Practicing Creativity

2012_07_04_07_42_08My husband is away on a business trip. This unusual occurrence prompted some atypical behaviors in our house, including eating ‘breakfast for dinner’ (pancakes!) and me gorging on TED talks until way-too-late.  We miss Daddy, so these little breaks with reality were fun distractions.

I bring this up because it reminds me that breaking away from the expected, from what is supposed to happen, is not only fun but also useful to the point of being necessary. There is no achievement without creativity, and creativity thrives on unexpected turns and messy mistakes. We know this. But do we practice it regularly, as if our success depends on it?

It may be TED talking, but it’s clear to me that the educational enterprise as we know it is going away. This is a good thing if you see creativity as a crucial part of learning, as being paramount to living full and meaningful lives. Change is afoot from grade school to college, and beyond. The flipped classroom, learning analytics, MOOC’s, personal learning networks, open educational resources, gamification, authentic learning, and competency based learning are just a few of the trends revolutionizing education.  Now, I’m not going to get political here, or even very philosophical. But since I’m talking about the link between success and creativity, then I feel I must talk about it in terms of teaching and learning.

Librarians are nothing if not teachers and learners.  I believe that ultimately, our job is to learn all we can in order to facilitate the learning experience of others.  Our success depends on finding creative ways to help individuals and communities bloom.  In the words of Sir Ken Robinson, we have to “create the conditions under which they will begin to flourish” (Robinson, 2010).  What conditions are we talking about? Where and how can librarians teach creatively and reward creative inquiry by others? These are good questions for another time. For now, in the spirit of pancakes for dinner, I’d just like to know: how do you get your mojo on? How do you access your own creativity and pull it out of others?

Here’s something that I do: To instill a culture of play in our family life and to encourage healthy risk-taking, I like to use the ‘bravely done’ motto. It’s actually something I found on the inside of a beer bottle cap and it really spoke to me. So, when my five-year-old  gives something new a good go of it, I’ll tell her “bravely done!” and she’ll know it was the effort that mattered.  To be truthful, it’s the adults in the family that need the biggest push in that department.

So, what do you do?  How do you practice creativity and help others do the same? If I get at least 25 responses, I will send the person with the winning response a stack of my homemade pancakes. They will be delivered to your doorstep, ready to reheat and serve. Seriously. I will do this for you, if you do me the favor of sharing your personal approach to creativity. The winner will be chosen by an arbitrary and undemocratic process: if I particularly like it, you win! I will pick the winner in two weeks from now, so get your submission in before May 19th.


Robinson, K. [TED Talks] (2010, May 24). Bring on the learning revolution! [Video file].  Retrieved from


12 thoughts on “Practicing Creativity

  1. I’m not sure if it’s a creative practice but one thing I try to do on a regular basis (as the head of IT) is to use our many services as a customer so that I can experience the website or catalog or other services from the user’s perspective. I often come away with new ideas after having seen things “through the customer’s eyes”.

  2. One of my favorite songs has these lines:

    “Always the one to call it like it is,
    Always the one to see the good in things..”

    I approach creative endeavors this way: looking for the good. I think because I spent so much time in meetings talking about the bad things that could happen during my public library time, this approach works well for me.

    The other part is the #harshtruth stuff though not directly related to creativity. In some instances, with a high level of radical trust, hearing the harsh truth can spark new ideas and move something or someone forward. It must be delivered with love though.

  3. The Michaels have thrown down the gauntlet. They want their pancakes!! (Congratulations on attracting a guest commenter, Tracy!)

  4. To encourage my own creativity, I make time to take creative writing courses. As many as I can, and I don’t care what level they’re at – beginner, advanced – doesn’t matter. Prose, poetry, playwriting, fiction, non-fiction – doesn’t matter. As long as it’s some form of storytelling.

    The exercises creative writers use to find ideas and break through writer’s block can be applied to pretty much any life situation you can conceive. It’s all about finding ways to break you out of habitual perspectives and see things in a new way, and to find solutions in these different perspectives that you wouldn’t have seen otherwise.

    At work, I use techniques similar to bricolage and galumphing: I ask people from different departments of the library what they do – keyword summaries of their goals and missions – and I use those words to create new narratives in the form of short stories. Sometimes, those narratives help me envision new multi-departmental, multi-disciplinary programs for the library.

    One of my favorite creativity techniques for my personal writing is to use Magnetic Poetry. I have a few sets of it stuck to my fridge, all randomly jumbled up. Looking at this mess of words, sometimes a couple of them connect – I’ll see two or three words together that pop out and strike me as interesting. These are combinations that I never would have come up with on my own – I use the Magnetic Poetry as a tool to harness the innate chaos of the Universe to do the work for me.

    Sometimes this process ends there – just a random, interesting phrase. Sometimes, though, these words form a nucleus that accretes other words to it and I can get a whole line or two. Sometimes, it’s enough to inspire a full work. Sometimes, I’ll get a phrase, or a line or two, that I can’t figure out how to use right away, but that I come back to later on a different project.

    In general, the techniques that work best for me are the ones that help me break out of myself, to force my perspective into a focus that’s not one I would take otherwise.

  5. For me one of the biggest obstacles to creativity is not the inability to come up with an idea, but the little voice that comes right after it and says “no, that’s a really stupid idea.” I sometimes need to force myself to work with an idea for awhile to get past that voice.

    A book that was really influential for me is one that I read years ago called “Writing Down the Bones” by Natalie Goldberg. For her writing practice, she advises “wild mind” writing–sit down and START WRITING and DON’T STOP. Don’t stop for the little voice that says “no, this is a stupid idea.” Put the pen to the paper and keep going. I find that I’d have writing meditations that started “this is stupid i have no idea what to write wow the wind is loud did i remember to let the dog back in” and yet after sentences of mind-clearing gibberish, I would often, even usually, find inspiration and write something that I did not know I had in me. I still use this approach (albeit on a keyboard) for assignments when I am stuck: “I am writing about augmented reality which is completely awesome and we should totally use it because it’s neat.” (Typically I edit that part out afterwards). 🙂

    Also, we love breakfast for dinner! Although my husband would be very annoyed if I made it when he was away and he did not get any pancakes. 🙂

    It’s been great to share this class with you!

    1. My little voice tells me I won’t be able to think of anything. Or that I won’t be able to learn what I’m trying to learn. I’ve proven it wrong every time for over 40 years, yet it still tells me those things, every single time. And I still worry that it’s right, every time. Kind of amazing, isn’t it? Why do we do these things to ourselves?

      1. Maybe we need an expanded definition of ‘creativity’….lots of preconceived ideas of what it means to be creative. Look at most of the responses so far, I think they’re all highly creative, even if they have nothing to do with ‘art’. Thank you all for sharing!

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