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Out of our minds: Learning to be Creative - Book Review

1 December 2013
Dr. Moria Levy
book cover

"Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative" was initially written by Sir Ken Robinson in 2001 and updated in 2011. Despite the title potentially suggesting a guide to creative thinking, it does not exclusively focus on creativity; instead, it offers a comprehensive exploration of various topics. However, the concluding chapters present practical tools applicable in business, education (a domain in which the author specializes), or any other context. Preceding chapters establish the rationale, delve into the global evolution of education (which, according to Robinson, hampers favorable chances for creativity), and broaden the reader's understanding of related subjects like the development of behavioral psychology.

The following summary predominantly emphasizes the last part – the key insights on how to foster creativity. Delving into the book itself is highly recommended for a thorough understanding of the entire scope.

The book addresses the following topics:
  • Introduction:

    • What is creativity, and why is it crucial?

    • Why do we need to improve?

  • Creative leadership

    • The individual level

    • The team levels

    • The enterprise levels

  • Creativity in education

As emphasized, the book's core lies in its entirety, and complete comprehension is best achieved by reading it in full and and highly recommended!


What is creativity, and why is it crucial?

Creativity is one of three interconnected terms that are sometimes mistakenly conflated:

  • Imagination: the process of contemplating things not perceived by our senses, whether real or unreal.

  • Creativity: the process of developing original and valuable ideas; unlike imagination, creativity necessitates action.

  • Innovation: the process of implementing new ideas in practice; innovation puts ideas into action.

Key Assumptions:

  1. Creativity extends beyond specific professions (such as art or design) and can manifest in any field (science, management, teaching, etc.).

  2. Creativity is attainable by anyone under the right conditions; individuals can be taught to be creative.

  3. Initiating the development of creativity and teaching related skills is appropriate and essential, starting early in the education system.

Why is creativity necessary? In a world marked by rapid technological changes, what was once impossible becomes achievable almost daily. However, predicting the future is challenging due to nonlinear leaps altering our capabilities and behavior. Despite the uncertainty, the world has become densely populated, not only in terms of people but also through the global connectivity that enables commerce almost anywhere. In such a reality, organizations aiming to survive and thrive must optimize their capabilities. Simply hiring more individuals or relying on the traditional method of replacing veterans with younger counterparts is insufficient due to declining birth rates and heightened competition for young talent. The key to change and success is cultivating organizational creativity and maximizing employee potential.

Why do we need to improve?

Robinson articulates concerns about the education system, pinpointing it as the primary and central impediment to our lack of creative action. The crux of the problem lies in the link between general education and a student's predetermined employment, leading the system to prioritize professions in high demand for the economy. This misconception results in a disproportionate allocation of resources to science and technology, overshadowing the humanities and arts.

Furthermore, the current education system leans heavily towards post-school stages, particularly universities. Consequently, school education is geared towards academic pursuits, primarily transmitting knowledge through methods such as reading, study, and grading.

Under these conditions, creativity struggles to flourish. Robinson aptly states, "The creative talents of generations of men have been sacrificed in vain on the altar of academic illusion." Notably, even for significant academic advancement, knowing when and how to abandon existing approaches and develop original, valuable ideas is crucial. This, indeed, is the essence of creativity.

Creative leadership

Creativity begins with leadership. The manager is tasked with fostering creativity at three levels: within each employee as an individual, in the dynamics between employees as a team, and in cultivating the organizational culture throughout the entire organization. Recognizing that innovation hinges on the prior cultivation of creativity, the manager is obligated to invest proactively in these three tiers, as elaborated below:

The individual level

The leader's role at the individual level is to empower each employee to realize their inherent creative ability.

Guiding Principles:

  1. Recognize the potential for creativity in every employee, ensuring that all individuals actively engage their creative skills and feel their contributions are valued within the organization's performance. The Key is fostering a workplace where individuals genuinely love what they do.

  2. Nurture employees' imagination by exposing them to complementary fields of knowledge while they work.

  3. Develop creativity, with brainstorming as a known tool and two additional significant tools:

    a. Critical evaluation.

    b. Professional development (corporate university).

