Thursday, February 16, 2012

Creative Audacity

At a recent morning meeting, I showed students a YouTube clip of two classically trained young cellists playing the Guns and Roses’ song, “Welcome to the Jungle”; from students’ feedback, they seemed to greatly enjoy it. Many have asked for the link, which is always a good sign. If you are interested, here’s the link:

I prefaced the viewing by sharing a quotation about creativity from a Harvard business professor, Rosabeth Moss Kanter: “ Creativity is a lot like looking at the world through the kaleidoscope; you look at a set of elements, the same ones everyone else sees, but then reassemble those floating bits and pieces into an enticing new possibility.” I explained to the students that creativity is not only seeing what is there in a different way but also finding connections when looking at two or more items that may not seem to fit together or may even seem to be contradicting each other. Who would have thought that classical musicians would jam to Guns and Roses? Surely, Axel Rose did not envision his songs played by cellists, and I don’t know if Mstislav Rastopovich could have imagined his instrument playing this music. It’s through the combination of things that seemingly do not go together that we can actually make breakthroughs.

So, how do we get our students to open up their minds to the possibilities of joining together what society tells them is supposed to be separate? Maybe it starts by giving them examples of past juxtapositions. A recent podcast from the radio show “On Being” with Krista Tippett gives a historical case study. In this episode, Tippett interviews historian Tiya Miles about her research on African-American slaves held by Cherokee Indians. (I have included a link to the show here: Probably not many of our students realize that Native Americans held African-American slaves, and knowing this surprising fact of history may compel them to look at other trends or incidents in history that may defy our expectations.

Perhaps we need to give our students more assignments that require them to look beyond the immediately apparent or obvious. While we can require them to know certain facts or skills, maybe we need to reward them for their curiosity or their creative leaps. All too often in this day and age when almost every fact is available on their phones, we need to push them to mash those facts together in new ways that will lead to greater discoveries. We need to give them an “A” for audacity rather than for excellence. Maybe “B” now stands for being bold rather than simply good, and a “C” is a measure of their courage in contrast to their being average or adequate.

One Saturday morning many years ago when our now fifteen-year-old son was little, we left the public library around 11:00 in the morning, and on a whim, I took him to have frozen custard. When we arrived home, his mother asked what he had for lunch; he proudly proclaimed, “Ted Drewes!” (This is the justly famous custard shop in St. Louis.) Then my wife exclaimed, “That’s not lunch!” He replied, “It is when you’re with Dad.” Maybe he learned, at that moment, that coloring within the lines was old school, and it’s those people who break the rules that will take us to new places we never before imagined.