Two Plus Three Is Purple (Part 3)

By Andrea Kret, 13 May, 2022
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Quantity over quality

It is hardly possible to produce innovative ideas on command. To make it work better, you should practise extensively beforehand - and not be afraid to fail. Fear and pressure from outside inhibit us so that no creative idea comes to us. To become really successful, you should not take defeat so seriously and get into action. Picasso created about 20,000 works and by far not all of them have achieved fame. Do as the painter did: work steadily and be prepared that most of it will not be brilliant, not even usable. Don't be afraid to have stupid or absurd ideas. It takes a lot of bad ideas to come up with a really good one. If you stay in a constant creative process, you will gradually get better and better results. The principle of trial and error should not only apply to physical experiments, but to any field you are involved in.

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Different colors of crumpled up balls of paper
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Sketch something, build a prototype and see what might work. Try different activities, new hobbies, new sports, eat a new dish, in short: experiment around. And also get involved in things that are foreign to you: Watch a programme you don't usually watch, have a website from a foreign country translated into German or English and browse through it - this will also give you new impressions.

Keep it loose

Some get the best ideas in the shower or during a walk. Others during simple sports exercises. Or when they are drunk. This is no coincidence, because during all these activities our brain waves change compared to a very concentrated state. It is often the case that when we are stuck with a problem, we concentrate even more, narrowing our focus - and directing it to the wrong aspect. Wrong because the solution may lie in something minor, but which we block out when we focus too narrowly. Therefore, it makes sense to broaden one's attention by relaxing, still staying awake, but still somewhat introspective. In these essential pauses, our brain continues to work. It is here that it is most productive. Breaks are not just a necessary evil, they are an important part of a work process. During this time, you should stop trying to solve the problem and instead let your thoughts run free. Sometimes it even helps to simply go to the kitchen for a short while and stir the food in the pot if you are stuck on a problem - even in this short period of time, the brain can be "unblocked".

The smartphone as a creativity inhibitor

It is now proven that many good ideas come to us shortly before falling asleep or directly after waking up. The brain waves also change during this time - we can get a flash of inspiration. That's why we forgive ourselves a lot when we pick up the smartphone shortly before falling asleep or right after waking up - or during breaks in between work. Because by doing so, we prevent a really good idea from sprouting in us every time.

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Little girl in bed staring at a smartphone
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In the context of creativity, even procrastination appears in a better light: although procrastination inhibits our productivity, it is a booster for creativity. In this way, we gain time: we turn away from the actual topic and develop our thoughts further in the subconscious. This is how new ideas can pop up. Melina Marseille and Tanja Gabriele Baudson call this process "reflected rumination".

Adam Grant, in turn, has observed that creative people are usually on fire when it comes to starting a project. But they often take a long time to complete it. In his view, it is ideal to find a balance between procrastination and precrastination, i.e. between putting things off and wanting to do everything at once.

To be creative, you need a stress-free environment - whereby stress is largely generated by our own brain. During a stressful situation, the blood in the brain is distributed differently, making it impossible to activate pre-existing knowledge and be creative. In this context, Wojciech Eichelberger refers to Einstein, who, when thinking about complex problems, always retreated to another room where he practised the violin. Eichelberger suggests that each of us should have such a violin or something comparable: an activity where we switch off and "reset" our brains.

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Woman relaxing to music on the sofa while cleaning the floor
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Living passions

US actor Ethan Hawke talks about how everyone must first give themselves permission to be creative. Because we are stuck in everyday life, which consists largely of habits, many of us do not pursue what is important to us. But this is precisely what is of central importance for Hawke: only when you discover what you like and are particularly good at, do you become aware of who you really are. For him, expressing one's (hidden) inclinations and passions, pursuing one's calling, that is true creativity. But to show yourself, you have to know yourself. For Hawke, creativity is not just a nice addition to life, but a process of healing. In the end, it pays to follow your own path: When everyone sings their "song", a many-voiced dialogue develops: Each of the "singers" shows himself, but also makes himself vulnerable in the process, because not everyone else will like what he does. But it is worthwhile to live out one's passion: We always get something back. That's why Hawke advises his listeners: "Don't read the book you're supposed to read, read the one you want to read." And don't aim for impact - it's hard to match audience preferences because audience tastes are not stable; they change every now and then.

