routines, and expectations of school life. The very necessary conditions to keep schools running smoothly. Give yourself permission to work just as hard to help students break their rountinzed ways of thinking. The freedom to to entertain and explore all kinds of creative endeavors.

The conundrums of life are ever-present. Let’s help students prepare. Creatively!

FOR YOUR CLASSROOM:

Here are several ways to Po students out of their comfort zones of thinking and feeling:

  • Plan for drafts 1, 2, 3 . . . let the reflections, rejections, and rejuvenations begin!
  • Make room in the learning for more “What If” questions.
  • Plan for more opportunities for students to shift away from a fill-in-the-blank thinking.
  • Plan for periods of active incubation. Let emotions cool and ideas simmer.

LET’S REFLECT & REMEMBER . . .

1. We all harbor the shared goal of helping students gain the competence and confidence needed for life and work once they leave us. One way to achieve this is to regularly get them out of their comfort zones.

2. Give yourself permission to work hard to help students break their rountinzed ways of thinking. More comfortable with clutter, confusion, disorder, and ambiguity. In other words – a cognitive creative mess!

3. Actively letting the “puzzle” simmer is a powerful step in the creative process. Don’t worry. Behind the scenes, there’s still a lot of creative smashing of thoughts when ideas are turned down to simmer!

“Usually, the main problem with life conundrums is that we don’t bring to them enough imagination.”
Thomas Moore

Read the story behind our ABCs of Conundrums

Our September and October blogs were Awesome Creativity and Bodacious Creativity. This blog explores Conundrums. Are you seeing a pattern here? 
Our marketing mentor, Jeffrey Davis of Tracking Wonder, challenged Patti to begin to journal her creative thoughts. So, first thing in the morning, she began to write creativity “musings” in the form of poetry. To help her focus, she used a simple technique we often use with students in a variety of ways to Po their thinking. The Alphabet.

About the same time, Jeffrey suggested we write a monthly blog. Although we previously wrote numerous professional journal articles, books, and other educational products, blogging was a bit of a conundrum. Conundrum – a confusing, intricate, or difficult problem or question; a puzzle. How to do it? What to write about? We were really out of our comfort zone. So holding firmly to our belief that everything relates to creativity, we compiled lists and lists of words and began “conundrumming” on creativity!

Patti’s musings expanded into blog pieces. You will have the opportunity to see this process unfold as we publish 23 more “alphabet-propelled” creativity blogs. We wonder how you might creatively challenge your students with alphabet conundrums? We’d love to hear your ideas.

Live, learn, and lead creatively!

Rick & Patti

Bodacious Creativity: Helping Students Explore and Expose Their Creativity

Bodacious Creativity: Helping Students Explore and Expose Their Creativity

Bodacious be in your creative thoughts . . . 

have no fear of others’ wrought . . . 

seize the moment . . . hold it dear . . . 

render new life into the atmosphere.

P. Shade

Bodacious be in your creative thoughts . . .

Bodacious. Now there’s a word fun to say! And to think about. To be bold or gutsy. Showing a readiness to take risks. Strikingly different or unconventional. Arresting or provocative. Courageous, adventurous, fearless, or daring. Seems pretty close to describing a student “caught” in the act of being creative.

So here’s a dilemma. How can we get students to take more intellectual and emotional risks? Bodacious in their creative thoughts. Keeping their creative thoughts hidden deep inside is a comfortable default mode. They have complete freedom. No one can criticize, no one can argue, no one can reject, and it costs nothing emotionally. But it’s only “real” in their imagination! We must see or hear students’ thinking to be able to understand and support their creativity. So how do we get what’s on the inside – outside? 

have no fear of others’ wrought . . .

Watching a child tearing off wrapping paper and ripping open the box of a new toy instantly reminds us of what it means to play “creatively.” A mound of Legos quickly become spaceships, superheros, spiders, and on and on. Kids just play. They do so quite naturally without the expectation or pressure of some kind of preconceived product, outcome, or ranking. Playing with things, ideas, or creative thoughts in the classroom have the same basic environmental needs. No internal or external forms of judgment required.

External Judgment

When students share a creative idea or thought, they run the risk of rejection, being laughed at, ridiculed, or even worse. Their idea may be misunderstood and quickly dismissed. If this happens in classrooms, students soon learn to keep their creative ideas and wonderings to themselves. It is easier and less painful.

Internal Judgment

One difficult part of the creative process for many students is being in a state of ambiguity or uncertainty. They may experience a great deal of anxiety, tension, nervousness, and even physical discomfort. Wondering “Is this right?” “Will this work?” “Is this the correct way?” They are now officially out of their comfort zones! This engagement level is where all creative behaviors originate. 

F.O.L.F. 

The Fear Of Looking Foolish. You and your students can have fun playing with this acronym. Rick coined this term when he was conducting Humor in Education professional learning sessions with teachers. Students will have to come to terms with F.O.L.F. in their own minds and on their own time. Some will blossom early on, and for others it will take more time and practice to break through this psychological barrier. Practicing thinking creatively in an intellectually and emotionally safe classroom environment builds security and trust. Freeing minds from the fear of possible embarrassment, judgment, or ridicule. 

