While researching the creative process, I’ve consistently encountered the idea of a curious mind. Scientists refer to curiosity as a source of learning, a key component of mindfulness, and a precursor to innovation.
At its core, curiosity is about an open eagerness to learn something. It’s like a conversation with a caring friend whose only interest is to see you grow through a dialogue of thoughtful reflection. Curiosity brings about a state of awe as we stare into the universe of knowledge and confront novel subjects. It motivates us to want to learn more.
Curiosity is the soil of learning because it puts us in the mental state required to be open to the world, to build relevance in the content, and to take chances. It encourages the desire to master something and the passion to do it in the service of something larger than ourselves.
A curious mind also allows space to learn from our failures and mistakes. This didn’t work. Why? What might work instead? By arming our attitudes with curiosity, we’re able to embrace a growth mindset and truly appreciate criticism. Creativity is part of a feedback loop that allows us to let go of our ego in the name of progress for everyone, growing from that soil of curiosity.
Dr. Shauna Shapiro writes, “By remaining open to experiences, we are more likely to make connections between seemingly unrelated concepts, which is crucial to generating original ideas.” Having teachers collaborate--especially across departments and subject matter--is a great way to help students think outside the box. How do math and painting work together? History and writing? Biology and music?
Collaborating within the classroom is useful, too. We need to utilize other people’s perspectives in order to see ourselves more clearly, more completely. It helps us to see beyond our own biases.
“The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed.”
Everyone knows that Einstein failed at school, but few know why. The fact is, he couldn’t handle the factory approach to learning. He eventually fled that traditional system and ended up in a progressive Swiss school that he said nurtured his curiosity, a key component in his success. As he famously said, “I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.”
It’s my opinion that Creativity is largely misunderstood and definitely underutilized. It’s undervalued despite being one of the top skills needed in the current and future economy. It should be considered a top priority in schools, but is rarely taught (and almost never specifically or practically).
I had a student who said he wasn’t creative and couldn’t complete a project because of this. After some prodding, his eventual answer was that creativity is imagination. He explained, “I don’t know, it’s magic–that light bulb that pops up over cartoon’s heads… Well, the light bulb never pops up for me.” I think this is the view that most people hold about creativity: that it has magical, unknown properties.
So what is it?
First, let’s define imagination.
Imagination is simply the ability to visualize what isn’t there. To perceive things not in front of you. Basically, seeing something without the aid of physical sensory inputs.
Creativity, on the other hand, is a process that begins mentally and manifests physically. It starts when you make connections and translate them into a physical experience by creating something new.
“Okay,” you say, “but I’m not an artist…“
You don’t need to be an artist to create something new! It is important, however, that you push yourself past just copying something. Copying is essential to learning and creativity (and something I’ll dig into a bit deeper shortly and in the future), but it does not make you creative.
If we all stop at the copying stage; if we all simply regurgitate information; if we all think the same and have the exact same information we stagnate. Nothing happens.
Now imagine an environment that truly values the process: one that encourages diversity on multiple levels. What could this do for socio-emotional learning? That’s CREATIVITY, the core processor of deep learning. Creativity is about connections, and it’s connected to everything.
Because I like to go meta, let’s end with a bit of neuroscience.
Scientists have recently provided a lot of physical / biological evidence for concepts the social sciences have been figuring out for some time. Neural scientist Semir Zeki’s work has focused on understanding the core functions of the brain, and he concluded that creativity is central. He wrote that this “reveals a parallel between the functions of art and the functions of the brain, which drives us to an obvious conclusion – that the overall function of creativity is an extension of the function of the brain.”
Having read a great deal into it (and based on years of clinical experiences in the classroom), it’s my opinion that creativity is the operating system for learning, and investing in the creative process will save education. It is the core function of learning.