Creativity, divergent thinking and collaboration

In my last blog post, I mentioned an article by Stephen Sackur, in which he suggests that most of us, in our youth, have the capacity to be innovators and free thinkers, but that we learn at an early age that it’s easier to conform than to rebel. Since then, I’ve been thinking about why and how this happens.

I found some interesting answers, and further food for thought, in the entertaining and wonderfully illustrated animated version of ‘Changing paradigms’ by creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson. He maintains that the current system of education was designed and structured for a different age, in the interests of, and in the image of, industrialism; a production-line mentality that aims for standardisation. Accordingly, schools train children to think in convergent ways – to find one, correct, answer. As a result, the innate capacity that all children have for divergent thinking deteriorates as they become educated.

Divergent thinking shouldn’t be confused with creativity. Sir Ken defines creativity as having original ideas that have value, while divergent thinking is the ability to interpret questions in different ways and to see lots of possible answers; you could call it lateral thinking.

Innovation, I think, requires both creativity and divergent thinking. Open innovation – the sharing of inventions and/or innovations across organisational boundaries – also requires collaboration. This is another topic explored by Sir Ken: ‘most great learning happens in groups’ and ‘collaboration is the stuff of growth’, he enthuses. Sadly, however, collaboration is also not encouraged by the current education system: in school, it’s called copying, and copying is cheating!

In my last post, I asked how we, as parents, can help our children to become free thinkers and innovators. Given that everything they do at school seems to encourage the exact opposite, we have our work cut out for us.

2 thoughts on “Creativity, divergent thinking and collaboration

  1. benson margulies

    Please cite proof that that ‘everything they do at school seems to encourage the exact opposite.’ My kids frequently home and complain about the challenges of collaborating. Yes, they are *sometimes* expected to demonstrate that they *actually know something*, but as often they are expected to work in a group. This seems quite typical of public schools in the US.

  2. Ross Gardler

    Open Innovation, which is the topic of this post, is about “the sharing of inventions and/or innovations across organisational boundaries”. This is, in my opinion, not the same as collaboration in a team who are all working towards the same goal. It is about collaborating with other teams who are working towards *similar* goals.

    I can’t speak for Elzabeth who wrote this post but I can cite my own proof of the lack of training for this kind of collaboration.

    In a previous life I was a computer science lecturer, when I introduced open source coding to the course project at a nameless University I was forced to remove it again. The concern was that there was no way of knowing what was original work, and what was copied work, and thus students could not be marked fairly.

    As an open source developer I know that this problem can be solved, but the university in question (an many many others) prefer to tret such collaboration as copying rather than solve the problem of creating a fair mark scheme for those who collaborate outside of colleagues on the same course.

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