Archive for March, 2010

The point that Mr. Sternberg made that I most appreciated was that creativity or creative expertise is not an  ability or a skill, but rather a result of deliberate practice in a field, domain or medium. I believe this idea that creativity is an attitude not an in-born skill is very important to the educational system. Raising kids, and in many cases being in the teaching position, I hear from the students and teachers alike that ‘he/she is so lucky, they can draw, write, are good at math”. Never considering the hours and hours it probably took that individual to acquire and perfect that skill. I know I too suffered from this long standing belief about art – that someone is naturally artistic and therefore an artist. Slowly I have discovered how untrue and self-defeating this belief is. I have been using Dr. Sternberg research as proof of this concept of commitment and practice being the key to creativity to everyone I can reach.

Another topic I found very interesting during our morning session was the comment Dr Sternberg made about defining problems during his study of troubled marriages. His research found that that almost across the board on partner did not recognize the existence of a problem in the marriage, which led the couple to define the problem incorrectly and then waste a lot of time and energy on a problem that was not even there. I feel that this concept of not defining the correct problem and then creating solutions to problems that are not responsible for the core issue is at the heart of much wasted creativity in corporations, educational systems, and clearly family systems.

A third subject I found intriguing was Dr. Sternberg’s description of the role of knowledge in his investment theory. He states that knowledge can be a double-edged sword. Knowledge is necessary to advance an idea in a field.  But, knowledge can impede creativity by leading an individual to become entrenched or habitual in their ideas and or reactions. An individual can become so used to seeing things in a certain way that he starts to have trouble seeing them, or even imagining them, in any other way. The expert therefore may sacrifice flexibility for knowledge.

A perfect example from my life for this theory was the fact that at 24 I believed I had acquired enough experience and knowledge in my short career to start an advertising firm. Against the very strong advice of all the people important to me, I did start my agency, and 4 years later was able to walk away from the firm with considerable profits, advanced knowledge and more experience than I would have had if I had listened to all the wise and knowledgeable advisors. My stupidity, or naivety, saved me from giving up on my dream and having the opportunity to learn that sometimes you have to go with your gut.


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Concerning Dr. Sternberg’s lecture and reading, I was captivated by a few aspects of his theory of intelligence and its application to unconventional learning.  Firstly, he clearly identifies a creative method for learning that is outside the box for considering children’s intelligence, mostly based on his Triarchic theory of intelligence.  Unlike most intelligence models based on standard tests (which I do not do well with), his idea that three categories of intelligence exist–analytical, creative, and practical–redefines what we think of as intelligence, and this also must influence how we define the word creative.

His example of the native Alaskan children that were able to navigate across the frozen land at night is ideal for describing practical intelligence.  This is probably the most stark example that argues against simple written tests and other methodologies that do not take into account the “real” aspects of intelligence, those displayed in the function of day-to-day living.  This was also spoken of in Guns, Gems, and Steel by Jared Diamond when he equated Australian aborigines to possible being more intelligent than their European counterparts, mostly on this idea of practical intelligence (though he did not use this term).

These three types of intelligence measures give rise to a social intelligence order that is more dynamic and creative, but also introduces creativity as a function of each of the three orders in Sternberg’s model: namely, they could be identified as analytical creativity, practical creativity, and creative creativity (hopefully not a tautology); all three of which function in his intelligence model.

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I found Robert Sternberg to be one of the more engaging speakers this semester.   His manner of presentation and sense humor maintained my interest during his lecture and morning discussion.  Much of the information from the article I came across during some of my undergraduate classes, specifically the different learning styles.  In my secondary education classes, my professors frequently stressed the importance of addressing all the students’ learning needs, whether they learn visually, kinesthetically, spatially, or any of the other methods Sternberg addressed in his article.  Furthermore, in the classes, my professors also taught about using Bloom’s Taxonomy, the hierarchy of questions an educator asks in the classroom, ranging from knowledge to synthesis.  For years, the education milieu has concerned itself with how to address these needs.  Sternberg, I believed, regards these issues critical in our public schools.

This is not the first time this concern has come up in our seminar class.  I feel all of our speakers, with maybe the exception of Crewdson, consider how creativity can benefit the contemporary student in the classroom.  As a consensus, I imagine most would agree with Sternberg’s claim that No Child Left Behind does not do enough to foster creativity.  I agree with this claim.  Standardized testing, while useful for accountability of the schools and districts, only perpetuates the lower level Bloom’s Taxonomy.  The problem we all face is how to create that balance between the obligation of accountability of students and educators while promoting creative/analytical thinking.

I do not know whether the public school environment will ever be able to cultivate creativity.  I fear that claim may be overly pessimistic, but my years as an educator has introduced me to various roadblocks that our society needs to overcome.  Issues such as classroom size, training for teachers, resources for teachers, politics, and cynicism towards the education system all contribute to creativity’s absence in the classroom.  Furthermore, how does an educator evaluate such a subjective aspect as creativity?  I know when grading a student’s creative work, be it a short story, poem, or project, I tread carefully when assigning a grade to it.  I never want to deter a student from pursuing any form of creativity.  Even with President Obama’s current plan to revise No Child Left Behind, I do not know if a student’s creativity or analytical thinking is crucial in the administration’s proposal.  Now with the trouble of the economy, art classes are always some of the first choices school board officials consider to eliminate from the curriculum.  In the current state of education, creativity seems to be fading even more.

