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