Wk 3 – Creating creativity

This week’s classes focussed on creative processes and theories of creativity, with a lecture by guest speaker, author and ghostwriter John Harman. John spoke of his career, the way he moved through creative industries and his personal creative processes (Hartman, 2012).

From his experiences, John had an interesting perspective on the way in which people’s thoughts can be confined by ‘the box’. The phrase ‘think outside the box’ is one you certainly hear a lot; it has become not only a cliché but a bit of an oxymoron, yet people generally don’t think to consider the meaning of the term either literally or figuratively.

John spoke of a new way of viewing ‘the box’ in terms of a visual representation of the creative confinements we may hold over ourselves (or are that are placed upon us). The four key aspects that he said could act to box in our creativity and imagination are:

[1] No one knows boxes like Maru.
  • Emotional Confinement
  • Perceptual Confinement
  • Cultural and Environmental Confinement
  • Organisational Confinement

Using the four sides of a box to visually represent the ways our thought processes and creativity can be confined is quite clever, especially as it can be easy for our imaginations to be boxed in by what we consider ‘natural’ like assuming cultural norms as the only perspective (Inglis, 2007; Sturken & Cartwright, 2001).

Although it was not brought up in the lecture, I feel it’s worth mentioning that the phrase ‘think outside the box’ is said to have originated from the 9 Dots Puzzle. This puzzle challenges you to connect 9 dots with 4 straight lines or less. The only way to solve the puzzle is to think outside the box. Do you think you can do it?

[Image 2] 9 Dots Puzzle

(If not, you can check out the answers here) 😛

I’m a big fan of lateral thinking puzzles; I think my appreciation of them stems from the Tournament of the Minds competitions (ToM) which I really enjoyed when I was younger. ToM encourage kids to think creatively and differently across the fields of language literature, maths engineering, social sciences and applied technology. I now volunteer as a regional and national judge for the competition, which I think has given me a unique perspective on creativity.

In this week’s readings and tutorials we looked at theories of creativity. Our group’s in-class activity required us to do word-associations with creative (aka seemingly obscure) answers as the desired goal; we were then encouraged to consider the creative theories that may relate to this process. Having just attended a ToM judges’ prep event the night before I was amused by the relevance to the competition’s methods, which seem to be associated with the learning theory of Mednick.

Mednick’s theory of creativity suggests that people considered to be creative have a broader range of mental associations that they can draw upon and combine in their work (Davis, 2004). When children compete in the ToM competition, they are encouraged to think laterally about their associations and draw from a variety of sources in their lives.

[Image 3] Thinking time.
For example, this year’s Language Literature long-term problem (which students work on in groups throughout the semester to creatively solve a specific issue with a 10 minute skit) requires students to draw upon the content of books from several different genres as well as include elements from particular Beetle’s songs. The students are encouraged to draw from seemingly unrelated sources, work on their mental associations and broaden their overall bank of knowledge.

In the lecture John also commented on the benefits of being well read and experience many different things from outside your own field so that you can draw upon these in your work (Hartman, 2012). I do however also agree with the criticism aimed at learning theories, in that they can be  both reductionist and oversimplistic (Davis, 2004). While having a broader range of mental associations can be of great use in creative thought patterns, I certainly do not think it is the only aspect that needs to be considered to be creative.

The sentiments of the lecture as well as the additional reading by Csikszentmihalyi (1996) are appropriately vague and diverse in their reasonings of how one can be creative. I too believe there are indeed many different types of personalities that ‘creative’ individuals may have, but believe there are likely trends in people’s styles.

I feel I have rambled on too much now, plus I am having difficulty thinking of appropriate segues for all the points I want to mention. So instead I am going to add two last dot points of relevant thoughts I had regarding this week’s learnings.

  1. I was quite interested in John’s description of the ‘5 steps of creativity’; preparation, concentration, incubation, illumination and verification (Hartman, 2012). I have found that when I work on something for a while then take a break, I will often solve a problem that had been frustrating me or get a new perspective on it. I’ve never thought to purposely stop working to allow an idea to ‘incubate’ but I think I’ll have to try to run through the whole process to see if it.
  2. The reading by Csikszentmihalyi (1996) discusses some of the factors that encourage individuals to pursue creative careers in particular fields, such as a predisposition, interest and access to the domain. As I read about physicist John Wheeler talking of his interest in ‘toy mechanisms’ as a child I was reminded of an article I saw the other day about three female engineers working to develop toys that give young girls the opportunity to develop such interests. The team has developed a house-building set which includes simple circuits which together they believe will “inspire young girls who are great at solving, deducing, and experimenting.”

After having seen such disappointing attempts at marketing creative building toys to girls in the past (I’m looking at you Lego), I found this project to be both exciting and heartening to read about. 🙂

Yep, that’s enough pondering for one day. By the by, I’d be interested to hear if anyone was able to do the 9 Dots Puzzle without peeking. And if anyone has a favourite riddle or thinking puzzle they’d like to share, I’m ready for some lateral thinking!


Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1996). The Creative Personality. Creativity: Flow and the psychology of discovery and invention. New York: HarperCollins.

Davis, G. A. (2004). Definitions and Theories. Creativity is forever. (5th Ed.). USA: Kendell/Hunt.

Hartman, J. (2012, August 17). Personal Creative Process. Guest Lecture presented in Creativity: Theory, History and Practice. Edith Cowan University, Western Australia.

Inglis, D. (2007). Culture and Everyday Life. London: Routledge.

Sturken, M., & Cartwright, L. (2001). Practices of looking: An introduction to visual culture. Oxford: OUP.


[Image 1] Maru in a box (2012). The simple pleasures. Retrieved August 22, 2012, from http://travsthoughts.blogspot.com.au/2012/01/simple-pleasures.html

[Image 2] 9 Dots Puzzle (2009). Learning to Learn Mathematics. Retrieved August 20, 2012, from http://www.llmaths.com/

[Image 3] Students from Hunters Hill High school (2011). Two in a row for Top Minds – Northern District Times. Retrieved August 22, 2012, from http://northern-district-times.whereilive.com.au/news/story/two-in-a-row-for-top-minds/

[Image 4] Roominate (2012). Kickstarter: Roominate – Make it yours. Retrieved August 22, 2012, from http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/369073015/roominate-make-it-yours

2 thoughts on “Wk 3 – Creating creativity

  1. Pingback: Wk 8 – Recap with a remix « NOT A BLOG

  2. Pingback: Wk 10 – Repressing Reich « NOT A BLOG

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