Theories of creativity in situations where the basic elements and rules are not predefined

During the first three weeks of the Learning Creative Learning online course, there have been various posts (and a Q&A in session 3) on applying the ideas in the course beyond the sciences — or perhaps, beyond the microworlds of marshmallow challenges, lego, scratch, turtle, etc. On of these questions asked about theories of creativity in situations where the basic elements and rules were not predefined. This question made me think of the work of musician and creativity teacher, Ben Schwendener (, who following the jazz composer and theorist, George Russell (see wikipedia), gets students IN ANY FIELD or OCCUPATION to define the deep principles of their endeavor from which innovation then flows. I attach below part of a series of blog posts from when I took a short course with Ben. But first, let me say that I saw Ben and Marc Rossi prepare to improvise together on two pianos by looking over a circle on a piece of paper where Ben had drawn some arcs. The previous time I heard them I was amazed that they could remember their intricate piece without the sheet music, so convinced was I that the two-piano piece had been composed in advance.


1 June 2011
Vertical/unity and Horizontal/change
My current understanding of Ben’s critique of method is that to work from method is to pursue the horizontal without attention to the vertical unity of elements upon which change flows naturally. An example of this problem might be a curriculum that says topics A-H must be covered, in contrast to identifying the six themes that underlie the subject matter (as proposed by science educator Paul Jablon, Lesley University) or my 4R’s (Respect->Risk->Revelation->Re-engagement) of developing as a collaborator or the many Rs of developing as a Reflective Practitioner during the CCT program of studies. Another way of stating this example is to consider the desired outcome. The student who has taken the required subjects is assumed to be able to draw on the knowledge (subject to an inevitable decay if the knowledge is not used), but a student who appreciates the six themes approach has a coherent, integrated perspective from which to address future areas of learning.



About Peter J. Taylor
Peter Taylor is a Professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston where he teaches and directs undergraduate and graduate programs on critical thinking, reflective practice, and science-in-society. His research and writing focuses on the complexity of environmental and health sciences in their social context, incl. Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement (U. Chicago Press, 2005) and Nature-nurture? No (2014, On reflective practice, see Taking Yourself Seriously: Processes of Research & Engagement (with J. Szteiter, 2012,

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