I say “But…” a lot. Whenever somebody comes up with an idea I like to say, “yes, but…”  It’s part of the devil’s advocate in me.  I think I say it because I like to sound smart, like I can counter any point.  In that way I’m very argumentative.  Obviously it is good to be critical, and to think about issues from multiple perspectives, however I do not think that saying “but” is very helpful for creative thinking.


I noticed that I was doing this when I have conversations with my boyfriend or brothers about the world.  I like having discussions, where we talk about issues but do not come to any one conclusion.  When people offer interesting and never-before-been-done ideas, I often come up with a reason why it wouldn’t work, or why it doesn’t take these other factors into consideration.  For instance, my boyfriend suggested something like, “I think it would be a good if students went to school throughout the year and just had more breaks that were shorter, rather than a long summer break where some students regress.”  My response was that it wouldn’t work for a number of reasons, which I then listed.  Instead, I could have brainstormed other ways to do this, or to achieve the same ends with a variety of means.


I would like to try to train myself not to do this.  I want to hear the person out (and think less critically about their idea) and instead of saying “but” I would like to try saying, “yes, and” or perhaps, “that sounds like it could work, can we think of ways to avoid negative consequences?”  I guess this again goes back to suspension of judgment.  I need to work in positive directions instead of closing off directions with negativity.  There must be many more good ideas that can spring in the same vein as the ones that I have shut down.


I’m going to try to do this the next time somebody offers a solution.  Hopefully I will have another entry this week explaining the outcome.

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Colleges drop SAT, but still buy names of high-scoring students.

This kills me!  We’ve been thinking a lot this week about standardized tests and whether or not they are good measures of creativity.  In this article the author states that while many colleges have pledged to no longer accept the SAT because it is biased against non-white and non-affluent populations, they continue to use high SAT scores as a way to attract a certain type of student.  I guess I can understand some of the reasons for this, because these types of students are able to effectively communicate and have foundational understandings, and Wagner and most employers agree that these are essential survival skills.  These colleges don’t want to have to spend time and resources doing remedial teaching.  On the other hand, SAT scores definitely represent a particular type of student.  Many colleges have goals of internationalization and want their students to come away with new perspectives (which the college would gain by accepting students against whom the SAT is typically biased).

It also just seems like a great waste of money for colleges to spend money toward obtaining these scores when they would most likely get the same quality of student, and perhaps an even greater quality student who comes from a varied background), if they did not pay for these scores.  I guess despite all the creativity movements, colleges also need some easy means of assessment for their students.  Perhaps these schools would start accepting creativity test scores instead?  That would be really interesting..

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Jobs and Divergent Thinking

I don’t have a job for this fall.  It bothers me every day. It’s nagging.  Today I was at a friend’s house and found a book titled What Color is Your Parachute: A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers.  It made me laugh and scoff a bit because it was published in 2007.  I think the game has changed a bit since then.  Nevertheless, I realized that thinking about work for me is always very critical in that I never can suspend judgment when thinking about potential opportunities.  Therefore, I decided to try to use creative thinking (divergence) in creating a list of possible employment that I could pursue in Michigan.  I want to suspend my judgment in order to come up with as many solutions (practical or not) in two minutes.  Here I go:

  • cafe barista
  • sub teacher
  • babysitter
  • pie maker
  • house cleaner
  • coach!
  • driver
  • work at a bookstore 🙂
  • write for a newspaper
  • take mannnny classes to finish my degree
  • apply to run take out
  • create a company to tutor kids
  • create a tourist blog for marquette
  • work at a co-op, yum
  • work at a pizza place, yum
  • become a personal trainer at a gym

When I do this, I become a lot less hopeless.  I like the feeling of endless possibilities that this way of thinking affords, and I like the idea of being an entrepreneur… of creating my own company or business.  This is one of the seven survival skills from Wagner, and I have been thinking a lot about this sort of thing in the past few years, wanting to put some of my passions into some sort of entrepreneurial endeavor.  I think it will take a lot more creative thinking practice in order to get to that point, because usually I shut my mind off from possibilities too early.  I really like this way of thinking because it is really freeing and leads to some good possible solutions that are kind of laid out there in front of me.  Having it down on paper (or digitally saved) is great because it is also good to make comparisons between ideas this way, rather than the why my mind works which is that I can really only compare 2-3 things at a time.



