August 31st, 2011

I’ve been thinking about creativity a great deal lately. Some of the impetus, I must say, have been provoked by the slew of publications I’ve found on the subject.

You don’t have to go far to find these publications. Thanks to google, all you have to do is type in ‘creativity’ in the search box, select ‘books,’ and you’ll see the whole gamut. Some of these books are over 400 pages long.

I actually have some of these books in my possession.

And I’m still waiting to dig into them. Somehow, the thought of having to wade through over 400 pages of scholarly discussion about creativity does not seem, in itself, to be a very creative thing to do so I’ve been avoiding it.

The question is, can creativity even be taught?

And that’s where I differ with these creativity experts.

For example, did anyone teach Bob Dylan to be creative? I’ve seen the documentary “Don’t look back.” He just sits with this typewriter and bang away at the keys. What’s driving him and providing him with all that creative energy?

Or Glenn Gould recording the Goldberg, singing and humming away, baring his soul to the world. Did someone teach him to come up with his unique and breathtaking interpretation of the work?

Or closer to home, if you’ve seen a young kid on the beach, making sand castles, or just playing with the sand. Did you see any creativity expert nearby telling him, “Here, sonny, this is how you make a sand castle”?

Creativity is an urge, a hunger, an obsession. It’s pure energy.

It can’t be taught just as you can’t teach someone to be hungry. All you can do is foster that energy, and give it an outlet.

I live in a city where people are constantly having to whitewash walls.

Now, I’m not condoning any acts of vandalism. Defacing public property and other people’s fences is not a fun matter for those having to clean it up.

But what drives young people to go out at night and spray paint public property? There’re many motivations, I suspect, but one of these has to be that creative energy bursting inside all these young hearts, just wanting to be expressed.

Although many of these expressions are just random territorial statements, some of them are incredibly beautiful.

Talking about graffiti, I’ve heard that graffiti is a serious crime in Singapore which is punishable with many strokes of the cane.

And I’ve also heard that Singapore is at the forefront in fostering creativity. They’ve recruited Edward de Bono and Andrei Aleinikov (two experts who I happen to have the greatest respect for) to help their citizens become more creative.

Now I wonder whether there’s any connection here.


6 Responses to “Creativity”

  1. John Dimick Says:

    Hi Philip,

    I remember reading Lateral Thinking the year it was published. I was only 13 or so. I was mightily impressed.

    Did de Bono “teach” me to be creative? Maybe. But I think he actually just gave me permission to explore. The adults in my life at that time would have thought “lateral thinking” was a serious waste of time, but de Bono opened a door for me and helped me step through.

    That’s my concept of teaching — to hold open a door. In fact, I think my highest purpose is to go as far and as high as I can, and then to stand in that place and hold the door open for those who can go further.

    So I think creativity can be taught… or revealed… or at least we can teach people not to slam the doors on each other.. 🙂

    You opened a door for many of us.



  2. Philip Hii Says:

    Good point, John — hold open a door. That’s a good teaching philosophy as opposed to dictating what’s ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ to students. I also like that ‘permission to explore.’ In a sense, curiosity and the urge to explore are crucial preconditions to creativity. By freeing you up, de Bono was creating fertile conditions for creativity to take place for you. In that sense, I guess it can be taught.

  3. Miguel de Maria Says:

    Philip, John,
    When a young child is first told, “No”, the process of enclosing him within societal boundaries begins. This progresses to the “silly” things that must not be done, to the uncomfortable truths one must not utter around one’s boss. All these walls can close a person’s perceptions so that their worldview becomes very narrow indeed. It seems to me that any book that can question those walls could inspire creativity.

    “Drawing from the Right Side of the Brain” was helpful for me. It seems that most people do not draw what they see, but symbolic representations of what they see (this ties into your painting by numbers post, Philip). Trees rarely look like lollipops, but that’s what people see. There are ways to trick yourself into actually seeing what you see, and then drawing that. The improvement in skill is incredible! It seems to me that this phenomenon could apply to others aspects of life. The first step may be pushing through the boundaries and filters of convention to the reality that lies just before our eyes.

  4. Philip Hii Says:

    Miguel, you hit it right on the spot. Creativity stops when we enclose ourselves, or others put us, into those narrow boundaries. The trick is to break out of those prisons. In fact, many of the creativity exercises these experts try to do exactly just that, making you think in unconventional ways. I’ll check out the book. BTW, I checked out your site, very impressive! And I like the videos a lot!

  5. Adam Logan Says:


  6. Philip Hii Says:

    Adam, great point.

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