Immerse yourself in a creative field

Of course, as we have already seen, you can be creative on your own. But if you immerse yourself in a creative field, you can achieve peak performance, even if you may not be a genius yourself. Olaf-Axel Burow uses the term "creative field" to describe an environment in which there is a creative atmosphere because many creative people are there. Silicon Valley serves as an example here. In a creative field, people come together who are interested in a similar subject area, are similarly creative, but bring other strengths with them. They not only complement each other, but also cross-fertilise and inspire each other. The prerequisite for this is that the parties do not see each other as competitors on the one hand, but on the other hand also bring very different skills to the table and are willing to learn from each other. In a functioning team, each individual is aware of his or her strengths and weaknesses. Burow cites the example of Steve Jobs, who did not acquire the skills he lacked himself, but instead set out to find suitable partners to design a computer according to his vision. Jobs was the crystallisation nucleus that not only initiated the development, but also significantly advanced it.

Free improvisation

As an example of a creative field, Olaf-Axel Burow cites the "jazz band model of leadership": In a jazz band, different musicians who have mastered their craft make music together. They have agreed on a certain theme beforehand and play together without the need for a conductor. This kind of playing together can create a mood that spreads to the audience, making them clap along enthusiastically, rock in their chairs and cheer for the musicians: A powerful resonance field is created between musicians and listeners. Something similar can be observed at a football match in the stadium, especially if it is a home match.

A creative product comes from several people with different talents working together. Synergy teams are most creative when there is a lively exchange between the actors. In companies, such creative teams are most successful when there are flat hierarchies, i.e. without authoritarian leadership. The individual participants soar to outstanding achievements when a climate of creative competition prevails that motivates everyone.

Keep at it

Creativity is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration, they say. Creative achievements can be quite exhausting. It's not enough to have a great idea - you also have to realise it, bite through it and persevere on the way to its realisation. So as a final tip: don't give up on your project, it's worth it!

How do your kids get more creative?

Above all, you should give your children enough room to discover for themselves what they might enjoy doing, without structuring their entire free time. And if they get bored: all the better! On the one hand, they will learn how to deal with frustration, and on the other hand, they will start looking for solutions themselves, or more specifically: ways to occupy themselves. If children discover at an early age what they enjoy, they will not become adults without hobbies and without an idea of how to fill their free time - because there are not so few of those.

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Children playing on a climbing frame with slides
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A child should also have a room for itself in which it can do whatever comes to mind, where there is also sometimes chaos. A separate room within a room is sufficient. The main thing is that your child can let off steam and be free.

And the most important thing: children should and are allowed to make mistakes. They learn from them - but not only they: The experience that we adults have ahead of them is the sum of all the mistakes made so far. Being creative means trying things out without there being a right or wrong. On the contrary: criticism at a young age can lead to children burying their creativity forever.

Creative nursery

Joanna Żarniewska, a nursery school teacher in Poland, knows from experience that it is important to have creative skills as a teacher if you want to inspire children to be creative. But you don't necessarily have to be artistically active: One's own creativity can be expressed in the design of the garden at home, in handicrafts or in cooking. If an educator has "creative antennae", he or she can weave in imaginative exercises everywhere in the course of a day. Not only in drawing and painting, but also in language, in thinking processes - and even in sports.

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Toilet paper roll monsters
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Żarniewska presents a first creative warm-up exercise: The little ones list all the red objects they can think of. Or all the ones that are soft. Or perhaps those that make a noise. Even this simple exercise increases the children's self-esteem because every answer is correct. A second exercise would be to make analogies: What does a bear have in common with a carpet? Both are soft. What does your mother resemble? My mother is like a fairy - she can conjure up a nice lunch and the flat looks clean. My mother is like fire - she is always warm. These answers actually came from children in their group. The little ones were also asked to connect things that don't usually go together, so a drawing of dancing houses was created, for example. Or a fish cat - a previously unknown creature. The children also looked for associations to a term, so that long chains of associations were gradually created: Table, plate, food, pumpkin soup, parsley, garden, garden chair, parasol, sun, moon and so on.

Żarniewska also asked "her" children to imagine they were a cloud. "Where are you, what do you see?" was her follow-up question. She also had the little ones think about solutions to certain everyday problems - and about what of them could actually be implemented. She asked questions like: What if there were only children in the world, no adults? Or: What could a sheet of paper be used for, if not for writing?

The classic creativity exercise was not missing either: the teacher started a story and the children continued it in their own way. Sometimes terms were given that had to appear in the story. The youngest children were also creative in sports by coming up with their own warm-up exercises.

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Faces painted on hands
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The new role of teachers

The role of teachers is changing more and more: from omniscient imparters of knowledge who have an answer to every question to mentors, coaches, motivators. As Sir Ken Robinson put it in his 2013 TED Talk: "A school can never be better than the teachers who teach there. As is already the case for the kindergarten, the same applies here: Teachers who want to inspire their students to be creative should not only be creative themselves, but should also be familiar with current creativity theories. Because even in schools there is often only a vague idea of what exactly is meant by creativity. Furthermore, teachers should know how creative processes work and how creative people function: They often question what the teacher formulates as truth and point out problematic points. Creative pupils often find it difficult to accept authority - teachers should be able to deal with this because of their professional competence. They only gain respect if they are authentic - and know their limits.

