Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Creativity and Reckless Ambition

I’m no academic. I hit the business world running straight from school and learnt from a bunch of mentors who continue to have a profound effect on my ideas and actions. I think this background is one of the reasons why I empathised so strongly with a talk by education visionary Ken Robinson. The talk was given at last year’s TED Conference and Sir Ken’s talk lives on courtesy of the Internet. It is wise, funny and profound. He tells great stories to illuminate creativity. He shows how obsessed we have become with training brains to the detriment of all other human potential. He brings to life dancers who languished at school until their need to move constantly was recognized as creative rather than irritating, as well as academics who regard their bodies as a way to get their heads to meetings. He stresses how kids often reveal how cautious and fearful we become as we grow up. He reckons we aren’t educated into creativity, we are educated out of it. In one story, Sir Ken summed up everything that I believe about the joy of creativity, the power of optimism and the huge value of recklessness. Here it is.

“I heard a great story recently and I love telling it, of a little girl who was in a drawing lesson. She was about six, in the back, drawing. The teacher said this little girl hardly ever paid attention but in this drawing lesson she did. The teacher was fascinated. She went over to her and asked, ‘What are you drawing?’ The girl said, ‘I’m drawing a picture of God’. The teacher said, ‘But nobody knows what God looks like’. And the girl said, ‘They will in a minute’.”

You can bet that I will take this story to the next gathering of Imagination@Lancaster and to my classes at the Universities of Waikato and Cambridge.


Susan956 said...

I've taught ages from five years to sixty five years and there's rarely been a time I've not been captured by the storied insights students offer. There is also, as perhaps Sir Ken would agree, an art to 'seeing' how to draw developing knowledge.

One lady in her sixties could write the most exquisite aesthetic word pictures to go with food images. True art in words. She had you sailing ships over soup bowls and abseiling into a mousse.

A primary school ages child could not understand the concept of fractions until it was realised he was always at the races with his dad. Turn fractions into betting comparatives like 10 to 1, 6 to 4 and so on and the kid immediately clicked.

Ms Plunkett, is Bethlehem up near Brisbane or down Melbourne way?

I would challenge your assertion that you are not an academic Kevin albeit one comes to know writing and thinking in different ways via academe. Academic writing can be formulaic; true difference in academe requires risk and creativity on the foundations of moderation and humility. These are not necessarily mutually exclusive in my book. Critical analysis IS part of what I value in academe as well as devil's advocacy. Asking probing questions is as important as being able to offer solutions and propositions (in my opinion).

Somewhere between my background and yours lives a marvelous new world that I think we both (and others) recognise.

I have experienced much joy in teaching adults and in examining or reviewing the works of adults. When I can read a paper or a thesis and be totally absorbed so that time passes without me knowing it and when my eyes can fill with tears because the 'student'/other is showing me/leading me, into new thoughts and spaces that are exquisitely expressed and phrased, that is joy. Even more so when you have seen drafts that have been problematic and you have really taken a challenge to a student and they have struggled initially, then embraced and then conquered magnificently.

Like having children, you want students to be more than you are. Don't clone more than/grow beyond me and locate your own ever evolving expertise.

Rik said...

Yup. My fave talk ever.

the paper bicycle; Peter Scarks said...

I have never had a job that has been advertised. I have never ticked any boxes or made the shortlist. I have always been described as a geek or just plain wierd. I remember when I was told I had too much imagination to get an education. Your post rings true with me. I encourage the fringe to be heard at all times, and I know I am doing the right thing.

Anonymous said...

perfect timing! I hadn't opened one of your emails in months then this and wham, Ken's talk was the perfect shot I needed for a new online college admissions business I'm launching!

ken's thougts gave me the idea for a key piece i was missing for one of the main activities on this new site.

thank you!

Jason Kemp said...

Sir Ken has been giving that speech for years. Even so it is a tribute to his insight and funny and very warm delivery that his ideas still have cut through and huge impact.

Sire ken addressed a School principals conference earlier this year - I suspect one of many significant groups helping us to move from industrial revolution prescriuption towards a more creative and useful educational future.

Check my post on creativity and innovation for more on Sir Ken including partial transcipt links as well.

Kevin Roberts said...

It’s great how Ken's thoughts resonate equally with academics and non-academics. A statement like 'everyone has the capacity for immense creativity' cuts through what many of us were taught at school - fundamentally, intuitively, it makes sense.

Susan956 said...

And Ken's a bit of a babe aside from everything else. I'm having a gratuitous moment in saying that of course.

I had also meant to say that sometimes speeches are bound to be repeated, if the common sense is fundamentally sound (to borrow from Kevin).

It's not like my old history teacher who would just stand there and open his mouth and the same lesson that had been given on the same day of term every year poured forth.