Cultivating Creativity

I have long been interested in the subject of creativity, and as a pastor/leader and a parent, how to cultivate creativity in others.

In the past, I’ve written about creativity through a review of the movie, “The Astronaut Farmer” (see “The Astronaut Farmer” and Creativity). I also wrote about creativity when we were thinking about the kind of environment we wanted to create for our child/children in Shaping a Learning Culture.

I believe that because we are created in the image of God — God the Creator — we are inherently creative. But (as I wrote about previously in the movie review), most of us tend to lose or stifle our creativity as we grow up (no doubt with the help of others). As a leader, I want to help people regain (or rediscover) their God-given creativity. As a parent, I want to encourage the development of creativity in my kids (which may simply boil down to not messing them up too much as they grow and develop!).

It’s fun to watch young children play with toys, watching their creativity at work. It’s fun to hear the development of a child’s language as their vocabulary expands and as they learn to put words together.

One of the things we’ve focused on is to allow Ethan (and eventually Sarah) to use his imagination in how he plays with or uses toys and stuff. An important part of this is that there’s not necessarily one (right or wrong) way to do things (i.e., to play with a toy or use a tool). Of course, this means that toys aren’t simply things to keep the kids quiet/occupied, they’re learning opportunities.

For example: Ethan the Drummer. What amazes us isn’t so much that he can turn just about anything into drums, but that he knew enough to create his own drum sets!

One other example: Ethan has a small Disney Cars’ theme suitcase with wheels. He uses it not only to transport toys to the babysitters, but also as a “mower” or a vacuum cleaner.

Adults see a suitcase as a suitcase but kids see all kinds of possibilities!

One of my favorite statements (which is connected to creativity) is, “There’s always a better way!” Kids (of all ages) should be free to use their imaginations and not be tied (or forced) into thinking there’s only one (supposedly right) way to do something.

The problem with settling on one way of doing something is that we never experiment, we never use our God-given imaginations, we never look for better ways of doing things. This is important because rarely is the first idea/solution the best idea/solution! But as we keep trying new things, experimenting, and using our imaginations, that’s when creativity kicks in.

From a leadership/parenting perspective, I think the point is that it’s more important to teach others how to think and problem-solve than it is to teach them what to think (i.e., method is more important content; when you have the method, you’ll be able to get the content).

I’ve long said that the purpose of education (at any level) is not just to teach you what you need to know (educational programs can’t really teach you everything you need to know, anyway), but the real purpose is to teach people how to learn. When you know how to learn you’ll always be able to learn what you need to know when you find yourself in unchartered territory.

When Ethan finds himself in unchartered territory (i.e., something goes wrong or happens unexpectedly), if we can, we try not to fix it for him or tell him the solution (though we may guide him to finding/discovering solutions). In the process, we try to do two things:

  1. Have a good attitude, to say, “Oh well” (the idea is, things will go wrong and it’s what you do after things go wrong that matters). So, don’t panic or over-react. Often, Ethan will say, “Oh well,” when something goes wrong, whether it’s something he’s doing or something Mommy or Daddy is doing.
  2. Focus on solutions: Rather than telling Ethan (and eventually Sarah) what the solution might be, we’re more interested in teaching them how to find the solution(s) on their own.

We don’t do these things as well as we’d like. They take a lot of patience and a focus on the long view, not simply surviving the immediate “crisis” (and, to be honest, our first days and weeks after bringing Sarah into our family have clearly put us in survival mode for the time being!).

Having a good attitude and focusing on solutions are vital components of creativity. They’re values/skills we want to improve in our own lives and at the same time, instill them in our kids’ lives.

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