Why Creativity is Necessary in Education and the Workplace
Our culture is obsessed with productivity. But research shows that creativity cannot be taken out of the equation and is needed in education, where it fosters successful psychological and emotional development, as well as in the workplace where it leads to innovation and improves mental health.
What is creativity?
According to Vygotsky, an eminent Russian psychologist and author of Collective Creativity “thought, emotion, play and creativity as well as the creation of relationships are an integrated whole. When some aspects of this totality are broken apart, learning and development are diminished". More than fifty years ago, Sigmund Freud declared that every child at play “behaves like a creative writer, in that he creates a world of his own, or, rather, rearranges the things of his world in a new way which pleases him". Finally, researcher Brene Brown states that “there is no creativity without vulnerability” and that “vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change”.
Indeed, my experience as a Teacher, a Sales and Marketing Manager, and as an Artist taught me that creativity, play, vulnerability and innovation are intertwined. In this article, I will refer to theses four notions under the sole term of “creativity” since they are all connected.
"We don't grow into creativity, we grow out of it. Or rather, we get educated out of it"
- Sir Ken Robinson -
Have you ever seen a child who is not playful and creative? Every single one of them is an artist. They don’t think twice and can create a song, a painting, a drawing, a role play on demand. Creative play is at the core of their being. Place a child on a desert island or in an empty room, they will still find something to play with, whether it is real or in their imagination. Naturally, many experts say that children learn best through play and role play (see references below). Step into a primary classroom, and (hopefully), you will find a warm, colourful, creative and playful learning environment.
Now, why is it that by the time children get to tertiary education, and worse, step into their work environment, creativity and play has been completely wiped out of the equation? We study then work in sterile environments, where results and achievement are the main focus. Play, which was earlier recognized as a facilitator for learning, has become synonymous of laziness and frivolity. We are told to be serious because this is what differentiates a child from an adult: the first plays, while the second works. Perhaps some adults decide to become artists, while most of their “serious and responsible” friends prefer to get “real jobs”.
What also happened to us in between, is that we’ve put our vulnerability on the side. Either because we’ve been told to toughen up, or because we had to build walls to protect ourselves. We’ve stepped into high schools, or university and most especially companies that, instead of nurturing risk taking, frowns upon any mistakes made. Brene Brown wrote:
“If you are being creative, you will inevitably fail. […] Play is at the core of creativity and innovation. “
Before starting my career in education and getting interested in Design Thinking and Collaboration by Design, my experience in business showed me that while most companies look up to innovation and problem solving, few actually encourage what is needed to achieve these.
Many of my employers or colleagues were quick to condemn mistakes, with sometimes the threat of losing jobs, hence reinforcing the feeling amongst everyone that it was dangerous to try something new (ie. to show creative thinking) or to offer solutions (ie. to show problem solving). This kind of environment isn’t conducive to team building and, at the contrary, creates distrust and unhealthy dynamics in the teams.
Some might then ask me: who cares if there’s distrust and division in the company as long as targets are achieved? Well, research has shown that a positive team culture is needed to achieve productivity: team that show good supportive dynamics always achieve best than those who are divided.
Why should we encourage creativity in education and in the workplace?
In addition to fostering innovation, learning and collaboration, many eminent researchers and authors such as Robinson, Freud, Vygostky, Brock, Wood and Attfield support that creativity encourages critical thinking, attention and memory, social and language skills, divergent thinking and problem solving skills. These are the types of skills that most employers look for in applicants and that education specialists should aim to develop in students, no matter what their age. Secondary and Tertiary education providers pride themselves in preparing students for the workplace, while many actually fail to encourage the skills associated with creativity and innovation - placing academic success first.
Furthermore, creativity has been linked to emotional development: it helps develop self-confidence, acts as a catharsis (ie. alleviate tensions and emotional buildup) and can be used as a mean of inclusion (cf. Art Therapy).
It could indeed be said that the success of humans is largely due to a series of imaginative breakthroughs that allowed us to differentiate ourselves from our primate relatives and thrive. Those breakthroughs began with the creation of sophisticated tools from stone and wood, and later through the development of language and agricultural systems. Creativity played a crucial role in our survival and surely is a lifelong learning skill that will help young people and adults to live happy, fulfilling and productive lives, confident in the fact that they have a strong-solving toolkit that can be applied to any challenges they face. That is why I will conclude this article with a quote from author-speaker Linda Naiman:
“The economic future of an organization depends on its ability to create wealth by fostering innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship.”
So let’s all embrace our creativity!