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Creativity or innovation in education? That is the question

Are innovation and creativity part of the same process? Darwin-based education leader Paul Drewitt takes a look.

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Creativity or innovation in education? That is the question

Are innovation and creativity part of the same process? Paul Drewitt takes a look.

When William Shakespeare first wrote the timeless classic Hamlet he envisioned a young Prince who contemplates two life paths. He is unsure as to which path to take so confides in an ageing skull which becomes an iconic symbol of the play.

"To be, or not to be, that is the question."

This analogy has implications in all walks of life, especially the future of education when we are told that creativity is lacking in our education system and that there is also a shortage of innovation. Sir Ken Robinson has spoken in depth about the role of education and its adverse effect on creativity. Sir Ken Robinson highlights a number of points that create argument as to whether the education system reduces creativity.

Ken Robinson quote

In 1968 an up and coming psychologist conducted a creativity test with children of various ages to determine creativity levels. The results found that as we get older our creativity levels plummet, especially as we begin to enter school and are introduced to the concept of conformity.

Creativity level by age

Carl Jung and Abraham Maslow, two pre-eminent psychologists of the twentieth century, wrote about the concept of ‘control’ and suggest that we focus on what we ourselves have direct control over in order to have a maximum impact in terms of creating change in our lives and society. So is the decline in creativity due to our schooling system or factors out of our control? Education is not the only factor that has influence on our overall development; we are influenced by various elements in the environment including the media, our peers, family, and the environment in general. So is it fair to blame the education system for not producing creative individuals when certain factors that determine ‘creativeness’ are not entirely within the education system’s control?  

I sometimes hear “I don’t have a creative bone in my body.” We all admire creative people, their views on the world and fresh outlooks. However, being creative asks the individual to use original ideas to create something. In an ideal world all people would be creative, however we can only facilitate this process in education. It is not widely believed that creativity can be explicitly taught. It seems, through our environment that we ‘grow out’ of being creative as our personalities change and we become interested in different concepts and form new behaviours.

Definitions for 'innovate' and 'creativity'

Innovation, on the other hand, is a different process that does not require the individual to have an original idea, only the ability to act on ideas. Innovators are need seekers. They listen out for creative ideas and welcome creative people into their lives to discuss various topics, then make the idea possible by acting on those ideas. This puts innovation within the reach of everyone as the ideas are there. We just need to teach the skills required to seek it out and to recognise the various patterns of innovation such as ideation and evolution. This is indeed a more attainable goal, one which we have direct control over through cutting edge programs such as inquiry-based learning which starts by posing questions, problems or scenarios to find solutions and ideas—rather than simply presenting established facts or portraying a smooth path to knowledge.

The four step inquiry process

I believe innovation and creativity to be a holistic interrelated concept that is taught through a process. New ideas can easily be formulated within the innovation process as the act itself attracts the finest minds, some who are creatively gifted and thus form part of the process itself. Isaac Newton regularly attended numerous science clubs in and around London in his prime. He met creative people with imaginative ideas and innovators who had the skills to formulate the ideas through a process in teams. The apple falling on Isaac Newton’s head that day acted as a reward for the effort of being a participant of the process and embracing both creativity and innovation to reach a conceptual endpoint. The apple did not supply the idea itself in one eureka moment.

Venn diagram featuring innovation, ideas and creativity

It is easy to focus on an issue in education, such as a lack of creativity, and then see a bleak future. But what can educators do in the present to remedy the situation? Teaching students the skills to innovate is completely within our control, therefore evidence based practice to provide our students with 21st century skills.

Are innovation and creativity part of the same process? That is the question.

Theodore Levitt quote

Paul Drewitt is an education leader based in Darwin.

This article first appeared on LinkedIn.

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