When You Say You're Not Creative . . .

When you say you’re not creative, you inadvertently perpetuate a myth. The myth that a person can be exempt from having creativity doesn’t even make sense. Go ask your mom what you were like when you were a little kid.  

Did you ever find an alternate use for your bowl of yogurt—a hat, perhaps? 

Did you build something out of Lego or blocks without following directions? 

Did you figure out how to evade your parents when you wanted to get away with something?

Have you tried a new topping on your oatmeal?  

Have you made up a pun? 

Figured out how to fix your computer? 

Designed a code? 

Come up with an idea different from someone else’s?  

These are all hints at the creativity which you do indeed have, and in order to prove this I share with you what I like to call the Creativity Trifecta:

  1. Everybody is creative.
  2. Creativity can be practiced and developed.
  3. People manifest creativity in different degrees.

Let’s take the trifecta point by point.

Everybody is Creative

The first empirical study that definitively showed that everybody is creative was begun by George Land in 1968. He gave 1,600 four- and five-year-old children a creativity test that he had developed to find innovators for engineering and design positions at NASA. He tested the same children again when they were 10 and again at age 15. Land and his team then compared these scores with a large sample of adults who also took the assessment. Take a look at the percentage of test-takers in each sample that scored in the "genius level" for creative imagination.

age 5      98% 
age 10    30%
age 15     12%
adults*     2%
*avg. age 31

This insightful study shows that while you may not be exercising your creative genius at the moment, you certainly have the raw materials. The good news is that it can be regained.

Creativity Can Be Taught and Practiced

Scott, Leritz, and Mumford (2004) found that creativity training programs, if well-designed, lead to higher creativity. Earlier, Parnes (1987) used decades of research to prove that creativity can be improved when it is deliberately cultivated.  

Conversely, creativity is likely to flounder when it is not nurtured. It can seem to disappear, as in the 98% of 280,000 adults who took Land’s creativity assessment. Ken Robinson’s “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” is the most watched TED talk of all time and goes into detail about the creativity free-fall in education.  Diminishing creativity is also experienced in the workplace and families when the culture does not support divergent thinkers and their new ideas.  

People Manifest Creativity in Different Degrees

It just might be that the main reason you think you’re not creative is because you compare yourself to others who are famous for their creativity (Steve Jobs, Pablo Picasso, and Lady Gaga) or to people in your own life who are known for their creativity. 

When you’re in a comparison mindset, you inadvertently diminish your own creative ability. You envision Picasso and your highly divergent friends on a pedestal that you cannot possibly ascend. All you can see is yourself standing in the shadows on the lowest rung of your tiny ladder. Creativity looks so far off, so unattainable. 

Illustration by Jane Harvey

Illustration by
Jane Harvey

In this mindset, all the negatives creep in. The biggest culprit is fear, especially fear of judgment.  It reinforces the false belief that you are not creative and when you are operating under fear you are using a very small part of your brain’s capacity.  

Society has perpetuated the myth that creativity has to be comparative, and if comparative, mutually exclusive: “If Picasso is creative then I am not.”  This reasoning is incorrect. 

In 1995, researcher Mark Runco started working to clear this up by discussing “personal creativity.”  Beghetto and Kaufman talk about the 4C’s of creativity and Ruth Richards has named “everyday creativity.” These theorists all show that all humans, no matter how eminent, use creativity in daily life. An idea or product does not have to be eminent to be creative.

Solution: Practice

One path to progress is to stop comparing yourself to a ridiculous ideal and instead zoom in on you. See what you can do. At its core, all creativity is thinking differently. How can you practice thinking differently?  

My book with designer Jane Harvey, Creativity for Everybody (just came out in Spanish!), is a quick-start guide to the basics. If you rotate the book 90 degrees to the right you can read sideways prompts that help you exercise your creative thinking. For example:

“Try thinking like someone else: an alien, a rock, a stray cat, a high school math teacher” (p. 13). The point of this question is to help you look at things another way, to gain a new perspective. Just like any skill, if you practice, you will improve.  

If you’ve been in school for several years, creative thinking might feel uncomfortable at first, especially if you’re a high achiever. You have been trained to find the right answer.  Divergent answers are not always acceptable. If you find out exactly what the teacher wants and deliver on it, you will likely get an A.  

Good for you to figure out and master the system, but there is unfortunately a huge flaw in the way it was set up: life doesn’t work this way. At this moment the world is changing faster than it ever has before. When electricity was introduced in 1873, it took 46 years to be adopted by 25% of the population. When the internet was introduced in 1991, it only took 7 years. This acceleration of adoption forces us to change constantly. In order to change we have to adapt, and this requires creative thinking.

A recent study revealed that 94% of hiring managers say creativity is important to consider when hiring a candidate for a job; CEOs place creativity as the top leadership skill. You need your creativity if you want to thrive in life. But every time you bash it by saying you don’t have it, you lose an opportunity to exercise it.

