A set of principles for developing creativity, part 2

5.   Self-direction and community support: A suite of schemas

(continued from http://wp.me/p1gwfa-yJ)

The mandala in #4 includes self-direction—taking initiative—and community support—through relationships, then combines them—taking initiative in relationships.   To speak of being self-directed or contributing to a community that supports yourself and others is to presuppose that you have already bootstrapped yourself into beginning to develop your creativity.  If that is not the case, go back to #2 and, if you are trying to motivate someone to change who is set or settled in continuing along previous lines, expect that you will have to stay with them as they jostle among the aspects of #4.  The challenge of doing so is not addressed directly in the suite of schemas to follow.  Instead, each schema is intended to be taken up when you see it as relevant to the phase of creativity development that you are in.  But keep in mind at all times that you should expect to jostle among the six aspects in #4 as you engage in the processes-in-context that supports creativity as processes-in-context.   Moreover, plus-delta evaluations can provide direction at the scale of small steps even when the Grand Direction for your work or life remains cloudy.

Another way of saying this is that each of us navigates the distributed complexity in part by trying to impart order according to our sense of our self—our identity, aspirations or goals, and will to choose among goals and move towards them.  We achieve some goals and then have greater capacity, knowledge, skills, plans, and direction to keep moving and developing.  We also have setbacks and revise our goals.  Indeed, our self-directedness can be buffeted or even threatened by the order-imparting efforts of other people navigating their distributed complexities.  Yet relationships with others are a source of resources and support (material, emotional, etc.) from outside ourselves, which help shape how far and in what directions our movement and development happens.  Relationships are also a source of unplanned conjunctions or intersections that we draw from.  Such connections can help us to not simply continue along previous lines and, at the same time, to clarify our sense of directedness as individuals.

My current ideal is to be involved in communities of adults that have the feel of Vivian Paley’s classrooms.  Again from The Girl with the Brown Crayon, Paley: “I need the intense preoccupation of a group of children and teachers inventing new worlds as they learn to know each other’s dreams” (p. 50).  “Kindergartners are passionate seekers of hidden identities and quickly respond to those who keep unraveling the endless possibilities” (p. 4); they “search for the mirror of self-revelation” (p. 8).

5a. Persistent exploration, serendipity, identity formation-in-relationship


Persistence in exploring makes serendipity more likely; the unintended connections—the unplanned conjunctions in #5—help clarify our sense of directedness or our identity.  What is exploration?  A: Paying attention and learning about things that are unfamiliar.  If “things” are taken to include strands of oneself (thinking, body, skills, etc.), other people, materials or media, or topics (areas of knowledge), then exploration of each thing is connected to the exploration of the others.  Why explore?  A: It can be rewarding in the sense of expanding our identity—who we are and what we are capable of—whether directly or through serendipitous connections—and this experience reinforces our persistence in exploring.  Indeed, each point in the schema reinforces the others, which is necessary given that exploration, like a journey into unfamiliar or unknown areas, involves risk, opens up questions, creates more experiences than can be integrated at first sight, requires support, and yields personal change.


b. Learning: critical thinking, creative thinking & reflective practice

Exploration in #5a centers on learning.  This next schema captures four interacting aspects of learning of a kind that combines critical thinking, creative thinking and reflective practice.




“Connect” here refers first to the inter-personal—the horizontal connections and exploring difference of #4.  Paying attention to difference provides a source of alternatives to your own perspectives or practices, alternatives that allow you to understand something by holding it in tension with alternatives, i.e., to “Probe.”   That, in turn, prepares you to put the alternatives into practice—“Create Change”— take stock of the outcomes—“Reflect”—and revise your approaches accordingly—further Change Creation.  Reflection on any new understandings from Probing also pave the way for making conceptual and intra-personal Connections, as well as strengthening the inter-personal Connections that support you as you take risks in Creating Change, opening up questions—Probing—and, as #5b states, “create more experiences than can be integrated at first sight.

c. Many R’s

The preceding schema is teased out in the next schema, which is designed to convey that a) some R’s further down will make limited sense until more basic R’s higher up have been internalised and b) opening-out periods alternate with periods of consolidating experiences to date.


