Creativity & Mistake Making

I am regularly asked to present or lead workshops at my institution on creativity, encouraging faculty and administrators to be creative, and making use of technology to this end. I am finding that despite agreement in theory that creativity is needed, helpful, necessary, and useful, my colleagues oftentimes hesitate to implement creative solutions to their work.

In trying to unpack this paradox, I came across two things that helped. First, this wisdom from Maya Angelou, reminding us that our culture (school culture?) beats creativity out of us and by the time we are adults, it is difficult to go back: 

And second, an interview with Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave, etc.) on the Howard Stern Show where he talked about creativity related to mistake making (the entire interview is great, but relevant section at 2:25 on). He emphasizes refusing perfection and practicing mistakes.

So what, then, is the connection between creativity and mistake making? How can we create a culture of mistake-making in our institutions? How do we remain creative within un-creative structures? How do we remain creative in chaotic, changing situations? How can we reclaim the creativity that has been knocked out of us?

8 replies

September 03, 2022

I love these questions! Mistake making is simply part of the creative process, but failure and mistakes have such a negative connotation, especially in traditional academic environments. Michael Mills and I wrote an article last year about the role of productive failure in creative path-making, and it's something I'm interested in exploring more in my research. It seems to me that we have to create learning environments that encourage a certain level of risk-taking if we want students to feel comfortable embracing the creative process. The same is true for faculty. If we want to reimagine our institutions, we have to know that mistakes will happen along the way. It's just part of the creative process.

September 06, 2022

"Productive failure"- I love that! How might we change the mindset around making mistakes for all learners to encourage risk taking and promote the creative process?

Great questions Alfred and Jessica!

What do you all think about this paradox and how can schools use the coaching process to explore answers?

September 07, 2022

Thanks so much for sharing that article, Jessica. Looking forward to reading it!

September 08, 2022

Thanks, Susan! Would love to chat more about this line of thinking/research :)

November 11, 2022

I think these questions are so important, as the Head of Art, Photography & Media in my school I am often trying to explain to others that creativity is not just within my subject areas. Creativity is problem solving, it’s experimentation and trial and error. I think we need to look beyond the classroom to build a culture of mistake making, we need to consider what our pupils are exposed to, whether it is through social media/societal expectations to be able to unpick the boundaries they believe exist. How do we create the safe space to break the norms they believe exist? I think we also need to look at ourselves and our colleagues, what mistakes are we willing to make as educators? How vulnerable are we willing to be to model mistake making to our learners?

November 19, 2022

Totally agree, Laura! If we could build a "culture of mistake making" and remove the stigma that often surrounds mistakes, it would go a long way toward promoting creativity. I agree with you that working toward this requires a lot of reflection on the part of educators to determine whether we're modeling the mindsets and creative habits we hope to promote among our students. Thanks for sharing in the conversation!

November 28, 2022

Mistakes are the first steps in learning and they should be celebrated. We use this in Science to encourage the experimental design process.

December 06, 2022

Hi Alfred,

One more resource for you to share (or just check out). In his TEDx talk, The Failure of Success, Dr. George Land talks about his work with NASA and his findings on what happens to our creativity over time. It goes right along with your description of Tom Morello's interview.

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