Creativity is a key facet of being an academic. Research is about investigating a problem or a real-life phenomenon; interpreting the data to make new meaning. Sometimes it involves relating this to a theoretical framework, like Activity Theory, other times it is simply about making sense of what the data is telling you. Jenkin’s (2009) lists 11 digital literacy skills that he argues are needed to be part of today’s participatory culture; I would add creativity to this list.
But what is creativity? It is derived from the Latin ‘creo’, meaning to create/make. It is about creating something new (physical artefact or concept) that is novel and valuable. It is the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, partners, relationships and create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations. For me it is an essential skill to deal with today’s complex, fast and changing society. Furthermore, discourse and collaboration are mediated through a range of social and participatory media.
There are four main aspects of creativity:
- Process: mechanisms needed for creative thinking
- Product: measuring creativity in people
- Person: general intellectual habits (openness, ideas of ideation, autonomy, expertise, exploratory and behavioural)
- Place: best circumstances to enable creativity to flourish
And five main stages:
- Preparation: identifying the problem
- Incubation: internalisation of the problem
- Intimation: getting a feeling for a solution
- Illumination: creativity bursts forth
- Verification: idea is consciously verified, elaborated and applied
The illumination stage is key for me. I often find when I am trying to interpret data or trying to develop a new framework that I need to leave the idea mulling around in my head for a while and then a breakthrough suddenly occurs, often in the middle of the night. I don’t know the Physiological basis for this, I guess it is just that you have to let the idea fallow for a while and sub-consciously your brain slowly starts to piece things together. Alan Cann has provided a nice link to an article on the creative brain.
Verification is also really important, new ideas or concepts only have validity if others buy into them and can see their value. Take Communities of Practice (Wenger 1998), for example, the concept took off like wildfire in the education community, precisely because it represented a good way of describing communities, and, in particular, online communities.
Technologies can promote creativity in new and innovative ways. For example, by enabling new forms of discourse, collaboration and co-operation, and providing ways in which individuals can access and repurpose knowledge in different forms of representation. Social media provide a rich plethora of ways in which individuals can communicate and collaborate, and the sheer scale of our social networks allows for unprecedented aggregation and scale – knowledge is both distributed and collective.
I recently experienced this when I was co-writing the conclusion chapter for the second edition of Helen Beetham and Rhona Shapre’s ‘Rethinking pedagogy for a digital age’ book (Beetham and Sharpe 2007). Helen and Rhona brought a small group of us together for a face-to-face workshop. They had already put a draft of the chapter online and had invited the community to add their thoughts. In the workshop we brainstormed ideas for the chapter and then worked in pairs for 40 minutes solid to work up a number of themes. I worked with Chris Pegler on the notion of openness. It was amazing what we produced and felt like a really creative process. I think collectively we wrote about 8000 words! Helen and Rhona then took this text and the online version and created a coherent narrative.
Although a little far fetched, I think there is an analogy with the theme of the film, limitless. The central character is a writer with writer’s block. He takes this pill which means he is able to unlock everything he has ever thought or encountered. So if he has watched a Spanish film he is fluent in Spanish; picking up new skills is a breeze. In many ways I think the vast wealth of knowledge we have access to via the Internet and the distributed connected community of peers we are part of, means that we truly now have what Salomon called ‘distributed cognition’ (Salomon 1993). We are our networks. We are what Perkin’s describes as ‘person plus’.