The Rules of Creativity According to Kids

Recently I had the pleasure to meet Mitchel Resnick, a professor at the MIT, and listen to his presentation of the Lifelong Kindergarten project. Resnick is famous for his book Turtles Termites and Traffic Jams where he 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.

To put it more simply: How does a bird flock keep its movements so graceful and synchronized? Most people assume that the bird in front leads and the others follow. In fact, bird flocks don’t have leaders: they are organized without an organizer, coordinated without a coordinator. And a surprising number of other systems, from termite colonies to traffic jams to economic systems, work 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 to take place. He explains this powerful notion in very simple 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, be creative – if you don’t know how below are some great suggestions by kids who are part of the Computer Clubhouse project in 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 like you intended, why? or why not?

  4. Share it with others, 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, start a new cycle of ideas.

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

  1. Creativity – the capacity to generate ideas that are new, surprising and valuable

  2. Innovation – the capacity to generate ideas of value to others

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

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