When you’re reading a book you can’t put down, watching a famous actor in your favourite film, listening to a moving piece of music, or admiring an artist’s painting it can appear as if some people were born to be creative. But their apparent creativity probably hasn’t come as easily as it seems.
You might think that writing an article for an issue of Cambridge Outlook would come easily to a journalist – or that illustrating a front cover would be a breeze for an art editor. But even the most experienced writers and designers can suffer from ‘writer’s block’ – staring at a white page waiting for an idea to come. Maybe you have experienced it first-hand when faced with planning a lesson or a school assembly. Your students might have experienced it in an exam situation.
Developing an idea
The fact is, writing a feature or designing a piece of artwork doesn’t happen in isolation. First, a seed needs to be planted in your mind – you have to tell your brain what the topic is that you need it to think about. Once you’ve done that, your brain can begin to process that information and make connections that allow an idea to develop. This process can take time and sometimes the idea you are after can come when you’re least expecting it – when you don’t even realise you are thinking about it. For me, that might be when I’m walking to work or cooking dinner.
As well as thinking time, writing and designing require inspiration – this might be from previously published materials or from random sources that don’t seem to have any relevance but which, when mixed together in your brain, create something new.
Sparking creativity is central to the In Focus section of our latest issue of Cambridge Outlook. As Sherry Coutu CBE says in her expert interview, “sometimes you have to be creative to overcome barriers, but if you are focused on achieving the goal, you’ll come up with the means by which you get there”. Tricia Kelleher, principal of the Stephen Perse Foundation who we interviewed about creativity in her school, agrees: “It’s about understanding there’s a different way of thinking.”
Applying creative skills
Creativity can really come into its own when you are dealing with what might be considered a less creative subject. Writers can produce their best work when challenged to find some quirky facts to lighten a more formal article – I would not have been able to predict the hobbies of the head teacher featured in our View from Spain. The design treatment of a feature can produce the same effect, as our designer proves with Behind the Scenes, by pulling out key statistics to draw in the reader.
Although people often tend to think about creativity in terms of the arts, as Mary Tipton Woolley of Georgia Institute of Technology points out in our Beyond the classroom feature, creativity has a part to play in all academic disciplines: “Any kind of research at university is a very creative process,” she says. The article shows how even in the process of applying to university, a student’s creative skills can give them the edge.
Leading the way
In an academic environment, that creative process isn’t limited to students either. “To really foster innovation and creativity, you’ve got to allow teachers to be free enough to take their own way through the journey,” says David Mansfield of YK Pao School in our Leadership feature.
Writers don’t become great writers overnight – just as scientists rarely make their discovery in their first experiment – but whether your passion is writing, teaching, designing or doing a science practical, you are more likely to unlock your creativity in the activity where you feel most comfortable and happiest, believes Sherry Coutu. “It’s about believing that everyone has the potential to be creative, in different ways,” she says. And crucially, having the chance to try lots of different things is what will help your students find their niche.