Conversations About Creativity
“Creativity is fostered by collaboration, by an environment that allows people to take risks, to try new ideas, learn from what they have done, and try again, in a process of continuous improvement.”
In Spring 2014, the Office of the President convened a series of four faculty/staff conversations to explore current thinking about creativity and how to cultivate it in individuals and organizations. These discussions were rich and generative, drawing participants from many departments. Click on the tabs below for a brief description of each of the conversations, along with a list of the readings that grounded each conversation.
Beginning with the premise that successful implementation of Emerson’s strategic plan depends (to some degree) on both the creative capacity of individual community members and the creative capacity of the college as a whole, discussion focused on whether and how Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi’s influential research on creativity could help us better understand these two forms of creativity.
Csikszentmihalyi argues for creativity as a capability that exists within—and is defined by—systems or “domains,” and that can be cultivated in part through intensely engaged “flow” experiences.
This conversation took place on Tuesday January 21, 2013. A second conversation based on the same reading took place on Tuesday January 28.
Mihailyi Csikszentmihalyi, Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention (excerpt). New York: HarperCollins, 1996.
Discussion initially focused on extent to which the language we use to talk about creativity shapes our understanding of what it is, with Evgeny Morozov’s New Yorker essay on “Hackers, Makers, and the Next Industrial Revolution” giving us the concrete concepts of “making” and “maker culture” as a possible alternative to what can seem to be the abstract and even rarified notion of “creativity.”
Recognizing that research on creativity is also seeking to de-mystify this concept, and render it both concrete and usable, the group then turned its attention to two articles that contribute to this effort:
George Kuh and Steven J. Tepper’s “Let’s Get Serious About Cultivating Creativity” summarizes a good deal of information about how to cultivate creativity in the classroom, and also discusses key outcomes of arts education at the college level, drawing on data from the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project (SNAAP).
Theresa Amabile’s “How to Kill Creativity” is an important essay about how businesses unintentionally kill creativity, and also how they can—through a series of practices focused on cultivating employees’ intrinsic motivation—foster it.
This conversation took place on Tuesday February 18, 2013. and picked up where the last one had left off, continuing to think about how we cultivate individual and organizational creativity.
Evgeny Morozov, "Hackers, Makers and the Next Industrial Revolution,” The New Yorker, January 13, 2014.
George Kuh and Steven J. Tepper, "Let’s Get Serious About Cultivating Creativity," Chronicle of Higher Education, September 4, 2011.
Theresa M. Amabile, "How to Kill Creativity," Harvard Business Review 76:5 (September–October 1998): 76–87.
Our third conversation was grounded in selected chapters from Thomas Vogel’s Breakthrough Thinking! Professor Vogel directs Emerson’s graduate program in Integrated Marketing Communication & Advertising, and is Associate Professor of Marketing Communication.
Conversation focused especially on what Professor Vogel’s research shows us about leading an organization in ways that foster creativity, and from there the session moved into design mode. Participants worked in small groups to identify and design (or re-design) some aspect of their daily work with the aim of fostering creativity.
This conversation took place on Tuesday March 18, 2014.
Thomas Vogel, Breakthrough Thinking! A Guide to Creative Thinking and Idea Generation. HOW Books, 2014.
This final conversation was a chance to synthesize major lines of thought from the full series of conversations, and to consider what—if anything—should come from these conversations. More chances to talk? Specific work projects? Something else?
Noting that some kinds of projects can move quickly while others can’t—helped in this effort by Atul Gawande’s “Slow Ideas”—we turned our attention to the development of the “creative campus.” The phrase is known to many from the work of the Doris Duke Foundation’s “Creative Campus” initiative—which focused on the arts—but in fact seems to have been coined even before that work began.
Steven Tepper’s seminal 2004 article “The Creative Campus: Who’s Number 1?” argues for the potential value of developing a “creativity index” to identify “where creativity is flourishing and where it is languishing” on college campuses. A subsequent essay by Steven Tepper and Elizabeth Long Lingo called “The Creative Campus: Time for a ‘C” Change,” makes the case for “[r]e-orienting a college around creativity” in ways that are “student focused,” “broadly defined,” “intentional” and “systematic.”
These calls have—to our knowledge—not been answered, and the group proposed as a next step a project that responds to both: the development of an instrument to assess the creative capacity of college campuses. A small group is currently working on developing that instrument.
Atul Gawande, “Slow Ideas,” ”The New Yorker, July 29, 2013.
Steven J. Tepper, “The Creative Campus: Who’s No. 1?” Chronicle of Higher Education, October 1, 2004.
Steven J. Tepper and Elizabeth Long Lingo, “The Creative Campus: Time for a ‘C’ Change,” Chronicle of Higher Education, October 10, 2010.