As a designer, creativity has been an intrinsic part of my life since a very early age. However, I didn’t become fully aware of the impact that this way of thinking and related skills have had, not only, in my professional work but in the way I see life until I started teaching design in a non-design environment. This experience has exposed the influence of the “creative lens” in many areas from problem-solving and critical thinking to group dynamics and other everyday activities.
For the last five years, I taught Creativity, Innovation and Design, a class that introduces students to creativity but mostly focuses on learning and applying Design Thinking to solve a social problem from Princeton Campus. Throughout these years, I noticed how much students both enjoyed and struggled during the first weeks of the class when they were experiencing creative thinking and reconnecting with their imagination. Feelings were a mixed of anxiety and fear, until these feelings turned into excitement and joy when they understood that it was ok to play, challenge, question and imagine other unpractical or impossible realities. To me, this indicated a broader need amongst students to explore without being judged, reconnect with and embrace their creative self to pursue their own paths (not the one that they thought their family or teachers wanted for them.)
Other exercises from EGR200: Creativity, Innovation and Design are focused on challenging assumptions and envisioning future scenarios based on current contexts.
These learnings led me to create a new course; this time fully focused on creativity and only open to incoming students so they could start practicing creativity tactics earlier on in their Princeton experience. I will start teaching this new Freshman seminar in the fall. We will discuss core creativity theories and study cognitive principles to understand how the brain works. A big part of the seminar will be hands-on to practice techniques and strategies, and apply creative thinking to different contexts. Skills will be transferable to other courses, and various disciplines. As part of this seminar, students will also explore the tight connection between creativity, happiness and wellbeing. This connection has been widely studied and emphasized: Csikszentmihalyi’s work or here or here. Creativity can help improve our feelings of happiness, because it makes us focus on the present moment and “gives us permission” to play without judging our ideas. In other words, creativity allows people to leave constraints and responsibilities (“this idea must solve this problem!”, “there is not budget for this idea!”), and imagine possible scenarios, realities and freely generate ideas.
In many countries, critical and creative thinking are considered essential learning outcomes in higher education. While the first type of thinking seems to have all the attention, not many institutions encourage or enhance creative thinking. More than 50 years ago, Guilford stated the need to add creativity into higher education curriculum, but little has really happened since then.
As we approach times of rapid change and unpredictable challenges, the need for creative solutions is today greater than ever. Universities need to start taking this subject seriously and not describing it as not academic enough. One or two Design Thinking courses won’t give students the confidence, preparation and tools they need. What higher education systems need is, in my opinion, a radical change in the pedagogical approach (including assessment criteria, classroom dynamics, etc.). A new approach that equally respects, values and encourages both critical and creative thinking, and sees them as essential tools for succeeding in life; and by success I don’t mean having a six digit salary, rather I mean being happy and living a fulfilling life–whatever form this takes.
- Guilford, J.P. (1950) Creativity. American Psychologists, 5, pp. 444-454.
- Halpern, D.F. (2010) Creativity in College Classrooms. In: NurturingCreativity in the Classroom, Beghetto and Kaufman eds. Chapter 19, pp. 380-393.
- Sternberg, R.J. (2010) Teaching Creativity. In: NurturingCreativity in the Classroom, Beghetto and Kaufman eds. Chapter 19, pp. 394-414.