A month or so ago Baroness Susan Greenfield chaired the judging panel of the Women of the Future Awards, a cohort of creative talent determined to break all kinds of barriers and ceilings, glass or otherwise. Yesterday her Guardian article focused on the global imperative of drawing on the expertise of teachers and scientists to deliver a creative future through the next generation of learners.
Coincidentally, a report commissioned by the Arts Council and Cannon, sponsors of the new arts awards for young people, highlighted the confusion in the understanding of employers about creativity as a skill for the workforce. Their view was that creativity was not a valuable or valued commodity. A little deeper analysis, however, revealed that their definition of creativity was more likely to be equated with unconventional dress or divergent behaviour rather than the capacity to make new connections between ideas or to think creatively to solve problems. This mis-understanding is sometimes compounded by the association between creativity and the arts; indeed the AC report was designed to show how young people taking part in the arts award scheme are better equipped for the world of work through the development of personal attributes like self-confidence and determination.
Susan Greenfield contributed to the NACCCE committee that reported in 1999 with All Our Futures. In her article she repeats the definition that underpinned the recommendations that in turn led to Creative Partnerships – 'creativity is imaginative activity fashioned so as to produce outcomes that are both original and of value'. Its Chair, Ken Robinson, regularly uses a similar formula – 'creativity is applied imagination; and innovation is applied creativity'.
As Director of the Institute for the Future of the Mind Susan Greenfield is naturally interested in the psychology of creativity. In the Ignite! programme, now an independent organisation following its three year action research phase as part of NESTA, we look for the characteristics of creative thinkers; we believe we can identify them; and further, having identified them, we believe that we can increase the capacities of mind and behaviour that underpin them. Susan Greenfield also refers to the creative abilities of dyslexics notably their capacity to develop a different system of connectivity in the brain and a talent to 'see the whole picture.'
We in the Ignite! programme would concur in so far as one of the characteristics of creative thinkers is the capacity to see relationships, and through the imagination to make connections. And for some creative thinkers, we acknowledge that their divergent ideas are often not recognised for what they are, or, if they are recognised, then they are not nurtured appropriately.
Seeing relationships between different realms of ideas and then making the connections to create a new and original idea (as per NACCCE's definition) is what informs many creative disciplines.. and we are not simply referring to art or the creative industries. This creativity manifests itself in disciplines, sectors, realms such as analogy (this is like that, and therefore...), bio-mimetics (applying the patterns or features of the natural world to the human condition), sci-art, humour, surrealism, double-entendre, materials science, product or systems design, invention.
And as illustrations, think of the invention of velcro (George de Mestrel connected the idea of burrs sticking to his dog's coat to the idea of a new fastening); or Picasso's head of a bull created from a bicycle saddle and handlebars; or the invention of a fridge that works by evaporation and which can therefore keep pharmaceutical products longer in conditions where there is no electricity supply. This latter connected idea is what contributed to Emily Cummins, a young Ignite! Creative Spark, winning the title of Technology Woman of the Future at the awards ceremony supervised by Susan Greenfield just a month ago.
Using the imagination to make connections is but one capacity of the creative mind; there are several others, and there are factors and conditions and activities that encourage or inhibit their development. As Susan Greenfield correctly points out, as technology builds the platforms of social online networks we need to emphasise and develop the potential for creativity and creative thinking that can be realised through increased interactions, and thereby meet the global education challenge.