The Newly-Emerging Quest for Creativity

Me in Mr. Saber's 5th grade class. Circa 1995.

I’ve never given too much thought to school. I mean, yes, I was pushed to study hard, get good grades, graduate from high school and go to college. But these days, I’ve been thinking about school in a different way. More specifically, I’ve been thinking about the way I was schooled.

You see, I attended a business creativity conference, called Play at Work, over the past two days. And much of the conversation touched on the way our culture values perfection, places so much weight on being right or wrong and leaves little room for anything in between. Growing up as kids in school, we are so rarely encouraged to try things out just to try them. We’ve become accustomed to thinking mistakes are horrible, no good, very bad things — instead of seeing mistakes as a natural stepping stone to arriving at the right answer.

Fact of the matter is, that sort of exploratory style of finding solutions by trial and error manifests into a big word — creativity. And creativity is what companies in this day and age desperately want and neeeeeed. But aside from art and music class (which are also low on the value totem pole), students aren’t typically pushed in the area of the arts and creative problem solving.

So enough about the business talk and onto my real life reflection. I feel like this concept of creativity in school is something I — and many others — missed out on.

In 3rd grade, my teacher, Ms. Witham, thought I did an exceptional job on an assignment where we had to visualize and draw out a key image from a story we had written. Even at that young age, my strengths were in reading, writing and drawing — subjects that were subjective. Unlike math and science where there’s always a clear and finite answer. Those subjects I literally sucked at. (And by the way, I still do!)

Anyway, Ms. Witham submitted my work of art to the Gifted and Talented Education Program (GATE), a program that provides creative, accelerated cognitive enrichment to further students in reading, writing and math. Students who were a part of GATE left their regular classroom for a few hours once or every other week to focus on more advanced lessons in the aforementioned areas. And in order to become a part of the program, you had to be nominated and you had to pass a test.

Thanks to Ms. Witham, the nomination part was taken care of — but it was the test I had to pass. And to save me the pain of having to retell the student-to-teacher, face-to-face test I was forced to endure (kidding, it really wasn’t a traumatic experience), I’ll tell you that I didn’t pass the test. There were math and science problems I specifically remember not being able to solve in the time allotted. So to put it bluntly, my scores weren’t high enough and I was REJECTED from the Gifted and Talented Education Program.

Now, I don’t know if it was my math and science scores that sent my overall score six feet under. But it does make me wonder… if there had been equal or greater weight on the creativity side of the test, would I have nailed it? I may never know. And it didn’t really matter anyway, because I was accepted into a Gifted and Talented program in 5th grade when we moved to Las Vegas. So there!

But I am a firm believer that creativity is an asset to any organization and that it’s the little ones still being schooled that have a ton of it. Creativity has to begin in schools and flourish into adulthood. And as adults, some of us are finally understanding that.

At the end of the day, I realize I am lucky enough to be in a position where I have to use creativity every day at work. Because when the creativity gets really good, it doesn’t feel like work. And that’s how you know that exactly where you are in the working world, is exactly where you’re supposed to be. (Although you wouldn’t mind getting promoted either.)

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