How to Turn Creativity into Action

Usually when people use the term “creative types,” it is not a testament to that person’s ability to plan ahead and spring into action, nor does it speak highly of their organizational skills.  We tend to think of creativity as a natural talent or something that only applies to those whose brains tend to operate in a way that makes them different from others.  When parents call me to get an educational coach, they often describe their child as a “creative type,” to explain their low level of executive functioning skills.  I also tend to hear the opposite, that their child is a “great student but VERY literal.”

Many of our kids are stronger in either one or the other.  They are either overflowing with ideas of things that want to do instead of the things that they should be doing, or they are so fixated on what they should be doing and how they are going to do it that they can’t come up anything original.

In this day and age, it is important for students to be well-rounded in both areas.  We need people who can think creatively and come up with innovative products and services in order for businesses to remain competitive.  We also need people who are focused, process-oriented, and driven to make those products and services actually happen.  Lastly, these people need to be able to work together.

In summary, creativity is only useful if it can be translated into action, and action is only valuable if it produces something that is worth producing.  The Creative Process can be used whether a 2nd grade student is doing a book report and needs to present it to the class or whether an aeronautical engineer is trying to design a new spaceship that will take humans to Mars.  It can and will be used by everyone at some point, and so it is important to teach children how to go about things.

Identify a Problem or Goal:

If this is for a school project, identifying the problem or goal will probably be easy because it will be assigned.  If not, make sure that the goal or problem is something that is as closely aligned with your child’s interests as possible.  He or she should pick something that is challenging but solve-able, something that goes just beyond his or her current reach.

Foster Creativity through Environment:

Once your child has decided to get started, make sure that there are no distractions and that your child has all of the tools needed to get started.  Make sure that your child sets aside a block of time that is reasonable for his or her attention span but also allows enough time to make real progress without interruption.   If it’s a big project, you will definitely need multiple sessions as breaks and sleep are an important part of the creative process.

Teach your Child to Brainstorm:

During brainstorming, the participant throws out all of the ideas in their head without any sort of filter.  Brainstorming is not a time for criticism or negativity in any way.  It is not a time for structure, planning, or thinking in a practical way.  It is a tool to allow the creative “juices” in our minds to start flowing.  During brainstorming, it is likely that 80% of what you will come up with is junk, but it is not the time to assess that or discriminate against ideas.  Some of the ideas that you later decide not to implement may cause someone to think of a better idea, or get you thinking in a different way.  You must create a safe space where it doesn’t matter how ridiculous something sounds, it is completely welcome.  The second you start arguing why something won’t work is the second you start extinguishing possible good ideas that could have formed.

Research and Discuss the Options:

Once your child has generated enough ideas, it’s time to start thinking in a more pragmatic fashion.  This would be the time to start paring down on some of the ideas that seem erroneous (it’s best if the person who came up with the idea is the one to shoot it down) and focusing on a few of the stronger ones.   You can model this by thoughtfully discussing some of the ideas that you had out loud.  Be sure to include some negative feedback on your own ideas in order to show that you are not finding fault with the people who came up with the ideas.  Once you have narrowed those ideas down, it’s a good idea to do some preliminary research if it applies to the context.

Create a Structured Outline or Plan:

Now that your child has a good idea of where they want to go, it’s time to come up with a structure and a plan.  Outlines or mind-mapping are a great idea, or you can come up with a chronological step-by-step process.

Divide the Tasks:

If your child is working collaboratively, it would then be time to equitably and strategically divide the tasks.  You could offer to take a few things and ask your child what he or she prefers to do.  Then, everyone will work independently on their own tasks.

Exchange Feedback:

Once you have all completed your tasks, it’s time to reconvene.  You should look over each other’s work and exchange feedback.  The best way to do it is to provide positive feedback, then negative feedback, then positive feedback.  This will teach your child to offer constructive criticism in a non-threatening way.

Revise, Revise, Revise:

Lastly, teach your child that there is no such thing as a completed project.  There is always room for innovation and improvement, and it’s important to keep an open mind.