Essays and Thoughts
How Creativity Rules The World: 6 Lessons for Community Ed
Creativity is the secret to success in any industry, says Maria Brito. She explores this idea in How Creativity Rules the World: The Art and Business of Turning Your Ideas Into Gold. As we read Brito’s insights, we couldn’t help but notice how many of them could apply to arts and community education programs.
You may think of creativity as an innate trait, or as something that happens in a flash of inspiration. Brito argues the opposite. She says, “creativity is a series of actions that bring about desired results. The operative word is action — creativity eludes those who sit down and wait for it to come.”
So take your first step toward creativity by reading this article. Inspired by Brito’s new book on creativity, we’ll show you six actions education programs can take to be more creative. Plus, we uncover three core skills you can pass on to your students.
The Value of Creativity in Education
Some actions are obviously creative: painting an abstract artwork, choreographing a dance, writing a play. Brito’s premise is that creativity exists outside of these spaces. She says that all of the most successful people and programs in the world practice creativity.
She calls creativity a “never-ending, renewable human resource,” and the “use of known or old information and ideas to produce something relevant and new.” Brito believes creativity is valuable in any industry.
And she’s not alone. Speaking during the Job Reset Summit Andria Zafirakou, winner of the 2018 Global Teacher Prize, said creativity is the skill that can future-proof people for the job market. Not just for jobs traditionally recognized as creative, but for any job in the market. Creativity builds resilience, collaboration, and persistence — transferable skills valuable in any job or industry. In that case, everyone benefits when you act creatively and teach your students to do the same.
How Education Programs Can Act on Creativity
Brito’s book is full of insight and activities that can help you build the practice of creativity in any area. We’ve pulled out six that we think apply especially well to community education programs.
Let’s take a closer look at how community education programs can use these creativity tools.
1. Observation: Observe what’s happening and respond
Pay attention to what’s happening in education, your community, and the world. Resources like Inside Higher Ed, the American Association for Adult and Continuing Education (AAACE), and even your local news station can help you stay informed. But don’t stop there.
To borrow an idea from author Neil Gaiman, everything you read and see and do goes on the compost heap of your creative thinking, he stated in an article published on Medium.com. By mixing all kinds of ideas and experiences together, you get something new and valuable.
Here are a few ways to find materials for your creative compost heap:
- Asking students about their lives outside of the classroom and really listening to responses.
- Reading outside your area of interest. If you’re teaching technology skills, for example, you might read about art, music, or business.
- Going somewhere new. This doesn’t have to be an intercontinental vacation. It can be a different coffee shop, new route to work, or community event.
- Challenging yourself to learn something new!
Too often, we simply repeat what worked in the past rather than responding to the present. Use what you see to better support your students and make educated guesses about what might be needed in the future.
2. Curiosity: Look for problems to solve
We all know that the ability to problem solve is important. But being able to find problems is just as valuable.
Creative people seek out problems that need solutions. These could be in education, the community, the lives of your students, or within your organization. Here’s how to start looking for problems:
- Get curious. Ask questions about everything from course design to student preferences. Don’t stop at the first answer; keep asking “why?”
- Be skeptical. If everyone says the problem is ‘here’ try looking over there.
- Start with results.What would you like to see happen? How can you work backward from that goal to make it possible?
It’s up to you to create the right environment for others on your team to find and flag problems. Open, authentic communication should be the standard. If they’re worried about a negative reaction, they’re unlikely to speak up. People should be rewarded for spotting potential issues.
3. Deconstruction: Deconstruct your program
Look for opportunities to break courses and programs down into smaller offerings. If students respond well to a particular course or topic, it might be worth repackaging that part of the course into something else.
Good candidates for deconstruction:
- Courses that always have a waiting list
- An activity or lesson that many students seem to enjoy
- A big-ticket course that may be outside some budgets
- Basic or introductory parts of a course
Think micro courses, mini-credentials, weekend workshops, or short webinars. Learners can use these to test out your program. They’re also great for people with a specific area of interest or who don’t have a lot of time to spend on learning. In fact, over 83% of registrations on CourseStorm are for single-day classes.
Because these short courses are built on content you already have, they can also be a low-cost way to diversify your offerings.
