Innovation and Creation: Some Thoughts

As I talk to people, friends and colleagues of mine, sometimes I hear a frustration and weariness in their voice. If the person is a teacher, I automatically think that maybe they are suffering from the "Burnout" syndrome. You may know teachers experiencing this. Often times it manifests itself via complaining about administration, the students, fellow teachers, the school district office... anyone involved in the school - maybe even themselves, though not normally.

However, it is not always teachers that have that sound in their voice, and interestingly, it is not even everyone who goes to work every day. In fact, often I hear that frustration in the voice of those who are stay-at-home parents, and I think I know what might be part of what is causing this.

I have been doing a lot of thinking about the role CREATIVITY plays in our lives, and how important that component is for feeling truly successful. Of course, being successful is such a relative term. It means completely different things to many different people. I was speaking in Philadelphia a couple of weeks ago at the Philade..., and this issue came up in the talk: how important a role creativity plays in the education of a child and in the professional development of a professional. The teachers that I see that are "burned out" I don't think are really burned out, I think they are experiencing a LACK OF A CREATIVE OUTLET in their lives. Hell, to me, has nothing to do with an afterlife; it has to do with doing the same...repetitive...task....over... and over. God bless them, for someone has to do it, but people that work on the toll system collecting money and giving change every day I believe have the toughest job in the world. Tougher than a cop. Tougher than a teacher. Tougher than a doctor. It's tough because there is no room for creativity and innovation, to me the two MOST IMPORTANT components of our lives.

A few months ago I listened to one of the most important podcasts I have ever listened to. It was a talk given by Tom Kelley at Stanford University for the Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Podcast Series. He spoke about being an "innovator for life" and gave some tips about being able to become more creative and innovative in your every day life. The interesting thing is, there is not special talent or skill you need to become more creative and innovative, you just need to start making some changes in your mind and thoughts. And, most of them anyway, are very simple. He gives five tips that everyone can do to start becoming more in tune with your creative and innovative side.

First, he says to "Think Like a Traveler". Have you ever traveled outside of the country, especially to a country where you do not speak the language? Your brain is hyper-aware of your surroundings. Everything seems to be more focused. Your brain takes in more information than usual, and you don't miss things as much as when you are in your daily routine. Tom says that you should try to TRAIN YOUR BRAIN to think this way, and maybe opportunities and ideas will not slip by you. How many life changing ideas and opportunities may have come your way and you never saw them because of the sleepwalking most of us do in our daily lives?

Then he says to "Treat Life Like An Experiment", be willing to fail for not all experiments are successful. Be willing to take risks and know that there is something positive in life called failing forward. I liked his example of seeing a huge book you might want to read one day, don't be afraid of the size of the book, just try out a chapter or two and see if you like it. If you don't like it, put it down and go to the next one. That sounds simple, but many people stress over every decision in their lives and then spend the rest of the time worrying whether they made the right choice. If you know that sometimes your risks will fail, but that sometimes they will pay off - and possibly pay off really big - then your life will be far from boring and settled. Be open to treat life like an experiment. Tom Kelley has other ideas he gives for being an innovator for life.

Nurture An Attitude of Wisdom - Tom says to "Distrust your knowledge just enough to keep searching". Never feel like you know everything and rest on your laurels; if you do, at that point you will stop learning. Keep questioning your knowledge just enough to stay thirsty for more knowledge.

Use Your Whole Brain. This actually contains two parts; part one relates to using your Right Brain more into your daily activities, since K-12 education mainly trains people to use their Left Brain. The second part of this Mr. Kelley refers to using your "Tortoise Mind". Much research has been done in the last few years in the areas of brain research and one fact that is coming out of that research is that our brains continue working while we are sleeping. The old saying, let me sleep on it, has never been more true. When you are "sleeping on it" you are using your tortoise mind. You are contemplating... thinking...working out a problem...replaying an issue, and what happens is that when you think this way ideas come to you more effectively.

So, what does all of this have to do with being creative and innovative? I think it has to do with not settling. Don't settle for a career or job just because you are good at something. Don't get into the habit of doing the SAME THING each day, each week, each month.. each year! Don't settle into a LIFE without challenging yourself to new experiences, new ways of thinking and doing a task. Teachers can very easily slip into this rut. Because most teachers do not have much authority or extra responsibility given to them (except for inside their own classes) many teachers just start doing the same thing every year. They teach the same lesson the same way every year... and have been for the past 20 years.

The problem with this is that it causes frustration and disappointment within the teacher that he or she doesn't even realize is happening. They get "burned out", but in actuality, it is a frustration due to a lack of a creative outlet. People, no matter what career they are in, always need to improve and innovate. With that, a sense of accomplishment and advancement is felt while at the same time performance and attitude improves.

I know there will be some of you that will think that this is just a bunch of overly optimistic and unrealistic hooey. When I was in my twenties and thirties, I thought very similar. However, more and more people I talk to are either changing careers or drastically changing their professional practice. As teachers, one of the easiest ways to do this is to learn new ways of instruction...and the most effective and fun new way of instruction is to incorporate technology into your teaching practice. Technology has kept me in the classroom the past twelve years while I have debated back and forth whether to go into K-12 administration. Technology continues to open new doors to investigative and creative practices and - along with the excitement of my students - keeps my job exciting and rewarding. Whether you create water gardens, computer programs, quilts, movies or websites, find a creative outlet for your mind and spirit. Your life, believe it or not, will be better off for it.

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