Some Rambling Thoughts on Curiosity and Creativity

Inspire Curiosity

Reflecting on last weekend at EduCon, one of the highlights of the event every year is the Friday night panel discussion. The organizers bring together four smart, interesting people and get them talking about their work in the context of the conference theme. 

This year’s theme was curiosity and the discussion produced many great ideas around that simple word that are worth thinking about. But at one point the moderator raised one question that’s been stuck in my head: “What is the difference between curiosity and creativity, or is there a difference?”

In education reform discussions, we seem to talk a lot about creativity but not so much about curiosity. We say we want students to be creative, do we also want them to be curious? Or do we view the two concepts as interchangeable?

No one on the panel had the definitive answer about the difference, and I’m pretty sure I don’t either. But one idea came to mind on the drive back from Philly.

Curiosity leads to information; creativity leads to knowledge (understanding?).

People who are curious about something, are driven to learn more about it. But that learning doesn’t automatically lead to any kind of application of the information. Some level of creativity, and additional work, is required to make that happen.

In fact, can creativity even exist without curiosity? Can someone be called “creative” without being curious as well?

Anyway, enough rambling for now. Maybe I’ll have a more coherent post on the topic after reading back through my notes (aka Twitter feed).

But one last thing: something one of the panelists said made me recall a favorite quotes related to curiosity in science.

“The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not Eureka! (I found it!) but rather, ‘hmm… that’s funny…'” – attributed to Isaac Asimov (not confirmed)


The picture is from my trip to EduCon 2015 and shows some relevant banners hanging on the Free Library of Philadelphia.

Creativity Doesn’t Happen on Clock Time

Clock and Sky

A Harvard professor who studies creative talent in the workplace says her research shows that “arbitrary deadlines are the enemy of creativity”.

Scholars of time have found similar results in their research. Creative work operates on “event time,” meaning it always requires as much time as needed to organically get the job done. (Think of novel writers or other artists.) Other types of work operate on “clock time,” and are aligned with scheduled events. (A teacher obeys classroom hours and the semester calendar, for instance. An Amazon warehouse manager knows the number of customer orders that can be fulfilled in an hour.)

In education, we are forever talking about the need to help students develop their creativity. How they must learn to be more innovative (often used as a synonym for creativity) and entrepreneurial. Engage in problem solving, inquiry, and design thinking. All the “4 C’s” and “21st century skills” stuff.

We talk about all that but continue to run schools on “clock time”. Learning as a scheduled event. Science happens in this block of time. The project is due Friday (with penalties for submitting it late). The high-stakes test is next week, even if you need more time to understand. 

In many ways, most schools are run more like that Amazon warehouse than a place where creativity can thrive.

Just a thought.

What if: School as Hackathon

The mission of Hacking Arts at MIT is to “ignite entrepreneurship and innovation within the creative arts”. On one Saturday night (and way into the following Sunday), a large group of students came together to work in small groups on something that challenged their imagination. To create something new.

Spend five minutes to watch this film.

 

Now take that idea and expand it beyond one weekend and the creative arts.

This is a wonderful model for what K12 education could and should be. Instead of preparing for tests that don’t matter, what if students spent most of their time in school working on issues that really matter and about which they were passionate?

What if school was like a multi-year hackathon as described by the young woman at the end of the film: “That’s what hackathons are about, solving problems with your resources and the people around you.”?

Punching Holes in Your Comfort Zone

I disagree with the very negative opinion about the education system expressed by James Altucher, an economic writer who says he needs very little in life. However, in this post, he does make a couple of great points about something he finds essential: curiosity.

For one thing, he says it leads to happiness: “Dopamine is being released because I am in anticipation of the reward of curiosity getting satisfied. Higher dopamine equals greater happiness, better brain and heart health. Live longer.” I admit, I feel pretty good when I’m satisfying my curiosity.

I think he’s also correct that curiosity leads to greater creativity, maybe to better relationships and community. Not so sure about fighting Alzheimer’s but anything that exercises your brain can’t be bad.

But for me, this is the core of his thoughts on creativity.

Our comfort zone is where we are safe in the womb of life. Our real self is everything beyond that.

The Curiosity Zone is bigger than the Comfort Zone.

Every time you are curious, you punch another hole in that comfort zone.

I am certainly saving that idea to use sometime, somewhere.

3-2-1 For 10-2-16

Three readings worth your time this week.

Growing up I was a big fan of Issac Asimov. Although he is primarily known for science fiction, Asimov also wrote books, short stories, and essays on almost any topic you can name. Like this piece from Technology Review, unpublished until 2014, in which he explores the sources of creativity. Although written in 1959, it’s still very relevant and a good example of Asimov’s thought processes. (about 7 minutes)

This week I saw a lot of chatter around the “fact” that NASA had updated the signs of the zodiac and inserted a new astrological sign. It all sounded like just another of the many absurdities that swim around the web and Phil Plait, who writes as the Bad Astronomer, explains just how stupid the whole deal is. Starting with the real fact that NASA had nothing to do with this, not to mention that astrology isn’t “worth wrapping a fish in”. (about 4 minutes)

Speaking of space, Elon Musk, the billionaire CEO of Tesla Motors, this week outlined his vision for not only traveling to Mars but establishing large working colonies on that planet. His current plans call for launching the first mission to Mars in 2024, less than eight years from now. It’s all very ambitious, and very much lacking in details. But Musk’s plans are certainly worth watching. (about 18 minutes)

Two audio tracks for your commute.

Did you ever wonder how Facebook determines which news stories and ads will be placed in your timeline? On a segment of the Note To Self podcast the host and a reporter for Pro Publica discuss those invisible algorithms and the impact they might have your perception of the world. They also introduce a Pro Publica project that asks users to contribute their data in an attempt to learn more about the Facebook “black box”. (18:00)

At last Monday’s presidential debate, both candidates tossed around a variety of economic terms, most of which you may have heard before. But what do they mean? The Planet Money team does an entertaining job of explaining the Terms of the Debate. (20:25)

One video to watch when you have a few minutes.

Have you ever seen an assembly line for airplanes? Boing builds 42 of their workhorse 737 model every month at their massive facility in Renton, Washington. This short video is an interesting look at how the assembly of each aircraft is completed in just nine days. (2:28)