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Creativity can best be thought of as a cognitive activity that results in novel solutions for a problem. Without creativity the generation of unique solutions would be nonexistent. Guilford (1967) viewed the aptitude for creative thinking as a trait that is related to several factors. We can begin with fluency, or the ability to generate many solutions that all fit some requirement, such as listing the synonyms for a certain word. There is also flexibility, or the ability to change approaches to a problem, such as being able to solve a series of tasks in which each requires a different strategy. Finally there is originality, or the ability to generate unusual solutions and unique answers.
The creative attitude has several characteristics. It seems to be based more on a love of adventure than a desire for certainty, disposed more to build than to destroy, and inclined more to go ahead than to hold back--in short, it is more positive than negative. Creative individuals form their opinions independently and are not inclined simply to go along with the judgment of a group or of society, and they are more interested in the possibilities inherent in a situation than in practical facts (MacKinnon, 1962). In addition to an internal locus of control and a preference for the complex and the incomplete, creative people also possess a willingness to work very hard at the problems they are interested in. Most important, they have the confidence that they will succeed (Stein, 1974). Maier and Janzen (1969) have also shown that the more creative problem solvers demonstrate significant improvements in problem solving performance.
The measure of creativity is based on several characteristics. First, the quantity of answers can be measured by counting how many different answers are produced. Second, the originality of answers can be measured by determining how many people in a sample give a similar answer and by having judges rate answers for originality. Third, the importance/usefulness of one’s answers can be measured by having judges rate the effectiveness of each answer. To date, a correlation between brain mechanisms and creativity has not been demonstrated.
Researchers are capable of measuring the effects creativity has on problem solving. Coigrove (1969) demonstrated that integrative solutions were evidence for creativity. The integrative approach maintains that innovative solutions must be generated which integrate the facts in conflicting points of view. Maier and Janzen (1969) further showed in their experiments that persons who achieve integrative solutions tend to be superior problem solvers because they are more likely to find correct answers to difficult problems. Maier and Jenzen (1968) have also shown that the tendency to accept obvious solutions prevents the individual from performing in accordance with their problem solving capacity. In conclusion, it can be said that superior problem solvers generate solutions that are rated as creative when several solutions to a given problem are possible.
Several different methods for nurturing creativity exist; these methods range from the simple to the complex, yet each is equally effective in its own right. One of the more popular techniques, called “brainstorming,” was developed in 1963 by A.F. Osborn. Brainstorming is the technique whereby a group of individuals attempt to arrive at alternative solutions to a problem. Osborn laid down four ground rules one should follow before proceeding with the brainstorming process. First, criticism is taboo; in other words, don’t pass judgment on any idea until later. Second, freewheeling is encouraged; the more outrageous the idea, the better, since it easier to tame down than to think up. Third, quantity is desired; the greater the number of ideas, the greater the likelihood of useful ideas. Fourth, combination and improvement are sought; in addition to contributing ideas of their own, participants should suggest how ideas of others can be turned into better ideas or how two or more ideas can be joined into still another idea. Once these guidelines are established, the creation of a group may begin.
Osborn suggests that the brainstorming group consist of ten to twelve members, one of which should be the designated leader. In an effort to increase the source and variety of ideas, members should be heterogeneous in training, experience, and sex. The group members should also be advised of the problem forty-eight hours in advance of the session, thus allowing them to think about the task and come in with prepared ideas. The session itself should last thirty to forty—five minutes, which in most cases is more than enough time to exhaust everyone. During the session, the leader may handle the uncomfortable silent periods (if any) by asking the less outspoken members for their ideas, by suggesting some solutions prepared for just such an emergency, or by referring to an idea-stimulating check list such as Osborn’s (Osborn, 1963). After about two days following the session, it maybe profitable to circulate a request for post session ideas and afterthoughts.
Even though Osborn suggests that the brainstorming process be performed by large groups, there is nothing to suggest that the process could not meet with equal success at the small group level or even at the individual level.
Another method for nurturing creativity is the one proposed by Anderson (1980). Anderson begins by breaking down the techniques into two major components. First, begin by varying the stimuli around you in order to vary your thoughts. This can be accomplished by observing carefully, using checklists, rearranging the elements of the problems, discussing the problem with someone else, and taking breaks. The second component consists of varying the way in which you represent the problem in order to vary your thoughts. This entails using what he calls abstract coding and concrete coding.
