Trend on Campus: Cultivating Creativity
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Macquarie University Spatial Experience (MUSE), Melbourne, Australia - Wood Bagot
Creativity is a hot commodity. We hear about the call for creativity and innovative thinking in education policy initiatives, job postings - even the President's most recent State of the Union address. This is due in part to the fact that tackling our most complex social challenges requires creative thinking. But where exactly does creativity come from? Are people born creative? Or, is creativity something that can be learned?
I used to believe that there were just a lucky few who were born creative. In other words, there were those people who were innately imaginative and others who, well, weren't. I thought I fell in the latter camp. At the time, I had a fixed mindset (thank you Carol Dweck)1. Thankfully I was brought to my senses. In graduate school I took a class titled “From Play to Innovation” which introduced me to the idea that innovation skills and capabilities are not innate, they are not set in stone, and they can in fact be developed.
Osborne Center for Science & Engineering, University of Colorado, Colorado Springs - NAC Architecture
So, how does one go about developing creativity in oneself or in others?
As I learned firsthand, it begins with something intangible: a growth mindset. But what else is required?
Although innovation driven by an individual or a team can happen anywhere it requires doing or what the Stanford calls having a bias towards action. This means students can't hide behind laptops for hours on end, and faculty can't hide behind podiums. In fact, some campuses are developing policies that allow professors as well as students to move in and out of industry for an allotted period of time to expose them real-world innovation in motion. This may look like students taking time off to start their own company, or a faculty member taking a visiting-research post at places like Google and Facebook.
Many institutions have already invested resources in developing creative spaces on their campuses. These spaces are dedicated to nurturing students' and faculty's innovative and entrepreneurial endeavors, incubating their ideas and solutions.
What do these spaces look like?
Just as no two universities are alike, no two creative spaces are alike. Some are more technical in their nature, while others more closely resemble a makerspace. But all of them have some things in common.
MIT Beaver Works, Cambridge - Merge Architects
Failures are embraced. Think concrete floors, wood tables, things that can take a beating and either be easily replaced or sustain heavy use.
So long departmental silos. These spaces act as “Switzerland” on campus, a neutral zone where multiple disciplines can come together to solve complex problems. The focus is on interdisciplinary work through learning and problem solving. This encourages people to challenge each other's ideas, engage in fruitful discussion, and spark lively debate. As teachers and students begin to productively challenge one another they find their way to new solutions and ways of thinking.
They build relationships. Organizations are more productive and profitable when people feel a connection to their peers and institution. It's just a fact. So these environments help build community. They provide space for coming together, the furniture required to build equity not hierarchy, and they promote knowledge-sharing (transparency, easy access, long sightlines, etc.).
They make you move around. Studies have found a correlation between fluid gestures and fluid thinking. Meaning, the more you get up and move around, the more likely you are to come up with new ways of thinking. Creativity incubators force people to get up and move around with high-frequency.
They prompt you for ideas by keeping you engaged. Blank spaces can be intimidating; they can also be uninspiring. So why not use the physical space to engage people? These environments prompt occupants in both simple and complex ways. One institution offers unusual forms of transportation (who would think to use a bicycle to get around indoors?). Another institution sets up games by micro-kitchens to encourage people to slow down and connect. Still another organization arranges whiteboards around a coffee lounge. In aggregate, these efforts can form a sort-of community storyboard that reflects the needs, desires and beliefs of the building's occupants furthering a sense of connection to peers and institution.
They're fun to be in. Unexpected use of color, outside-of-the-box wayfinding tools, maximized natural light, rotating art displays. It doesn't matter what it is so long as occupants have fun engaging with it. Why do you think Google and Facebook are so popular?
Stanford Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, Palo Alto - MK Think
1 Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D., is one of the world's leading researchers in the field of motivation and is the Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford University. Her research has focused on why people succeed and how to foster success. She is credited with discovering mindset – a simple idea born out of decades of research on achievement and success. In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort. They're wrong. In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.