education, we came alive in certain sorts of lessons with
certain teachers when we were given an opportunity to do
things that invigorated us. And when you find things you’re
good at, you tend to get better at everything because your
confidence is up and your attitude is different.
Too often now we are systematically alienating people from
their own talents and, therefore, from the whole process of
education. This isn’t, to me, a whimsical argument, like,
“Wouldn’t it be nice if we all did something we liked.” It’s a
fundamental human truth that people perform better when
Creativity is a process of having
original ideas that have value.
they’re in touch with things that inspire them. For some
people, it’s gymnastics; for some people, it’s playing the blues;
and for some people, it’s doing calculus.
We know this because human culture is so diverse and
rich—and our education system is becoming increasingly
dreary and monotonous. It’s no surprise to me that so many kids
are pulling out of it. Even the ones who stay are often
detached. Only a few people
benefit from this process. But it’s
far too few to justify the waste.
People often associate
creativity with the individual.
But is there a social dimension
to creativity that’s particularly
relevant in the 21st century?
Absolutely. Most original
thinking comes through collaboration and through the stimulation of other people’s ideas.
Nobody lives in a vacuum.
Even people who live on their
own—like the solitary poets or
solo inventors in their
garages—draw from the
cultures they’re a part of, from the influence of other people’s
minds and achievements.
In practical terms, most creative processes benefit enormously from collaboration. The great scientific breakthroughs
have almost always come through some form of fierce collaboration among people with common interests but with very
different ways of thinking.
This is one of the great skills we have to promote and
teach—collaborating and benefiting from diversity rather than
promoting homogeneity. We
have a big problem at the
becoming so dominated by this
culture of standardized testing,
by a particular view of intelligence and a narrow curriculum
and education system, that we’re
flattening and stifling some of
the basic skills and processes
that creative achievement
Look at Thomas Edison. He
was one of the most prolific
inventors in American history. He had over 1,100 patents in
the U.S. Patent Office. But actually, Edison’s great talent was
mobilizing other people. He had teams of cross-disciplinary
groups working with him. They gave themselves clear objec-
tives and tight deadlines and pulled out every stop to work
So there’s no doubt in my mind that collaboration, diversity, the exchange of ideas, and building on other people’s
achievements are at the heart of the creative process. An