An open-minded and outspoken teacher supports her students in becoming independent, self-effective personalities: a prerequisite for creative action. The role of the educator is therefore central because even just one outstanding teacher can help children discover their abilities and enjoyment of something, sometimes with repercussions throughout life. The more inspiring teachers a school hosts, the higher the students' potential for development, the more opportunities are available to them for later life.

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Adults and children playing with a construction toy
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It should not be forgotten that a creative teacher often moves outside his or her comfort zone: there is no set curriculum that gives structure to the learning process and that a creative teacher can follow. Innovative exploration leads to contradictions, sometimes even negative emotions, and these have to be endured. Whereas a classroom in which perhaps irritating, contradictory events take place is more likely to reflect our world than previous forms of teaching. Security and stability are more of an illusion outside the classroom. If children experience such lessons, they learn early on how to deal with negative emotions and master their lives.

The creative school

Just as it is worthwhile to take a completely different perspective when thinking creatively, we would also like to start thinking about new approaches in teaching by asking ourselves: How do you specifically prevent creativity in school?

On the one hand, of course, through boring lessons, which many know well enough from their own school days. Lessons in which students pass notes to each other or write WhatsApp messages instead of following the lesson. In addition, an over-structured school lesson with little room for manoeuvre and constant control from above. Furthermore, through competitive situations where individual students are either assessed or given the prospect of a reward (think of the donkey and the carrot). Research has shown that groups that competed with each other performed worse on creative tasks than those in which students simply worked together.

Another way to prevent creativity is to disregard children's ideas so that a creative atmosphere is not created in the first place.

Yet children are already naturally imaginative, for example when it comes to grammar or word formation rules. Although this happens out of ignorance, it still often makes us adults smile, think here of "pingihuhn" (penguin), "Klobauch" (garlic) or "Mama drips her eyes" (Mama takes eye drops). This creative potential can be further encouraged by teachers appreciating even the smallest creative achievements of children. In this way, children learn early on to appreciate the value of their ideas. The outcome does not always have to be the starting point; the path to the goal is no less important. And above all, teachers should not only appreciate children's achievements when they are clearly engaged in a creative process, but should be open to being surprised even in situations where they do not expect creativity. Children may even be at their most creative when no one can clearly judge how creative what they are doing really is.

Everybody is different

It is important to remember that every child has his or her own way of being creative: Some develop ideas in conversation with classmates, others withdraw, still others have to take notes or sketch something. Then there are those who first let their thoughts wander and daydream. Or those who are more haptically oriented and need to perceive the texture of things so that the creative film starts in their heads. Therefore, you should just let children do it - they will find their way - and give them more time if they take a more unusual approach, because creative achievements take time. To keep students motivated, the exercises should neither underchallenge nor overchallenge them. How long a child takes to complete a task varies from person to person. If there is no pressure to perform and the child has the opportunity to try this and that without expecting a specific result, the best ideas will come about. And the teacher should not criticise them prematurely, no matter how unusual they may seem. Because intrinsic motivation, i.e. motivation from within, is extremely important for the creative process - although extrinsic motivation in the form of praise should not be underestimated either. It helps above all when solving convergent tasks, i.e. those where you can reach the goal with logic, or where there is only one possible solution.

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Children wearing clown costumes
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Even though every child's attempt to be creative should be taken seriously and encouraged, not every artistic product has value - we will come to this later.

Building synergies

Not only does the way individual children learn differ, but they all have differently developed abilities - and weaknesses. That is perfectly fine. Teachers should know their students' weak points, but it is not necessarily their job to eradicate them. According to Olaf-Axel Burow, it is more about creating synergies between students who complement each other. Just as it works best later on in working life. It is not so much about everyone knowing and being able to do everything; rather, suitable people should complement each other in the team. Only this approach fits our complex and specialised knowledge society. This form of collaborative working and learning requires teachers to know the talent and aptitude profile of their students in order to offer lessons tailored to the individual, supplemented by numerous group work phases or workshops. But before that, teachers should work on their own teamwork skills - up to now, they have tended to be lone warriors who tackle their many tasks single-handedly. If not only the students but also the teachers complement each other, the school will also become a creative field.

Creative working atmosphere

In addition to the creative field, which is more of an ideal space, a creative environment also literally promotes a productive atmosphere: school rooms with inspiring work materials, well equipped without being cluttered, offer many stimuli for thinking and learning. They contribute much more to children enjoying working and looking forward to what they are doing than if this were done through rewards. However, in the prevailing school structure, flexible choice of space and time allocation are difficult to implement, but this is precisely where more flexibility would be appropriate; static teaching should be replaced by mobile ones. Before this happens, a rethink will have to take place.