On the first point, a slight variant of plus-delta is called for.  At the end of an extended period, say, six months, you would not consider all the R’s, but only those that have meaning for you, allowing for the meaning of the R’s to have evolved since the previous time you stopped to take stock.  Putting both points together, you can expect the flow of your development to be windy and less than direct.

In this last sense the schema of many R’s stands as a counterpoint to Wiggins and McTighe’s popular idea of backward design in curriculum, that is: the teacher should identify desired results; determine acceptable evidence of students achieving those results; plan learning experiences and instruction accordingly, making explicit the sought-after results and evidence.  Moreover, the schema, like the previous one about learning and #4’s mandala, provide guidance for any individual, such as a teacher, in their efforts to shape the context for developing creativity.  Context-shaping is the focus of the remaining schemas.

d. 4Rs

A context, such as a workshop or classroom, is conducive of creativity development to the extent that it starts by creating conditions of Respect (e.g., participants have repeated exchanges with those who differ from them, listening to others and having the experience of being listened to), which in turn makes it more likely for participants to take Risks (e.g., staying with the process even when there is uncertainty about how to achieve desired outcomes), which lead ro Revelations (bringing thoughts and feelings to the surface that articulate, clarify and complicate their ideas, relationships, and aspirations-in short, their identities), and, as a result of the previous three R’s, to Re-engagement (participants’ “gears” engage allowing them to sustain quite a high level of energy, to engage actively with others, and, equally importantly, to be reminded of their aspirations to work in supportive communities).  (More details: http://bit.ly/19lW1pr)



e. Combo

Combining the mandala of #4 with #5a, b, and d yields the following schema.


Notice: a)  persistence is motivated by the positive experience of re-engagement—once you are bootstrapped into developing creativity, a well-shaped context can make the development, in successive cycles of this schema, self-fueling; b) the packing of items around the first two R’s, where the third R, Revelation, might correspond to the product of creativity under the conventional framing; and c) the four-way connections in the central schema (#5b) suggest that the 4R’s might be better thought of in four-way connections than as a unidirectional swoosh.

f.  Criteria and Conditions for a Successful Workshop

This schema results from a review of a series of interdisciplinary workshops.  Criteria for workshop success are given in the top two boxes.  The conditions conducive of success were analyzed and arranged in a “structural model” from “deep” to “top,” where deeper conditions are helpful for the ones above them and thus the ones to emphasize at the start of the process.  Only the deepest levels are shown here.  Just as a workshop organizer could do plus-delta evaluation of these conditions and their temporal ordering as they sought to improve their efforts, anyone trying to shape the context for creativity development could do likewise to improve their efforts to support creativity as processes-in-context.

g. Context eventually beyond the familiar

When you are ready for your context-shaping to move beyond the container of a workshop into situations and with people not familiar to you, the following schema conveys a structural model of the conditions and what counts as successful context-shaping (more details: http://wp.me/s1gwfa-2056 and http://wp.me/p1gwfa-wV).



…to be continued. Ha ha!



About Peter J. Taylor
Peter Taylor teaches and directs programs on critical thinking, reflective practice, and science-in-society at the University of Massachusetts Boston. He studies the complexity of environmental and health sciences in their social context as well as innovation in teaching, group process, and interdisciplinary collaboration (see bit.ly/pjtaylor). He is especially interested in conversations with others who are, in diverse ways, "troubled by heterogeneity" (bit.ly/tbhblog)

2 Responses to A set of principles for developing creativity, part 2

  1. Pingback: Mycorrhizal learning (#rhizo14) | Probe—Create Change—Reflect

  2. Pingback: Repeated reflection as part of development as a critical thinker (and more) | Probe—Create Change—Reflect

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: