Kids’ rules for supercharging your creativity

Recently I had the pleasure to meet Mitchel Resnick, a professor at MIT, and listen to his presentation of the Lifelong Kindergarten project. Resnick is famous for his book Turtles Termites and Traffic Jams, which outlines how control emerges from apparently independent behaviour. Another book, by Kevin Kelly, called Out of Control also touches on the same topic and the central thesis in both works is the notion that you cannot know in advance every possible permutation of situations that can happen and subsequently devise centralised solutions for it; instead, you can create adaptive intelligence by building seemingly simple layers of sensing and functionality on top of each other, enabling complex intelligence to emerge.

Simply put, how does a bird flock keep its movements so graceful and synchronized? Most people assume the bird in front leads, and the others follow.
Bird flocks don’t have leaders: they are organized without an organizer and coordinated without a coordinator. And a surprising number of other systems, from termite colonies to traffic jams to economic systems, work in the same decentralized way. Turtles, Termites, and Traffic Jams describes innovative new computational tools that can help people
(even young children) explore the workings of such systems–and help them move beyond the centralized mindset.

His Lifelong Kindergarten project is a tribute to the value of the iterative (design) process – the power of such processes in enabling learning, creativity and innovation. He explains this powerful notion in straightforward terms, but they resonate across all spectrums because of their inherent power to foster new thinking. Resnick argues that more of life should be like Kindergarten, not in the sense that it’s all primary colours and very basic, but that we should strive to create more working environments, projects and creative spaces open to exploration, discovery and learning as opposed to those fixed mindset-inducing situations where people are measured as opposed to encouraged to grow, as I talk about in my previous post.

His take on the creative process is very simple, yet powerful:

  1. Imagine – open your mind to possibilities, imagine, and be creative – if you don’t know how, below are some great suggestions by kids who are part of the Computer Clubhouse project on how to come up with great ideas.
  2. Create – Based on your ideas, create something!
  3. Play with it, try it out, experiment with it. Does it work as you intended? Why? or why not?
  4. Share it with others, and find out what they think.
  5. Reflect – what does it all mean, the experiences playing with it, sharing it, maybe something can be improved?
  6. Imagine how it could be improved, what else could be done, and start a new cycle of ideas.

This leads me to a great definition I came across recently – the difference between Creativity and Innovation:

  • Creativity – the capacity to generate ideas that are new, surprising and valuable
  • Innovation – the capacity to generate ideas of value to others

This, to me, is pivotal and explains briefly what makes great products, experiences, and services and what are creative ways of approaching those subjects.

Now back to the imagination – it can be daunting sometimes, but Resnick provides a great checklist, as developed by kids, on how to get you started:

  1. Start Simple
  2. Work on things you like
  3. If you have no idea, fiddle around
  4. Find a friend to work with, share ideas
  5. It’s OK to copy stuff (to give you ideas)
  6. Build, take apart, rebuild
  7. Lots of things can go wrong – stick with it.

Now that list of advice is beautiful in its simplicity – no need to embellish it with fancy words and explanations; it is there, fair and square and valid whatever you are trying to get your head around!

1 thought on “Kids’ rules for supercharging your creativity”

  1. Play, create, do

    Digital Digression sums up some excellently simple points by Mitchel Resnick’s on creativity: Imagine – open your mind to possibilities, imagine, be creative Create – Based on your ideas, create something! Play with it, try it out, experiment with it,

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