ITB 2024 Special Reporting
Who Killed Creativity? When Creativity Takes on the System ~ Part 3 final.
By Gaia Grant and Andrew Grant
Monday, 2nd July 2012
Becoming a true learning organization requires some creative thinking, which can be challenging for established systems...

TJ was chosen to join a selective academic program in a state high school because he was bright. Very bright. But he got a shock one day when he failed an assignment he had worked hard on. The assignment for his personal development class had asked him to plan the perfect party.

The teacher had expected the students to describe such things as how they would deal with drug and alcohol issues, or how they would handle gate crashers. But TJ took the question at face value and described what he thought would be the perfect party.

Thinking beyond the standard expectations (outside of the box) TJ envisaged a fabulous shindig on a space station, in which he and his closest mates would enjoy the novelty of dancing in zero gravity, being careful to state that issues like drugs and alcohol and gate crashers would simply not be a problem at his ideal party.

You see, TJ wasn't just intellectually astute; at the age of 16 he was socially and emotionally smart enough to understand the consequences of behaviours. And to choose not to engage in activities that would lead to negative consequences. In his free time he deliberately chose to not participate self-destructive behaviours and hang out at the wild parties that many of the other young people his age were engaging in. His aunt had been struck down and killed by a drink driver as a teenager, so he was only too aware of where potentially damaging risk taking behaviours could lead.

A good night out for TJ and his like-minded socially intelligent friends  was to hang out together and watch movies or play music or participate in a sporting or leisure activity that was fun but not hazardous to himself or others. Or finish a PD assignment...

TJ had gone to a lot of trouble to answer all the questions in the assignment in meticulous detail, and he exhibited an inventive and creative approach. Something they are supposed to be fostering in schools, surely?! But the teacher told him the reason he failed the assignment was because she believed he hadn't taken the assignment seriously. TJ was so upset about the whole approach the school was taking that he wrote a confronting but considerate letter (another Friday night's activity!) which ended with the following conclusion:

"My parents were happy with my creative response and are thrilled that I don't conform to society's low expectations of teenagers. Perhaps it would be great if the syllabus encouraged teenagers to do great things rather than just avoid bad situations."

Sadly, the teacher then told him he was just crawling to get more marks!

Active organizational learning and development

Becoming a true learning organization is not a passive process. As company structures become more established, the drive to learn and grow will die unless there is an active initiative to ensure it continues. And if there is only a single loop learning approach, problems will continue to re-emerge in the future if they are not dealt with properly in the short term.

Unfortunately – perhaps shockingly – many participants in our survey on the creativity killers in organizations have indicated that HR kills creativity.

Instead of supporting and promoting creative development, which you may expect to happen in the HR / Training arena, there can end up being a focus on jumping through the hoops to keep up rather than thinking and planning ahead for future growth opportunities.

Active learning and development will mean:
  • Investigation: Recognising and dealing with the creativity killers
  • Education: Teaching creative thinking at all levels of the organization to build positive attitudes and skills
  • Reconstruction: Building structures that support innovation
This may not always be comfortable, it will definitely not always be easy, but it will be essential for creating real cultures of learning within the organization.

Working overtime to rebuild creative thinking

The death of creativity in an educational setting would go down as one of a serial killer's greatest achievements. Every now and then a brave student like TJ will try to  ensure the system is accountable, but there needs to be continued effort to push this through at all levels. Accountability also needs to be built into the organization. And systems need to be established that not only support open learning for true creative development, but are also set up for development over the long term.

The end of school should not mark the end of learning. In fact companies must now work overtime to reteach both a love of learning and creativity thinking. Be warned - those organisations that think education is too expensive will need to see what happens if they try the path of ignorance.

Researcher John Corrigan gives an interesting spin on this issue when he explains that that while we are naturally creative as humans, our education systems at all levels currently suppress a major aspect of this creativity. He believes that this will force us to eventually develop tools, methods and approaches to rebuild this capacity.

Let's not wait until it's too late!

Andrew Grant is the CEO of Tirian, author of ‘Who Killed Creativity?', and creative designer of Tirian programs which are sold under license internationally.

Andrew has worked on leadership and team development for top executive clients in multinational companies throughout the world for more than 15 years and is a recognized leader in the field. He has been in high demand as a keynote speaker and has shared the stage with top international speakers such as Stephen Covey, Jonas Ridderstrale and Bob Nelson.
Andrew has been a keynote presenter and executive level facilitator in over 15 countries, and has successfully worked with over 30 different nationalities.

He has presented at the global leadership conference for the Young Presidents' Organization (YPO) & World Presidents' Organization (WPO), where he ran several key sessions – including the opening keynote, and moderation of the inaugural merger meeting between YPO & WPO. The feedback received after the event was rated one of the highest ever achieved.

Gaia Grant, Managing Director of Tirian, is a perceptive communicator who is able to use her unique insights into individuals and cultures to enlighten groups.

Gaia is the author of several books, including: "Living in Three Dimensions", "A Patch of Paradise" (Random House) and "The Rhythm of Life" (Transworld), which examine cross-cultural principles in relationships and work.

Gaia's research and extensive travel to many unique countries has given her an appreciation of society's values and the effect these have on the individual. With a background in Education and Psychology, Gaia is able to utilise a diverse range of ideas to ensure her audience can relate to and integrate new concepts quickly and easily.

Gaia continues to write for travel magazines and on personal and relationship issues, and is regularly asked to speak about her thoughts and experiences. She is a highly skilled and creative program designer and facilitator with the ability to perceive deeper needs and find ways of exploring these positively and purposefully. 

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