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Creativity is for everyone


Robert L. Fielding

This article contains the gist of my theme in the  TED talk I recently gave in Al Ain, UAE.  It is that creativity is not confined to artistic achievement.

Travelling through the beautiful scenery of southern Turkey a while back, I chanced to get a lift in a car down to the next village.  Half way down the mountain, the car developed a flat tire.  We stopped and got out; the driver found the wheel brace and tried to undo the first of the six nuts holding the wheel on.

The nut wouldn’t move, and so one of his friends, a heavily built man, stood on the arm of the spanner to try to undo the nut.  Nothing happened.  His friend, another big man, stood on it and again, nothing moved; the nut remained intact and undone.  I remember thinking, at this point, that nothing was happening; the heavily built men couldn’t move it one second of a degree.  A third friend, also a big man, then stood on the spanner and again nothing happened. 

At this point, the driver, also heavily built, stood on the brace but again, nothing moved.  The four men then looked at me; they expected me to do something to undo the nut. 

I looked at the spanner, looked at the four big guys who had just put their weight to the task.  I thought for a second, and then I stepped hard on the end of the spanner with the sole of my left boot.  The nut turned; I had broken the seal of rust and dirt.  I quickly and easily undid the remaining five nuts, we changed the wheel and replaced it with the spare, and made it to the next village.

My little story about changing the wheel on a car illustrates something very clearly to me; each of the four men attempted to solve the problem in front of them in the same way – the way that didn’t work.  I managed to succeed where they had failed because I thought the problem out – I realized that what they had been trying – standing on the spanner – hadn’t worked.  I knew I would have to try something different – something new – new to that situation at that particular point in time.


Our world is beset with many problems – all of which are much more pressing than the one I have just described.  Attempts have been made to solve some of these solutions, and most have failed to solve anything.


What is needed is a new way of looking at the problem, and that requires a degree of creativity – of creative thought – new ideas, in common parlance.

However, and unfortunately, whenever the words ‘creativity’, or ‘being creative’, appear, what first comes to most peoples’ minds is art – artistic endeavours – painting, writing poems and stories – being creative is equated, in the minds of most people, with art – it is what artists do best.

Now that may be true, but it doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t be creative.  Creativity has been defined variously as

Creativity refers to the phenomenon whereby a person creates something new that has some kind of value.

Creativity is defined as the tendency to generate or recognize ideas, alternatives, or possibilities that may be useful in solving problems, communicating with others, and entertaining ourselves and others.

The ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.; originality, progressiveness, or imagination.


In none of these definitions  is art or artistry mentioned.  We can have creative engineers, creative architects or creative scientists, as well as creative poets, songwriters, painters and creative novelists.  I wonder why it is that we think of creativity mainly as the province of the artist.

Our need for creative thinking, creative solutions to the problems that we have, is great, and yet we sometimes persist in trying tried and tested failures.

Einstein said,  “The significant problems we face today cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.” 

Another great man, Abraham Lincoln, speaking in 1862, said that ‘The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise -- with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew.  We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country."

One of the reasons why we persist in failing, so to speak, using worn out ideas, ones that are plainly inadequate for applying to the problems we face today, is that we have not always ‘disenthralled’ ourselves with those old dogmas, old solutions, old ideas.

We must, as both Einstein and Lincoln stated, rise with the occasion, think of new ideas and in doing so, be creative.  You don’t need to be a poet to change a wheel, but you do need to think of something that hasn’t been tried yet, or the flat tire will stay unchanged.

Robert L. Fielding


Being creative through writing Socratic Dialogues

Robert L. Fielding


<!--[if !supportLists]-->1.      <!--[endif]-->Sir Kenneth Robinson, the noted educationalist, said on TED, that in future, creativity will be as important as literacy and numeracy. (Do schools kill creativity?)

He also said later that human resources are like natural resources – they are often buried deep, they are not on the surface, you have to go looking for them. – I believe writing Socratic Dialogues is one way of finding them – of discovering what they are – of creating the circumstances where they show themselves – using the agricultural model for education – creating the right conditions for growth/learning – not the industrial (manufacturing) model – making students know what is already known!


<!--[if !supportLists]-->2.      <!--[endif]-->Why – the world’s problems require it – ‘The significant problems we face today cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.  Einstein

<!--[if !supportLists]-->-          <!--[endif]-->We need to re-focus –

<!--[if !supportLists]-->-          <!--[endif]-->connect  - ‘The cells that fire together, wire together’  Carla Shatz Stanford University

<!--[if !supportLists]-->-          <!--[endif]-->reconnect  - find new answers new ways, using existing and new information/ideas

<!--[if !supportLists]-->-          <!--[endif]-->disconnect – debunk worn out ideas that plainly don’t work (Einstein’s point) – disenthrall ourselves of worn out ideas (Robinson)


<!--[if !supportLists]-->3.      <!--[endif]-->What is creativity?  


