Sir Ken Robinson and Garr Reynolds are on the same page with a basic premise regarding creativity.

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On page 15 of his book, “The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything”, Sir Ken writes:

What I loved about this [story] was that it illustrated that, when they are very young, kids aren’t particularly worried about being wrong. If they aren’t sure what to do in a particular situation, they’ll just have a go at it and see how things turn out. This is not to suggest that being wrong is the same thing as being creative. Sometimes being wrong is just being wrong. What is true is that if you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.

On page 33 of his book “Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery,” Garr Reynolds writes:

If you approach a task with the beginner’s mind, you are not afraid of being wrong. The fear of making a mistake, of risking an error, or of being told you are wrong is constantly with us. And that’s a shame. Making mistakes is not the same thing as being creative, but if you are not willing to make mistakes, then it is impossible to be truly creative. If your state of mind is coming from a place of fear and risk avoidance, then you will always settle for the safe solutions– the solutions already applied many times before.

The first of six National Educational Technology Standards (NETS) for Students published by ISTE is “Creativity and Innovation.” In this standard:

Students demonstrate creative thinking, construct knowledge, and develop innovative products and processes using technology. Students:
a. apply existing knowledge to generate new ideas, products, or processes.
b. create original works as a means of personal or group expression.
c. use models and simulations to explore complex systems and issues.
d. identify trends and forecast possibilities.

Often in the classroom and in our lives, it is easy to fall into the trap of trying to avoid all mistakes, at all costs, and as a result fail to be intentionally creative. Both Sir Ken and Garr are correct: Being wrong or making a mistake does not necessarily equate to being creative. There shared view, however, is spot-on that creative people can’t be focused primarily on risk avoidance and mistake prevention.

Several years ago at the TCEA conference, I met a woman who was working at the University of North Texas and was administering the Intel Teach to the Future program there. She was, at the time, working on her dissertation to analyze the personality factors of teachers who followed through with multiple technology integration projects after the workshop and those who did not. Her hypothesis was that a personality oriented toward “reasoned risk taking” was essential for sustained and successful technology integration in the classroom. I think she was onto some important ideas with this research, and I’d love to both be reminded of her name and find out if her dissertation study is available online. I’d actually like to read it!

It’s much easier to lecture or lead a canned, tried-and-true lesson than take a risk on a project idea which might or might not work out. It’s always easier to stay in a comfort zone than venture forth into unknown, uncharted territory.

We absolutely should try to encourage and support creativity in our classrooms, communities, and families on a daily basis. Supporting a learning culture which welcomes, invites, and celebrates creativity requires reasoned risk taking. It requires modeling by leaders, and it requires sustained, verbal as well as action-based support which is visible to everyone in the learning environment.

How are you modeling a willingness to make mistakes in the pursuit of creativity and creative ideas for learning? How are your students modeling this willingness?

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7 Responses to Creativity requires a willingness to make mistakes and be wrong

  1. learningIT says:

    Great post and coincidental! I just saw Garr speak last night. My notes are here:

  2. Wesley Fryer says:

    Thanks for sharing your notes, how awesome you got to hear from Garr in person! I definitely start brainstorming in analog mode– cocktail napkins make great storyboards! 🙂 My favorite tip from your list was “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

  3. Wesley Fryer says:

    Frank: There seems to be a problem with your blog captcha. I tried four different times typing the provided captchas and it wouldn’t accept my comment. Not sure why?

  4. Annalise Anderson says:

    I love this! I am only a student now, but as someone who wants to be a future teacher I can’t think of a better way to make students comfortable and excited in the classroom. Teachers can’t forget that, that they expect students to make mistakes in their writing, on tests, and even verbally in front of other students. And I do understand that making mistakes are a part of learning, but teachers should be willing to do the same.

  5. learningIT says:

    Thanks for that info about leaving a comments on my blog Wes. I’ll look into it but can’t offer any advice at this point. Have a good one and keep up the good work.

  6. It’s so important that we practice this in our own work and help students embrace it as well. I think it’s important to name this for students and for educators as well, so that we can begin cultivating behaviors that support those who take risks and make mistakes.

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