4. Reconstruction: Pull it Together
You can also stay alert for opportunities to aggregate. How can you repackage or bring together elements of your offerings to create something that’s greater than the sum of its parts? Think about course packages, learning pathways, experiential learning, or networking opportunities.
What you can repackage:
- Courses with a common theme
- Courses that build on each other
- Groups of classes that appeal to the same kind of person
For example, you might combine several different kinds of arts classes to create a “survey of the arts” program in which students take a pottery class, a painting class and a collage class. Adding a session where students get together to discuss what each class taught them about arts and creativity turns this group of classes into a package.
5. Collaboration: Collaborate with your Community
Great artists collaborate. Your arts or community ed program can too. Look around for people or organizations in your community that might be willing to work with you. The rule is that they should have or be able to do something you cannot.
Think businesses, non-profits, artists, business people, students, and ask your instructors as we highlighted in a recent blog post. How might you benefit one another?
- You could place student artwork at a local coffee shop, credit union, or business center.
- Ask a local business to let you host classes or networking events in their space
- Bring in a local artist as a guest instructor to talk about the creative process
- Ask students what they would like to see more of in their community
- Connect with a non-profit to offer free or discounted classes to their staff or donors
6. Repetition: Marketing and Branding
Brito talks about the value of repetition, both as a way to dig deeper into an idea, and as a tool for branding and marketing. Look at artists like Monet and Warhol who interpreted the same scenes and objects over and over. Warhol made 32 paintings of soup cans!
Like these artists, you can identify one clear idea and repeat it over and over until people can’t help but associate your organization with that idea or image. Your marketing should tell people what you do and why. Tell them over and over in as many ways as you can. The more creative the better as we explored in a previous article. If you keep repeating the core message in different ways, you’ll claim your place in the minds of your community.
Teaching Creativity To Your Learners
Any student who reads Brito’s book is likely to find creative practices that speak to their needs and serve their goals. Here are three that you can help students practice, regardless of what subject you’re teaching.
Think Like an Artist
Brito writes that innovative artists follow the same three-step process. First, they observe everything and record what they see. Next, they develop a unique point of view. Finally, they connect different elements to make something new.
For students, the end result could be a paper, a product, or a new business idea.
Thinking like an artist is an ongoing process, one that can’t be taught with a single activity or lesson. However, you can help students experience all three steps by:
- Encouraging (or requiring) them to keep a journal about their experience.
- Providing writing prompts and discussion questions that challenge them to develop unique viewpoints.
- Asking students to research a position opposite to their own.
- Assigning a project that explores their unique viewpoint.
Prepare for Improvisation
Preparing to improvise might sound like an oxymoron. The truth is that you can only improvise if you know the fundamentals. Improvisation can’t replace planning. Instead, it’s a tool students can use when the unexpected happens.
Help students understand how learning the fundamentals can help them adapt when things change. Give them activities and prompts that challenge them to improvise. Prompts like:
- Provide them with tools and a goal, but no directions. Giving them a time limit forces them to get out of their heads and get to work.
- Give them all of the supplies they need except one (make sure it’s an important one). Challenge them to find a solution without this vital tool.
- Give them what-if scenarios. Keep in mind that there aren’t really right and wrong answers here. The goal is just to get students thinking.
The education industry tends to avoid risk. Students invest time and money into your program, and they expect to get value from that. Unfortunately, we often pass this attitude on to students who end up believing they have to be perfect to succeed.
Create low-risk opportunities to test new ideas, tools, and opinions. Encourage students to take risks. You want them to view failure as an opportunity to learn. You can do this by:
- Allowing them to re-do assignments where the struggled the first time around.
- Sharing stories of how persistence after failure led to breakthroughs – think about the story of Edison inventing the Lightbulb or Jia Jiang’s insightful book Rejection Proof.
- Let students lead discussions and explore processes without forcing particular conclusions.
- Praise the effort, not just the result
How We Practice Creativity
At CourseStorm, we use the creative process to build the best class registration tools for arts and community education programs. We’re taking what we’ve learned from How Creativity Rules the World to find even more opportunities to help your program register students.
See for yourself. Start your free trial of CourseStorm’s online student registration system today.
Brian is a scientist-turned-education technology executive. He has founded and led technology companies for more than 20 years and uses his analytical mind and experimental approach to spur growth in small and medium businesses and start-ups. He is passionate about using technology to enhance access to lifelong learning.