So how can we create classrooms where students feel free to explore and expose their creativity?

WHAT? WOW!

You may be wondering how can you teach without judgment. There’s a whole lot of necessary grading and directions going on in any learning environment. But less can be more. To make our classrooms intellectually and emotionally safe places for students to grow the mindsets and skillsets of creativity requires that we:

  • provide feedback more formatively 
  • include more open-ended learning opportunities
  • establish norms to protect and promote creative expression

Formative feedback and open-ended learning are part of what we do as educators. We’re guessing establishing norms to protect creative expression may feel a bit daunting. Something that definitely wasn’t in the “playbook” of your teacher education program. Fortunately, Alex Osborn coined the term brainstorming, creating four rules that are just what’s needed to get started on designing a safe, creative classroom learning environment. 

Rules of Brainstorming

  1. Many Ideas – lots and lots – the “more the merrier”
  2. Freewheel – go “wild and crazy” – get “out of the box”
  3. Piggyback – feel free to connect to someone else’s idea
  4. No Judgment – in any form – what they say and what they do

Many Ideas and No Judgment seem pretty familiar and straight forward. Be forewarned and on the “lookout” for judgment. It can sneak into the classroom wearing many disguises: looks, sounds, actions, and expressions.

When we are asked, “How will I know when I’ve got it right?” we share two strong indicators. 

  1. When you overhear one student saying to another student,
    “Whoa, you are breaking one of our rules of brainstorming.”
  1. But the best “sign” is when you hear a student express a very unusual idea and you hear and/or “see” their classmates saying “WOW!” instead of “WHAT?”

seize the moment . . . hold it dear . . .

Creativity fuels the meaning of life. It artistically fuels the soul. It emotionally fuels the heart. It’s the fresh and the new! It’s the unique and the different! It’s connecting the dots not previously connected! But creativity always involves change. Every original creative act someone undertakes opens a doorway for change. Help your students embrace change by becoming emotional and intellectual creative risk-takers. Encourage more guessing, taking chances, trying it out, and more playing. 

“Behold the turtle. He makes progress only when he sticks his neck out.”

James Conan Bryant

The more students practice these creative behaviors, the more they will begin to stretch out of their comfort zones. Eventually becoming their new default thinking and learning style. Their self-confidence will grow along with their self-esteem when it comes to approaching creative challenges. 

render new life into the atmosphere.

Sir James Dyson is a great example of someone who has taken numerous creative emotional and intellectual risks and asked many “What if” questions. For example, he thought, “What if we made a wheelbarrow without a wheel?” “I know, let’s make a fan without any blades.” And perhaps his most famous bodacious creative thought: “How about we design and create a vacuum cleaner without a bag!”

James Dyson has asserted the importance of failure in ones life. “I made 5,127 prototypes of my vacuum cleaner before I got it right. That meant 5,126 failures. But I learned from each one. That’s how I came up with a solution. So I don’t mind failure. I’ve always thought that schoolchildren should be marked by the number of failures they’ve had. The child who tries strange things and experiences lots of failures to get there is probably more creative.”

Help students to understand that once they have a creative idea, the next step is to transform it into another state. Draw it. Write it. Sing it. Play with it. And when it’s time – share it. One of the greatest gifts you can give to your students is the belief and the ability to pursue a creative idea without fear of feeling different.

FOR YOUR CLASSROOM:

If you want to help your students enhance and embolden their creative thinking, you can begin by “remodeling” your classroom: 

  • Make your students more aware that your classroom is a safe place to take risks, ask questions, guess, fail, and make mistakes.
  • Provide more time for student thinking, reflecting, revising, tinkering, reviewing, redoing, pondering, and practicing.
  • Model the behaviors you want to see in your students.
  • Push yourself beyond the feeling of responsibility for all phases of teaching and learning. Allow students to go in different directions. Let stuff happen.
  • Use supportive phrases and questions that encourage creative thinking. Ask questions with thinking stems: What if? How might we? How could?

LET’S REFLECT & REMEMBER . . .

  1. Bodacious Creativity (bold, gutsy, unconventional, provocative, courageous) involves both emotional and intellectual risk taking. Seems pretty close to describing a student “caught” in the act of being creative. Strive to make your classroom an intellectually and emotionally safe place for students to grow the mindsets and skillsets of creativity.
  2. Creativity fuels the meaning of life. It artistically fuels the soul. It emotionally fuels the heart. Creativity opens the doorway for change. Help your students embrace it. Expand their intellectual and emotional comfort zones. We must see or hear students’ thinking to be able to understand and support their creativity.
  3. Help students to understand that once they have a creative idea, the next step is to transform it into another state. Draw it. Write it. Play with it. And when it’s time – share it. One of the greatest gifts you can give to your students is the belief and the ability to pursue a creative idea without fear of feeling different.

 “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” 


Anais Nin

Live, learn, and lead creatively!

Rick & Patti