Our intelligence thrives on diversity, evolving from the interplay of different thoughts, unique perspectives, and the development of information, logical thinking, and flexibility. The manager must believe that every employee's creativity can be developed, recognizing its contribution to the organization's success.

The team levels

Investing in each employee individually to develop creative abilities is not sufficient. Creativity thrives in teamwork, where ideas dynamically flow among individuals, particularly those with complementary knowledge and skills. The manager must establish dynamic teams, define their boundaries (as creativity does not equate to chaos), and allocate dedicated time.

Guiding Principles:

  1. Assemble a diverse team encompassing various dimensions such as gender, age, culture, education, and the nature of experience. The greater the diversity across these dimensions, the more advantageous it is.

  2. Foster teamwork beyond mere coordination of tasks. It necessitates mutual idea exchange, openness to different perspectives, and a collective commitment to each other's success.

  3. Allocate time as a crucial resource for fostering creativity. While not explicitly endorsing the Google concept of dedicating 20% of each employee's time to creativity, Robinson underscores the importance of finding a way to allocate time. Beyond fostering creativity, this approach also communicates to employees that their creative contributions are significant to the organization.

The manager's skill lies in creating creative and dynamic teams adaptable to tasks, succeeding in embodying the principles outlined above.

The enterprise levels

Not surprisingly, a connection exists between creative work at the individual and team levels and the overall organizational culture. At the corporate level, leadership plays a pivotal role in developing a culture of innovation, encompassing creativity and its application in innovation processes.

Guiding Principles:

  1. Structural and process flexibility is paramount. This involves developing organizational structures and work processes that are open and accessible, facilitating:

    a. Infiltration of new creative ideas to management for approval.

    b. Mental flexibility to absorb ideas and respond appropriately.A flexible organization for implementation.

  2. Inquisitive culture. A culture is adept at coexisting with calculated risks, mistakes, and failures. Striking a balance between freedom and control requires expanding the training system for managers and complementing it with organizational/psychological counseling to implement this nuanced principle effectively.

  3. Creative physical space. Robinson underscores the significance of the physical environment, including structure, furniture, office equipment, lighting, and colors, in encouraging or suppressing creativity. At the individual level, allowing each employee a personalized space is crucial, while at the team level, having spaces conducive to various types of collaborative work meetings is essential.

The manager must recognize that no one-size-fits-all strategy exists for realizing a culture of innovation. Instead, they must tailor the approach to their organization, guided by the abovementioned principles.

Creativity in education

As a preliminary step, the roles of education should be redefined:

  • On a personal level, Foster the development of learners' talents and their sensitivity to those around them.

  • On a global cultural level: Deepen our understanding of the world.

  • On a global economic level: Equip learners with skills that enable them to earn a living and contribute economically.

Quoting Socrates, as shared by Robinson: "Education means kindling a flame, not filling a vessel." Like organizations, educational strategies can vary across institutions, adapting to their unique characteristics. Learning should be personalized and tailored to each student. While Robinson acknowledges the investment and challenges in implementing such an approach, he asserts that there is no alternative. Numerous schools have successfully found ways to adapt their studies to individuals, and Robinson provides an illustrative example related to literacy improvement. Elementary school students visited a nursing home weekly to read with an adult, and the results demonstrated significant literacy skill enhancement compared to their previous state and peer groups in other schools. Another benefit was a notable reduction in medication needed by participating adults in the nursing home.

Creativity must extend beyond the curriculum to address rigid and unadopted time management. Teachers play a crucial role in fostering creativity, believing in their students' capabilities, encouraging them, and aiding in identifying and developing individual skills. Evaluation methods should undergo a revolution, preserving their essential diagnostic, progress assessment, and summary functions while embracing necessary changes.

In closing, Robinson's book offers the insightful quote: "Education and training are the keys to the future. A key can be rotated in both directions. If you rotate it to one side, you lock and block all resources. If you turn it to the other side, you will free up the resources and bring people back to themselves."

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