While I do not consider myself an expert, or even knowledgeable, about the field of education, I’m intrigued by the CLASSROOM THINK TANK project aimed at bringing more creativity into the classroom. Many of us have been frustrated by “old school” education systems that seem to value test scores and conformity over individuality and innovation. And we find ourselves agreeing with Ken Robinson who famously stated in his TED talk that our present system of educating is based on preparing students for industrial age citizenship, not for life in the 21st century.
What could schools learn from DDB to foster creativity?
Creativity has to be a management priority from top to bottom of the organization. When all members of the company know and understand that creativity is the top priority of the CEO, they know that creativity must be their own focus as well. And they know that their success in the organization will be dependent on creative achievement. If all teachers knew that creativity was a priority of the school administration, and that their own success would be measured against the creative achievement of their scholars, they would align their curriculum and their classroom activities to that priority.
I believe schools could also learn about fostering creativity from The Four Freedoms we have put in place throughout our global network. At DDB, we ask that these freedoms be in place in every DDB office because we believe the presence of freedom is essential to creative achievement.
The first of the Four Freedoms is the Freedom from Fear. It asserts that talent freezes in the grip of fear. The creative mind shuts down, constricting the natural flow of words and ideas. Schools that wish to encourage creativity should feature classrooms that are free from fear: free from the fear of being labeled, compared or categorised; free from intimidation by teachers who see themselves as “tough and demanding taskmasters.“
The second of our Four Freedoms at DDB is The Freedom to Fail in which we acknowledge that it is the nature of creative talent to venture beyond the known—to pick its way through scary places untrodden by conventional minds. Also because there are no assurances that these idea-searching patrols will succeed, the seekers must be granted the latitude to fail in order to sustain their willingness to try again. In conventional classrooms, the goal is probably one of never failing, which promotes attempts to conform and inhibits creativity. In this respect, the education system could learn from the schools in Finland, where students are free from the fear of tests and exams until they reach the age of 16, when they are given one mandatory test. Until then, they rarely take exams or even do homework. It’s reported that they are not measured at all for their first 6 years of education.
The third of our Four Freedoms at DDB is The Freedom from Chaos. In our culture, this refers to the kind of chaos that results from management indecision, vacillation, arrogance and uncertainty. In the classroom, chaos might be created by class size, for instance: too many students per teacher or by labs that are too small for all students to conduct experiments. Or chaos can be created by lack of clarity as to what exactly is expected of the student or by inconsistency in communicating that understanding.
The last of our Four Freedoms at DDB is The Freedom to Be, in which we proclaim that each individual has the right to be treated with dignity, to be supported in his or her ambitions for higher achievement, and to be provided with a place where a career can grow in the direction of one’s own choosing. The lesson for educators from this insight is that every effort should be made to celebrate individuality and oppose conformity, and that, as much as possible, education experiences and environments should be adapted to the development path of the individual instead of insisting that the individual adapt to a standard curriculum.
What could a teacher learn from my leadership principles to foster creativity and inspire?
When we formed the company that is now DDB Worldwide, I gave each board member a small plant, then asked board members to make their plants grow. It was a simple, perhaps simplistic reminder that you cannot command a plant to grow, you cannot instruct a plant to grow, you must provide it with an environment that inspires and stimulates growth. Likewise, you cannot command creativity in the workplace nor in the classroom, nor can you instruct it, you must inspire it and nurture it. So I would give every teacher a plant as a reminder that children need to be nurtured and provided with the right learning environment. I would also inspire them with the quote from Lewis Thomas, a biologist who was head of Memorial Sloan Cancer Center in New York and who wrote wonderful little essays on biology. In one of those essays, he provided what I believe is the best advice I have ever encountered for building a creative environment, “If you want a bee to make honey, you do not issue protocols on carbohydrate chemistry nor memoranda on solar navigation. You do what you can to arrange the air around the hive, and when the air is right, the science will come.” When the “air” in the classroom is right, the creativity will come. So I would ask each teacher to embrace the idea Thomas expressed about bees making honey and apply it to children becoming creative.
To make the “air” right for creativity, teachers should do at least the following:
*Provide creative stimulus. In the agency, that means exposing staff to out-of-the-box thinking and out-of-the-box thinkers–their stories and their work. In the classroom, it should be the same. At DDB New York, for example, Matt Eastwood, the agency’s Executive Creative Director, stages regular “Curiosity Sessions” where prominent figures in creative pursuits like architecture, music and fashion are brought into the agency to address the entire agency staff.
In addition to providing real insights and inspiration, these sessions remind staffers in all the agency disciplines—account executives, planners and administrators– that creativity at DDB is not limited to the creative department. In the education system, showcasing the lives and work of great creative thinkers, both historical and contemporary, through videos, museum visits, live appearances or other media should be a key part of the curriculum.
*Focus on problem solving. Instead of cramming facts and theories into the minds of scholars, challenge them to break down real problems and come up with creative solutions. Example: A few years ago, I agreed to be “Principal for a Day” at Chelsea High School in Lower Manhattan. Students there are mostly from disadvantaged backgrounds—many from broken homes, some with no homes at all, living in shelters. But the class I monitored was blessed to have a teacher that understood how to unleash creativity by asking her scholars to solve problems.
On the day I observed, these tenth graders were given a problem that had been featured in that morning’s New York Times: A foie gras producer in upstate New York had a dilemma. He cared for his employees and wanted them to have good family lives but also wanted to produce the finest foie gras. The geese had to become attached to their caretaker–an employee of the farmer’s–and so the caretaker had to stay close to the geese, away from their own families, for a period of two weeks or more. The foie gras farmer’s dilemma was how to give employees family time without diminishing the quality of his foie gras. This problem was given to the class to solve and the scholars worked in pairs. After the teams huddled for ten minutes or so, a young Hispanic boy raised his hand and said that he and his partner, Maria, had come up with an idea. “This wouldn’t work right now but in the future, if the farmer hired identical twins who would dress exactly alike and use the same cologne, they could switch off with each other so each could spend time with his family and the goose wouldn’t know the difference.” Brilliant. A great example of how problem-solving exercises can unleash creative thinking.
*Grant freedom. The first rule of creativity is “be prepared to look foolish” so children should be encouraged to say what they think and express their true feelings absent of the fear that they will be laughed at or derided by their peers. And they should understand that it’s OK to fail if one is exploring uncharted territory. Scholars should learn and be inspired by the great innovators throughout history (i.e.:Edison), whose success came only after failing. See my references above to The Four Freedoms at DDB.
*Celebrate creative thinking. In the DDB network, each office finds ways to celebrate and reward creative thinking. At the network level, we award the Bill Bernbach Award to the best example of applying our founder’s creative philosophies in the solution of modern day problems. Likewise, teachers should find ways to recognize and celebrate creativity in the classroom.
Finally, I’m reminded of the story told of Henry Ford who was called an ignoramus by a Chicago newspaper. Ford sued the paper and, in court, failed to answer the most basic facts about U.S. history, much to the delight of those who accused him of being ignorant. In a burst of exasperation, Ford exclaimed, “I use my brain to think, not to memorize facts that are readily available if ever I need them.” We need to teach children to use their brains to think.
Keith Reinhard is Chairman Emeritus of DDB Worldwide. DDB ranks among the largest global advertising agency networks in the world with 206 offices in 96 countries. Acknowledged as the industry’s most creative multinational network, DDB has won more Grand Prix awards in the 50-year history of the International Advertising Festival in Cannes than any other agency, and over the last 16 years DDB has won more awards in Cannes than any other agency network.