<!--[if !supportLists]-->i)                    <!--[endif]-->Creativity is defined as the tendency to generate or recognize ideas, alternatives, or possibilities that may be useful in solving problems, communicating with others, and entertaining ourselves and others.

Human Motivation, 3rd ed., by Robert E. Franken: 


<!--[if !supportLists]-->ii)                  <!--[endif]-->‘The emergence of a novel, relational product, growing out of the uniqueness of the individual.’    Carl Rogers


<!--[if !supportLists]-->iii)                <!--[endif]-->‘A special class of problem solving characterized by novelty.’ Newell, Simon % Shaw


<!--[if !supportLists]-->iv)                <!--[endif]-->‘Creative thinking involves imagining familiar things in a new light, digging below the surface to find previously undetected patterns, and finding connections among unrelated phenomena.’  Roger von Oech


<!--[if !supportLists]-->v)                  <!--[endif]--> ‘The ability to use different modes of thought to generate new and dynamic ideas and solutions.’  Carnevale, Gainer and Meltzer



<!--[if !supportLists]-->4.      <!--[endif]-->Creative with what – the ideas we have that lie dormant – or disconnected = reconnecting information that we already have in our heads + new information


<!--[if !supportLists]-->5.      <!--[endif]-->How to connect them – by writing Socratic Dialogues


<!--[if !supportLists]-->6.      <!--[endif]-->How does this work?  The question and answer format encourages thought, promotes thought whilst writing, and brings new questions


<!--[if !supportLists]-->·         <!--[endif]-->Questions are very strong attractors in the chaos of ideas, they gather, focus, attract and energize the conversation.


<!--[if !supportLists]-->·         <!--[endif]-->Only? questions have the power to beak our current mindsets, they set in motion the deep reflection needed to alter our beliefs.


<!--[if !supportLists]-->·         <!--[endif]-->It is the place and the space 'between not knowing and our desire to know' where we are most attentive, self-aware and alive. Questions hold the key to this special area.


<!--[if !supportLists]-->·         <!--[endif]-->Compelling and quality questions drive knowledge creation and expansion in a fundamental way. Knowledge emerges around good questions.


<!--[if !supportLists]-->·         <!--[endif]-->Questions energize and glue our conversation, draw people into the circle to participate and gather diverse opinions.


<!--[if !supportLists]-->·         <!--[endif]-->Questions keep the conversation moving forward, awaken dormant discourse and may be used to guide the subject back on course.

Socrates was convinced that disciplined practice of thoughtful questioning enables the scholar/student to examine ideas logically and to be able to determine the validity of those ideas. Also known as the dialectical approach, this type of questioning can correct misconceptions and lead to reliable knowledge construction.

Why Use Socratic Questioning?

Socratic questioning helps students to think critically by focusing explicitly on the process of thinking. During disciplined, carefully structured questioning, students must slow down and examine their own thinking processes (i.e., reflective thinking). Thoughtful, disciplined questioning in the classroom can achieve the following teaching and learning goals:

<!--[if !supportLists]-->· <!--[endif]-->Model scientific practices of inquiry

<!--[if !supportLists]-->· <!--[endif]-->Support active, student-centered learning

<!--[if !supportLists]-->· <!--[endif]-->Facilitate inquiry-based learning

<!--[if !supportLists]-->· <!--[endif]-->Help students to construct knowledge

<!--[if !supportLists]-->· <!--[endif]-->Help students to develop problem-solving skills

<!--[if !supportLists]-->· <!--[endif]-->Improve long-term retention of knowledge (c.f., Tools for Teaching by Barbara Davis)


Socratic questioning, a cornerstone of CBT, is as equally useful in coaching to raise awareness, promote reflection and improve problem-solving thinking.

Read more:

Well-designed questions are particularly effective because they (1) provide learners with

practice retrieving information from memory, (2) give learners feedback about their

misconceptions, (3) focus learners’ attention on the most important learning material, and

(4) repeat core concepts, giving learners a second chance to learn, relearn, or reinforce

what they previously learned or tried to learn.


<!--[if !supportLists]-->7.      <!--[endif]-->Why does it work? …thinking is not driven by answers but by questions.


The network pattern of neurons in our brain provides the pathways for human intelligence function.



Robert L. Fielding