When using abstract coding, the individual represents the problem in symbolic and analytic fashion. One method for doing this is expressing your problem in words. This may involve combining an analogous noun and a conflicting adjective and may result in improved quality of thought and expression. A variation of this is to analyze the elements of the problem according to its attributes. Begin by creating a list of ideas, then cluster these ideas into similar groups and determine in what ways the attributes are similar to or different from ideas in the other groups. Another technique is to list the attributes according to desirability and then to ask oneself just what he/she likes or dislikes about the different attributes. Finally, one can recombine attributes in novel ways, thereby creating descriptions of entirely new entities.
In concrete coding, the problem is represented in muscular, graphic, or metaphorical terms. One can begin by representing the problem in one of two ways in terms of his own actions. First, one can manipulate the elements of the problem physically, or at least manipulate representations of them. Second, one can represent a problem in terms of one’s own actions by imagining that he/she is the critical object. Alternatively, one may choose to represent the problem in terms of an analogy; i.e., how may it be solved by some mechanical or biological system.
Another method in creativity enhancement is called synectics and was developed by W. Gordon (1961). Basically, the synectics approach utilizes the use of metaphor in group situations, though it should be emphasized that it can be equally effective when used as a solo exercise.
Before actually beginning the synectics program, the individual or group should first do some “stretching” exercises using direct analogies——a simple comparison of two objects or concepts. The first step in synectics begins by describing a present condition or situation or topic via a medium such as writing, designing, acting out, etc. For example one topic may present the question, “How does mathematics affect you in everyday life?”
Once the condition/situation/topic has been described, the next step utilizes direct analogies. Here an ample list of words is generated and recorded for all participants to see. One such analogy may be “How is a machine like a living organism?” Once the words are generated, the individual or group should choose a small list of words which it likes the most and set it aside.
Next, the individual or group participates in personal analogy by empathizing with the ideas or objects to be compared. An example could be: “Imagine you are a computer. What do you feel like? How do you feel when there’s a power surge? How does it feel to be programmed?”
The next phase, compressed conflict, involves describing an object with two words which seem to be opposites or contradictions of each other. For example, “Using your two previously generated lists do you see any two words that may be in conflict or opposites?” Record these conflicts and select the individual or group favorites.
In the last step we want to reexamine the original task. The individual/group moves back to the original task or problem and uses the last analogy or the entire synectic process. For example, “Using the compressed conflict, go back and restate your initial description. Keep the same theme, but incorporate compressed conflict into the picture and thus re-explore the original topic on its own terms.” Finally, end the session with a debriefing, i.e. “Has anyone changed their opinions or perceptions?”
Easier creativity exercises include divergent, convergent, inversion, and substitution strategies. The major advantage in using these strategies is that they require little time and few materials to perform, hence they are ideal candidates for warm—up exercises at the beginning of a problem solving session.
With convergent thinking, thinking proceeds towards a single answer. A typical session begins with a problem, for example the need to propel oneself across a body of water. Then our task is to try and generate as many ways as possible to solve the problem.
Divergent thinking requires that we move outward from the problem in as many possible directions as possible. We want to relate all logical and relevant secondary objects, values, and actions around that problem into that problem itself. For example, “How many uses can you think of for a pen? A paper clip? A brick?”
The process of inversion entails taking a thought, object or behavior and flipping it over into its “unlikely” opposite. Normal relationship are thus transposed it inverted. For example, considering the function of a pair of pants, you may wear them over your head as a jacket or use them as a suitcase.
In substitution, the aim is to take each normal relationship between two material objects, people, experiences, values, or ideas and substitute one entity in the relationship with a new irrecoverable, “impossible” one.
Most researchers approach creativity by assuming that the best way to improve it is to understand its barriers. Basically, there are three different types of blocks which inhibit creative thinking in most individuals. One type is the perceptual block--not seeing what the problem is or what may be wrong. A second set of blocks we term “cultural blocks.” These are caused by the way we have been brought up, by the values and beliefs that we uphold as being right and wrong, and good and bad. Finally, we have the emotional blocks which are within us because of the insecurities we feel and the traumas we have experienced. Each of these 3 types of barriers will be discussed further.
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