Making creativity and innovation happen
Making creativity and innovation happen

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Making creativity and innovation happen

2.4 The role of imagination

Children often express their imagination through play. While this in itself is an important opportunity for creative expression, more importantly ‘pretend play in childhood is where many of the cognitive and affective processes important in creativity occur’ (Russ, 2014, cited in Kaufman and Gregoire, 2015, p. 8).

Figure 5 A child playing make believe

As adults it is easy to be drawn away to the world of being serious and attending to more ‘grown-up matters’. Even when you do access your imagination it can often be through the lens of someone else’s thought as you read a book, or watch a film or television programme. Yet for adults, imagination is arguably important for ‘even the most minimally creative thought’ (Stokes, 2017, p. 158).

Activity 3 Creativity and imagination

Timing: Allow about 15 minutes

Watch this video clip discussing the importance of imagination as a source of creativity. As you are watching, reflect on the way you access your imagination on a daily basis

Download this video clip.Video player: bb842_openlearn_235432.mp4
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My name is Scott Barry Kaufman, and this is my friend Figgy.
So I am a researcher. I study creativity and imagination. I like to come from multiple perspectives, like developmental psychology, positive psychology, cognitive science, how the brain works. Try to integrate all these different perspectives.
I do think that in education, business, lots of environments where we manage people and we're trying to have people produce or work, we leave out all the important aspects of positive psychology. A lot of aspects that are really the activators of possibility.
And we focus a lot on these kinds of what we call cognitive abilities or cognitive traits, things like intelligence or IQ, and literacy, and logical reasoning, and rationality. Deliberate practise is talked about a lot and how to do a direct sequence or get to where you want to go in a very prescribed fashion, and working really hard to do that. But when you look at creativity and you look at the greatest creative geniuses of all time, you find a lot of them, they didn't really have quite a linear path to getting from the great vision they had to the creative outcome.
What they tend to have is what I call messy minds. Creative people, they're very adaptable. So they're able to mix and match lots of different seemingly incompatible traits and behaviours and characteristics that you don't often tend to see in a single person.
Most people are either introverted or extroverted or tend to be more intuitive or more rational thinkers, or tend to be very good at mindfulness, or tend to be the day dreamers. You find that creative people mix and match lots of stuff. So they know when to be really mindful of their surroundings and really observe it. And they also know when to go within and think about their own daydreams, and think about their own visions of the future, and figure out and how to integrate all these different things.
Also, creative people are really good at going beyond what is to seeing what could be, and also realising what could be in ways that a lot of other people never thought would be possible. What I find personally very interesting when I study creative people is being able to see how they are able to have some sort of vision of a reality that doesn't currently exist. And many of us intuitively call that imagination.
I love imagination!
OK, so imagination is really, really important. And I think it was really undervalued in an educational-- I would say it's undervalued in our society at large. We don't measure for imagination when we're picking gifted and talented students in education. When you're applying to college, you're not required to submit some sort of metric of your imagination or your future vision of what could be. When you apply for businesses, you often don't-- although there are definitely exceptions.
So we clearly don't value it as much as I think we should. Imagination is a necessary but not sufficient condition for creativity. Creativity also requires the ability to control your cognition, to really think about your audience and think about what really works out there in the real world. You can have a very overactive imagination, like I do. I have very overactive imagination. But probably 80% of my ideas are total crap.
So it's really important to really sort out the ones that are just like, OK, well, that version of reality or education probably won't work from those that, you know what, there might be a possibility there of taking that one and [INAUDIBLE] that one and really developing that. So like I said, all this really is tied into that messy minds idea. Creative people aren't characterised by their consistency. They're characterised by their variability. They're characterised by their ability and willingness to have lots of trial and error, their ability to not be hindered by what is.
Because we often reward people in the world who do what people ask them to do. Or like, good job, you got an A. You earned that paper. But creative people aren't characterised by that. They're characterised by ability to inhibit the pressure to conform and to go beyond to what could be.
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As Scott Barry Kaufman suggests, imagination and a ‘messy mind’ are key to creativity. Allowing yourself to access your imagination might just help enhance your creativity. For example, doing so might allow you to imagine new ways of addressing challenges or solving problems. Taking a ‘child-like’ perspective and letting your imagination run free could help you combine different approaches or look beyond the obvious, much in the same way you might if you were mapping different scenarios for a project.

Think of the early days of space exploration: as no-one had actually been on the moon, the scientists who developed spacecraft and other equipment for early missions had no choice but to build upon their scant scientific observations to imagine the potential challenges that might be encountered.

In the next section you will take a look at some steps you can take to enhance your personal creativity.


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