One day later and you're done

Deadlines make creative performance rather unlikely. Why? Under time pressure, one often opts for a safe, familiar path and ignores original, perhaps riskier proposals for solutions. Incidentally, the term "deadline" comes from the prison milieu and denoted a line around an institution - anyone who crossed it was shot.

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Notebook computer and desk covered in sticky notes
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In addition to the equipment of the rooms, the atmosphere is also important: there should be an open, trusting atmosphere in a class. In concrete terms, this means that no one makes fun of the ideas of (fellow) pupils or makes it known if a project or an answer is unsuccessful in class. Where conflicts are addressed openly and resolved promptly, children gain confidence in themselves and find it easier to develop new ideas.

Artistic subjects

What could be more obvious than the idea that one can live out one's creativity particularly well in the artistic subjects? And not only in art lessons, but also in music or German lessons. The enjoyment of art (of whatever kind) often makes people want to create something of their own. Therefore, teachers should introduce children and young people to art. Especially since it is known that many creative individuals and artists discovered their enthusiasm for creative expression (such as painting or writing) as early as primary school. If a child's first encounter with art is fascinating and moving, they want more of it. If, on the other hand, the play, musical piece or novel the children encounter is boring, they may never turn to that art form again. That's why Claus Martin thinks the statement "Better bad art than no art at all" is wrong. He advises against taking a school class to see a third-rate performance of The Magic Flute. He justifies this with an analogy: someone who is introduced to the enjoyment of wine with Tetrapaks is not likely to develop into a wine connoisseur. Only those who receive high-quality art can develop their taste.

Martin also refutes the prejudice that pupils are always worse at expressing themselves because they read so little. This is not necessarily the case: children and young people do not necessarily read less, but they read many texts of inferior quality (postings in social media, short messages, etc.). And it is precisely this that has a negative impact on their own text production.

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School children sitting together looking at their smartphones
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According to Paul Collard, who has accompanied and evaluated many creative projects in schools, it is the artistic subjects that help to interest students in the subject matter. He tells of a play on genetics that was performed at a school. In the course of the rehearsals, the students had dealt with the subject matter and, after completing the project, got better marks in genetics than students who had learned the subject in the traditional way. The reason for this: The young people were emotionally involved, they were involved as a whole in the learning process. Because students are challenged as whole people in such a project, they feel good, have a good basic mood, gain self-confidence and automatically have more interest in the learning material. Emotion and motivation are very strongly connected - that is why emotions should be given greater consideration in the classroom. How? Instead of talking about genetic diseases in biology class, the teacher could encourage a debate on the topic. As a side note, creative students are also characterised by a particularly high level of empathy.

Being creative also means imagining a different future - art in particular makes this possible.

Nadine Nett suggests working in an interdisciplinary way at school: dealing with an opera in music class, the corresponding libretto in German class - and in history class the pupils deal with the historical context. In this way, they get a rounded picture of a subject, discover more meaning in their learning and find the lesson more exciting.

Acting independently

In the hitherto dominant model of frontal teaching, where contexts are developed on the basis of questions, creative influences tend to be a disruptive factor. Creativity should rather become the goal of the lesson itself: by the pupils actively shaping the lesson, working out lesson objectives independently and under their own responsibility. In class, they do not simply copy what the teacher shows them, but think for themselves and are largely free to work on tasks. If they achieve self-motivated goals, they are satisfied and ready to discover more. Therefore, children's independence in the classroom should not be seen as a luxury, but as the cornerstone of education. However, for it to become so, the education system would have to be completely restructured.

The example of Montessori schools shows that this concept works: According to research, the graduates have better results in divergent thinking than those who learned at regular schools. For one thing, the children there are in a stimulating environment that inspires them to think for themselves. They know the learning goal for certain learning units, but are allowed to choose the way to get there themselves (more information on Montessori schools will soon be available in our article "Montessori").

Those who are allowed to be creative in class automatically have more desire to learn. This is not only true for pupils, teachers are also happier when they teach happy, inspired children. In turn, the pupils subconsciously sense this and are more likely to dare to ask questions that can trigger new thought processes. When teachers approach a lesson creatively, they themselves become happier overall. What might such a creative approach look like? They could ask themselves in advance how Peter Lustig would conduct their lesson. Or Obelix. Therefore, teachers should also be given leeway in lesson design.

Part of an inspiring environment is that students can set up and design their classroom the way they like it. Because those who feel comfortable in an environment find it easier to fantasise and think.

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Day care facility
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In the next part, we will give you lots of practical examples of how you can awaken your children's creativity. Let yourself be inspired.

 

All sources can be found at the end of part 4.

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