I wanted to ask Sternberg this question in our morning session, but we ran out of time before I had the chance.  I am curious what other people think regarding this issue.  Is there any possibility of creativity becoming teachable in the classroom?  What options do public school teachers have in the current state of things.  I am curious to hear other’s opinion on the matter. 

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          I am very impressed by Dr. Sternberg’s knowledge, intelligence and humble spirit.  When I asked him what are the differences and commonalities that scientists and artists have in terms of creativity, he said he did not have an answer and asked me what I thought.  After reading some of his articles, I cannot help noticing that it is almost like his style to leave a research with an open ending.  Like his research on the correlation between intelligence and creativity, his conclusion is, despite a substantial body of research, the psychologists still have not reached a consensus on the nature of the relation between the two. That is a very unique, creative and clever research style.  I believe this kind of style would invite more continuing research on this topic rather than criticisms. 

          I especially like his optimistic attitude towards creativity.  He believes that creativity is a decision.  In his evening speech, he illustrated the keys to developing creativity in children and adults.  I think I found part of the answer I was looking for regarding the commonality of scientists and artists when he talked about formulated vision of creative people.  He stated, whether it is in arts, literature or science, creative people like investors, are able to “buy low and sell high” in the realm of ideas.  They are creative “value” investors.  Buying low means pursuing ideas that are unknown or out of favor but have growth potential.  According to this investment theory, creativity requires a confluence of a few resources.  He later talked about series of actions to bring about creativity such as to define problems, to sell solutions, to take sensible risks, to overcome obstacles, to believe oneself, to seek creative environment and so on.  To me, it seems that he summarized two phases of creativity: vision and action.  The prerequisite of creativity is to have creative vision.  Without a creative vision to begin with, there will not be any meaningful creative actions.  Having creative vision requires the synthetic skill “to see problems in new ways and to escape the bounds of conventional thinking”, “the analytic skill to recognize which of one’s ideas are worth pursuing and which are not, and “the practical–contextual skill” to know how to sell.  Csikszentmihalyi looks at creativity as a source of happiness.  He seems to emphasize the experience of being creative.  But Sternberg’s theory emphasizes more on the purpose of being creative.  It starts clearly with a creative vision or goal, and then follows with a series of actions to sell the value of creation, and to fulfill the goal.  This is a whole new aspect of looking at creativity.  It is more comprehensive and macro in a sense.  If the value of creativity is not sold, then the creativity may not have a value.  Therefore, the creativity may never be reviewed.  This is why action is so important for creativity.  Without action, no matter how creative a vision is, it can never become true.  Action will unlock the potential of a person’s creativity, release one’s gift, and fulfill one’s vision.

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Csikszentmihalyi, the Godfather of positive psychology, articulated the science behind controling our consciousness to more consistently get ourselves into the optimal state of experience known as flow. His research proves that the more often we create experiences of flow in our lives the more enjoyable our lives will be.

One of my favorite quotes in his book Flow is, “a person can make himself happy, or miserable, regardless of what is actually happening outside just my changing the contexts of consciousness”. I am very intrigued by this statement. Of course, as a true blooded American, I immediately ask, “ok, but how does one change the context of consciousness?”

Csikszentmihaly’s answer is that, “one must find ways to order consciousness so as to be in control of feelings and thoughts. And expect no shortcuts”

The bottom line, it’s an inside job. The mark of a person who is in control of consciousness has the ability to focus attention at will, to be oblivious to distractions, to concentrate as long as it takes to achieve a goal, and not longer. A word that Csikszentmihaly uses quit a bit when speaking and writing about flow, and much to the chagrin of my family is my new favorite phrase, is psychic energy. His research proves that optimal state of inner experience is one in which there is order in consciousness. This happens when psychic energy—or attention—is invested in realistic goals, and when our skills match the opportunities for action. The pursuit of a goal brings order in awareness because a person must concentrate attention on the task at hand and momentarily forget everything else.  I found his research that women are less likely to find themselves in flow because they are concentrating on 3 things at once while men are concentrating on 1.7 things at the same time very interesting, and did motivated me to learn to reduce that number for myself. I have found that when I am alone, shooting photographs I am able to find that feeling of flow that we all long for. I have been consciously thinking about, and making part of my day Csikszentmihaly’s suggesting for flow, sometimes with success and many times not.

Csikszentmihaly’s work has profoundly affected me. I am more aware of my attention, and many times the lack of it. I try to find time each day to block out everything else in my life other than when I am doing at the time, and many times I find the only way to do that is by disconnecting from everyday life for a time period. Because the constant interruptions of modern life it does take a concerted effort to create an environment with allows time to focus on increasing my skill level while raising the level of challenges while finding the quite to give my full attention to this task.

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