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Crossword and Group Work

I love doing crossword puzzles. I’m not sure why, because they can be frustrating, and can remind me of how much I do not know.  But, they are good time-wasters, and won’t make you feel guilty afterwards – when vegging out while watching TV probably will.  I guess I like doing something remotely challenging, but there is a threshold that I don’t like to go too far beyond.  It’s the difference between an easy NY Times crossword and a medium one. I think this is a good metaphor for teaching and learning too, because most students are willing to be intellectually challenged with some scaffolding and to a certain extent, whereas it is easy for them to give up if they are forced well beyond their limits of comprehension or comfort.

Anyway, I was doing a crossword puzzle yesterday.  I was by myself, and just felt like every word was on the tip of my brain.  I knew the synonyms for the clues, but it was just an issue of recall.  I hate that.  When I looked again at the puzzle today, I was able to get a few more.  Perhaps sleeping last night had a beneficial affect on a weary brain.  Having some conscious or unconscious time to think about these clues may have helped too.  Later I had my boyfriend work on the crossword a little bit, and seeing a few more letters on the puzzle helped my brain recall some of those clues that I had trouble with.  I think this is the perfect example of creative thinking and the creative thinking process – at least for me.  I cannot come up with some novel idea at random, but need some pieces or some structure to my creative process.  In order to brainstorm, I need a foundation.  Even so, with the card game creation activity that we did in class I had a lot of trouble just coming up with an idea.  Potentially it had to do with the number of people in my group, which was only two.  I know having my boyfriend help with the crossword enables me to recall some of those words based on the addition of just one more letter.  In this way the creative process is sometimes done best with a group of people.  I was curious about the optimal group size for creative thinking or brainstorming, and so I Googled it.

Some web results indicated that the best group size for brainstorming is 4-5.  Other results said 7-10.  But, I did find a good number of articles that insisted that brainstorming does not produce any greater number of ideas than those same individuals would produce on their own (based on research, see the article below).  How can this be?  I don’t buy it, because I believe that one person’s knowledge and understanding of the world is limited, and that by introducing a greater number of people into the equation, the group would have access to a larger amount of knowledge and multiple perspectives on a give problem or issue.  I guess the number of ideas might be the same as individuals or as a group, however the quality of ideas (their practicality and their complexity) must surpass that of an individual.  I know that groups feed and build off of each individual’s thought process, and therefore there must be greater creative potential and problem-solving in groups. However, I guess groups have to be careful in suspending their critical thinking (or jumping to solutions without due consideration) in order to avoid shooting down ideas or creative strands/tangents.  Otherwise, famous examples like the Bay of Pigs result when groupthink causes members to stray too far down one path without considering alternatives.

For my own creative potential, I think I’d better stick to groups, but work on my ability to suspend judgment on others’ ideas.

The Brainstorming Myth

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Socratic Dialogue

Socratic dialogue on murder:

Me: I’ve been thinking a lot about justice recently Socrates, and I just don’t get why euthanasia for inmates is a just penalty for a crime, even if that crime is murder.  Is murder not wrong?

Socrates: Hmmm… yes, I would agree that murder is wrong, would you agree that there is no greater evil which man could perform?

Me: Umm… I guess I would agree.

Socrates: Well then, if murder is the greatest evil, would you also agree that every human has the right to live no matter how great or how small?

Me: Yes, all humans should not have the right to live taken away from them.

Socrates:  Therefore should murder be justified on a case-by-case basis?

Me: No, what is wrong is wrong no matter the circumstance.

Socrates: Is rape also evil?

Me: Of course rape is evil.

Socrates: Should not a woman be given the choice to abort a fetus conceived through rape or incest, both of which are considered to be evil acts?

Me: Well, it depends on how old the fetus is, and other factors.

