Aug 18, 2015

    Creativity counts, never mind 'right' or 'wrong'

    WE TEND to view the world in polarities: Right/wrong, good/bad, day/night, black/white. But we know, of course, that life is not as simple as that.

    There are many shades of grey, or brown, in the case of humans - in fact, there is no black skin, only a rich, deep mahogany brown. Even day and night have their in-betweens in dusk and dawn, and how beautiful those parts of the day are.

    Why then do we instil a sense of right and wrong in children? Education systems are full of it. Top marks for correct answers. "Fail" for getting it wrong. There are other ways of grading and learning that do not involve such dichotomies, and we should consider having more of those, because such harsh edicts are painful on tender young minds.

    Some of us live all our lives in fear of failing, and this stops us from being who we really are. It suffocates our creative spirit and kills any latent embryonic talent. It does not help us deal with problem-solving or innovation. We do not even dare try because we are too scared to fail. And we may simply acquiesce to the hollow, unreasonable demands of authority figures. Is this really what we want - blind obedience to authority?

    My "problem" in life is that I always question things. Let me tell you, in school, that was a real problem. My questioning was considered insolent. To be honest, I barely survived the system intact. Thankfully, in journalism, questioning is a good thing.

    In science, too, questioning is critical for scientific theory. Thinking outside the box is also essential for entrepreneurs. And any creative business needs a "curious culture", an environment that allows people to ask questions and challenge norms.

    Taking risks and accepting failure are the essence of innovation. Remember Thomas Edison?

    One design firm in the United States has a mantra, "Fail early, fail often". To get over failure is a great asset in life.

    I do writing training and one of the things that I have become more conscious about is the balance between the left and right side of the brain: that is, the logical, critical side, and the creative, emotional, passionate side.

    Your left brain is your editor, which jumps in the minute you start writing and shouts out: "Oh, that sounds rubbish!" Sometimes, you need your left brain to just shut up and allow your right brain to just be. Then the creative juices start flowing.

    I can see how school systems entrenched in curriculum and exams suffocate the right side of our brains. My teenage nephew has writing talent, but that is hard to express in a school system that prizes form, grammar and syntax.

    As young children, we're all naturally creative and imaginative. But as we grow older, that diminishes amid television, electronic games, smartphones and tight schedules.

    Children now have less unstructured "free" time than ever before. They are also simply less free to explore.

    Education adviser Ken Robinson argues that creativity is "as important as literacy". "If you're not prepared to be wrong, you'll never come up with anything original," he says. In his brilliant Ted Talk (bit.ly/1MrtLns), he says that there is too much emphasis on the "right answer" because in the real world, this might not exist.

    Sir Ken argues that we have been "educated out" of creativity. He proposes including more creative subjects in schools: music, dance and art. He also says that today's degrees "aren't worth anything" because there is no promise of a job with one, unlike in the past.

    We need our creativity to stay competitive in this knowledge economy. Imagination is more important than intelligence, as physicist Albert Einstein once said.

    But we are still stuck in a system that operates from a right/wrong dichotomy, a system where people, including bosses and leaders, refuse to admit mistakes or even attempt alternative options.

    That has to change. Because we are going to need all the creative and innovative talents of our young minds to solve the immense global and environmental challenges that face us in the future.