Abraham Flexner, American educator in “The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge”, Harper’s 1939
More on of the importance of making time for abstract, creative thought in today’s efficiency-obsessed education system at Brain Pickings.
SOLITUDE is out of fashion. Our companies, our schools and our culture are in thrall to an idea I call the New Groupthink, which holds that creativity and achievement come from an oddly gregarious place. Most of us now work in teams, in offices without walls, for managers who prize people skills above all. Lone geniuses are out. Collaboration is in.
But there’s a problem with this view. Research strongly suggests that people are more creative when they enjoy privacy and freedom from interruption. And the most spectacularly creative people in many fields are often introverted, according to studies by the psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Gregory Feist. They’re extroverted enough to exchange and advance ideas, but see themselves as independent and individualistic. They’re not joiners by nature.
I am agog with the power of serendipity.
Serendipity, the happy accident, has driven much of my research and much of my publication. My first book, on the work of police officers and social workers, emerged entirely because a student of mine was a police officer—a sergeant, in fact—who invited me for a ride-a-long one night. In time, after many rides and much observation, I hit on the notion that on the scene, at the spot of an incident that a police officer was working, it is best to consider the police officer in exactly the same terms that we analyze small group leaders: as people exercising power and discretion to achieve some socially approved end. In fact, I can still place myself in the exact spot I was in when this idea hit me: riding in a police car at 2 am one morning, driving under the overpass of a yet-unfinished interstate. It was a “Eureka” moment.
A later book, on the American militia movement, was informed by the entirely happy accident (at least for me) that I moved to Spokane, WA, to take a temporary position at Eastern Washington University at the exact moment that the Randy Weaver standoff took place in neighboring Idaho. My surprise at the sympathy with which Randy Weaver was treated in the local media led me to ask that most important of political questions: why do people like something I find abhorrent? Answering that question took several years and a survey of the militia movement from Ruby Ridge to Homeland Security … but I got to an answer that, at least, satisfied me.
Of course, as Ben Hogan once said of golf, it might be a game of luck but the more I practice the luckier I get. It is one thing to be hit by serendipity and another to be ready for it. An open mind, a big reading list, and a curiosity about the world around me has, I think, put me in a position such that when those serendipitous moments come, I am at least partially prepared to be struck by them.
Then comes the hardest part: making the words come out in a way that makes the thoughts in my head correspond with the squiggles on the page. Which takes a whole lot more inspiration and, indeed, a heck of a lot of mental perspiration.
—I blog as Politicalprof. I am Professor of Politics and Government at Illinois State University in Normal, IL.
Share your creativity secrets in the comment section, submit a post on Tumblr, or tweet your thoughts to us with the hashtag#InnovationWeek. We’ll compile your answers into a post later this week. (The longer and smarter you write, the more likely it is that we’ll publish you.)
– how the digital age has democratized the creative process, and how the empowering effect of this shift has changed our society by unleashing creativity.
Downloadable as an Adobe Air file, the interactive version of PressPausePlay lets you dig deeper into specific topics, listen to more in-depth interviews, view some deleted scenes and explore the world around each artist, thinker and creator. The Air player becomes a “living” version of the movie that, unlike a DVD, allows the content to be updated over time, thus representing a new form of digital film distribution.
The next time your great idea at work elicits silence or eye rolls, you might just pity those co-workers. Fresh research indicates they don’t even know what a creative idea looks like and that creativity, hailed as a positive change agent, actually makes people squirm.
“How is it that people say they want creativity but in reality often reject it?” said Jack Goncalo, ILR School assistant professor of organizational behavior and co-author of research to be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Psychological Science. The paper reports on two 2010 experiments at the University of Pennsylvania involving more than 200 people.
The studies’ findings include:
- Creative ideas are by definition novel, and novelty can trigger feelings of uncertainty that make most people uncomfortable.
- People dismiss creative ideas in favor of ideas that are purely practical — tried and true.
- Objective evidence shoring up the validity of a creative proposal does not motivate people to accept it.
- Anti-creativity bias is so subtle that people are unaware of it, which can interfere with their ability to recognize a creative idea.