Socrates: Ahh, it seems that murder can be circumstantial indeed.

This was really hard for me!  I feel like a pretty logical person, but it was difficult to create a Socratic method in trying to argue with myself, or set myself up for contradiction.  I didn’t really enjoy writing this, nor do I think I did a particularly good job of creating a Socratic Dialogue.  I guess this forces me to take on a variety of perspective and to use language and logic to convince through argument.  On the other hand, I just felt really uncomfortable writing it, and I felt pretty lost in writing it.  I often had to reconsider what I was trying to prove and how I was going to prove it.  In some ways that was a creative thinking process (at least up front, in trying to figure out the ways in which I could take a murder argument).  In the end, I used critical thinking to settle on an argument that was somewhat familiar to me, but I think this would have come out very differently had I worked in a group on this sort of dialogue.

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Chicken Plucker

I’m not trying to be round-about crude with that title.  One of my friends runs an organic farm on my parents’ property.  She raises chickens for meat.  It’s nice to know where your meat comes from, but on the other hand, these birds are part of the green revolution- the creativity on the part of scientists (and used by farmers and pretty much anybody who eats) that has reduced biodiversity in America and elsewhere.  They created modified organisms to fit specific needs, and no longer are as many varieties of seeds or animals commercially available for cultivation.  There was a recent article in National Geographic on the issue of seed and food biodiversity in cultivation which talks about this very trend.  It’s titled Food Ark.  Just like the Welsh pig in this article, my friend’s chickens are bred to put on weight, put on weight fast, and not move a whole lot.  They have a pretty good life outdoors in a moving pen here in VT, but they are not exactly what I would consider “normal”.  My point is, all of the creativity of scientists in the green revolution has led to some ease and increased production (and larger products), but there have been a ton of downsides to this type of production.  Many factors were not taken into consideration, sustainability (in a number of ways) being up near the top of the list.  For instance, the cost of production for a farmer may be reduced per acreage, but the toll that these farming practices take on the land and on our health are almost immeasurable.  With fuel prices rising, the cost of food production and food transportation (to our plates) increases greatly, and many people are now wondering what happened to those more local farms (from which they could buy food without the added cost of transportation).  The green revolution favored those larger and remote farms, and weeded out (pardon the pun) the local and smaller growers.

On the other hand, our creativity has not totally gotten the best of us in this situation.  Many people have spotted the error in our one-track creative process ways (which may have been more of a critical process since there were specific end goals in mind that led to the development of many technologies and GMOs).  While there must be a variety of solutions, many people are just committing to the hard work of starting their own local farms to insulate their communities against the dangers of fully relying on GMOs and non-local food sources (dangers like floods in the Midwest, or like obesity from eating so much freaking corn and processed products).  My friend would be lumped into that category, but she also has to constantly be creative on a daily basis in her work.  She is a Spanish teacher full-time during the school year, and then starts planting in the spring and harvesting and replanting all summer long.  She constantly uses creative thinking processes to find solutions to little issues.  One such issue was that it was pretty cold this spring and she wanted to plant.  Of course, she thought about starting seeds inside, but then decided that would not be the best solution, and decided to build a small hoophouse instead (which she had to use a variety of materials to build in a somewhat unconventional way).

Back to the chickens- she and another friend devised a “chicken plucker” in order to pluck the chickens after slaughtering them.  Plucking is not easy, and to rent a portable plucker or to take her chickens to a plucker would have been costly and time consuming.  Instead, they came up with this incredibly functional device:

I think that is a creative mind(s) at work!  To be able to use some common materials to create a relatively cheap chicken plucker is to think both creatively and critically.  I know she is a very artistically creative person, as she loves to arrange flowers, paint, sing, play guitar, etc.  I also know some of her creative thinking occurs in brainstorming with others, trial and error, and in using ideas that she reads about.  Possibly some of her suspension of judgment in her creative process comes from drinking an adequate amount of beer (as you see in the photo) while working.  On the other hand, if there is a specific end-goal in mind, is it creative thinking, or just problem-solving?

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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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