The human brain absolutely amazes me. Assemble a few pounds of fleshy “stuff” with billions of neurons, trillions of connections and we get–me. Vary that a little and we get you, or anyone else. Many things about that just amaze me, but one of the big ones is what we call creativity.
Ken Robinson writes about it and talks about it. In his book Out of Our Minds, Learning to be creative he defined creativity as: “imaginative processes with outcomes that are original and of value”. His TED talk is nearly four years old now yet remains a favorite on the site and one of mine, too. I also read and reviewed Orbiting the Giant Hairball where Gordon MacKenzie spends a lot of time talking about creativity and how we maintain it in the face of the corporate world. I’ve read other books, papers and articles, and talked to people about it.
It seems clear that our capacity for this way of thinking had huge survival value or we wouldn’t have it. Obviously the ability to come up with original, valuable new thoughts would certainly give us a “leg up” on our competition. Neuroscience studies of brain activity even give strong hints where its various incarnations arise in the brain. So we can define it, justify why it’s there and say something about where it comes from.
So that’s it–we can explain it, right? Nope. Not for me. At best that hints at some things, but it doesn’t explain much at all!
That thought stuck me while watching our almost-three-year-old grandson playing with some Lego blocks a couple of weeks ago. As he built, destroyed and rebuilt things, there was a constant flow of creativity, imagination and original thought. Of course, at this point he has no idea that what he’s doing is ‘creative’ — he’s just playing with the blocks to see what they can be, plus what he and Grandpa can do with them. Tall towers, colorful buildings, crazy houses, walls, roads… and much more were all there as he created them in blocks and in his mind. Because he saw them, so did I. And we had a fun. A lot of the fun I had was watching him.
Sadly, Ken and Gordon are so right. Creativity just might be the biggest gift we’ve got. Our very survival has depended on it in the past and might well now. We really need to find ways to keep the joyful creative play of the 3-year old alive and well somehow.