TED talk: Creativity

I found a TED Talk on creativity on Hulu.com this week.  The speaker’s name is Amy Tan, and she is hilarious.  The reason this TED Talk resonated with me is that the woman used humor as the basis for her connection with the audience.  She is obviously incredibly creative and successful in a number of ways, but she starts her talk in an unconventional way.  She pokes fun at the unwritten TEDTalk “rules” by listing the ways in which she plans to capture her audience…

  • “provide REVELATIONS”
  • “is AL GORE in the audience???”
  • “DON’T be tedious”
  • “CHANGE the world”
  • DON’T use bullet points”

I enjoyed her talk mostly because I think it is important for creative people not to take their “art” or creation too seriously.  In not taking something too seriously people leave room for and invite comment, criticism, and alteration of the original form from oneself and others.  Tan says “near death is good for creativity.”  Many people agree that suffering through hardship can be significant for the development of creative thinkers (Tan, 2008; Pink, 2006).  She talks about creativity as a survival tactic… therefore creativity is a very adaptive trait, and we really do need creativity in our world today in order to adapt and find solutions to today’s problems.  I other words, humans use creativity to adapt to their environment.

For instance, this morning I went rock climbing.  Obviously, rock climbing is a very critical thinking task in that it is sequential.  One must make sure that you have anchors, your harness is looped correctly, that you are on belay, etc., before you begin to climb.  On the other hand, rock climbing forces you to use the right side of your brain in seeking out all possibilities before coming to a solution.   There are any number of routes you can take before starting out, and you often have to look at the whole face before determining exactly where you will go (this is like the overall picture which Pink attributes as a skill of the right brain).  Furthermore, once you start on a given path you must kind of scan the wall after every move in order to adapt to what you find at the next juncture.  The right brain must enable you to discover new solutions, and the way in which your body moves as well is very creative and adaptive.  Normally I don’t need to contort my body into some of the positions that I found myself in this morning.  But in order to survive, so to speak, on the wall one must adapt in the way that creative and critical thinkers do.  Rock climbing is a form of problem-solving in the way that one generates new solutions and puts one of them to use (each time you move).


One last and somewhat unrelated thought.  Tan shows a B- on a paper that she wrote as a young student.  She makes the comment that her schoolwork was not predictive of later creativity for her, which is especially interesting because she is a writer.  This is not only interesting, but it also emphasizes the need for schools to encourage creative thinking as a way to engage more students and allow more students to fully reach their potential and participate in their education.

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