Solution: Take a Risk

The one-right-answer mentality trains us not to take risks. In order to take risks, you have to be willing to make a mistake. Once in a while a teacher will come along who encourages you to think your own thoughts and here you might freeze. 

To open your mouth in a classroom and voice a creative idea you have to take a risk. You’re not used to doing that, because there is usually one right answer. If you are asked to come up with a new answer, an untested answer, you might be judged by your peers or even by your teacher. Maybe your new answer is not the one she wanted either! 

But in the working world you must differentiate yourself and you must be able to solve problems creatively. So wherever you are—in school, at work—try taking taking little risks. Peter Sims calls these little bets, and advises that we take small risks and fail fast. 

In other words, don’t let the first risk you ever take be taking out a second mortgage on your house to try a new business idea. Start instead by doing something that gives you slight discomfort, like driving a new route to the grocery store or sharing an unconventional insight in your next meeting. As you practice taking small risks you will become more comfortable sharing the fresh perspectives that you have gained by practicing your creative thinking. 

Now that you are aware of the universal nature of creativity and you have a resource to practice creative thinking, fear is the only thing standing in the way of training it back. (Fear can also come in the form of saying, “I’m not creative” to protect yourself from risk. You now know that this is false, so if you keep using this line it is heretofore a cop-out. Everybody is creative.)  

It’s better to build your creative thinking now than after you get fired from your job for not being able to find solutions to the problems that arise. The best way to do this is to start taking little steps to exercise your true creative genius immediately.  


Haydon, K. P., & Harvey, J.  (2015). Creativity for everybody. New York: Sparkitivity.

Haydon, K. P., & Harvey, J.  (2016). Creatividad para todos. New York: Sparkitivity.

Kaufman, J. C., & Beghetto, R.A. (2009). Beyond big and little: The Four C Model of Creativity. Review of General Psychology, 13(1), 1-12. 

Land, G., & Jarman, B. (1993).  Breaking point and beyond.  San Francisco, CA: HarperBusiness.

Parnes, S. (1987).The creative studies project. In Isaksen, S. (Ed.), Frontiers of creativity research: Beyond the basics (pp. 156-188). Buffalo, NY: Bearly Limited. 

Richards, R. (2010). Everyday creativity. In Kaufman, J. C., & Sternberg, R. J. (Eds.), The Cambridge handbook of creativity (pp. 189-215). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Richards, R., Kinney, D.K., Benet, M., & Merzel, A.P. (1988). Assessing everyday creativity: Characteristics of the Lifetime Creativity Scales and validation with three large samples. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54(3), 476-485. 

Runco, M. A. (1996). Personal creativity: Definition and developmental issues. New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development, 72, 3-30.

Sims, P. (2013). Little Bets: How breakthrough ideas emerge from small discoveries. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Scott, G. M., Leritz, L. E., & Mumford, M. D. (2004).The effectiveness of creativity training:A meta-analysis. Creativity Research Journal, 16, 361-388.


Copyright 2016 Sparkitivity, LLC.  All Rights Reserved.


"Science is Boring"


One of my students, a highly creative second grader, declared, “Science is horrible.  It is so boring.  I love robotics.”

To which I responded, “Robotics is science.”

To which I received a vehement denial, as if I had pierced an arrow in the heart of the robot itself, “Robotics is not science.  Science is science and it is completely and utterly boring.”

This came from a child who is a keen observer of nature; one who is fascinated with chemistry and creates his own experiments; a maker who studies the design and construction of every machine that crosses his path; and a devotee of the Wild Kratts (an animal science show), The Magic School Bus (a cartoon that teaches science concepts), and How It’s Made (a program that goes into factories to observe the process of construction of a myriad of products).

I was truly sad.  After only two full months of formal school science, this young scientist now thought he despised the topic because there was no engagement nor joy in it.

Ironically, the very day of this conversation I had been to the New York Hall of Science (NYSCI) where I was immersed in an innovative, laboratory-based organization that is at the forefront of learner-centered science.  School children in the NYSCI Design Lab that day were designing inflatable characters and forms with what looked like clear plastic garbage bags and fans.  I received a tour of the Maker Space, complete with 3D printers, every manner of tool, and a fascinating discussion about the future of consumer product delivery.  

Considering this, I began questioning my student about how this “boring science” was being taught.

“What are you doing in science?”  I asked him.

Following was a grumbling noise. “The life cycle.”  Hmmmm. This had come up earlier in a less pronounced manner over a month ago.  They had been studying life cycles back then as well.  

“What activities do you do to learn about life cycles?” I asked.

The reply: “We look at life cycles in our textbook and then we draw them.”  

“Does your classroom have butterflies so you can watch them go through their stages?”  No. 

“Do you have tadpoles in the classroom so you can see how they change?” No.  

OK, so I began to see what was happening.  

“Do you do experiments?”  No, but I LOVE experiments!

“Do you watch movies?”  Sometimes The Magic School Bus.  (Oh good at least there’s that!)  

I realized that the kid was right.  He was encountering boring science, science that is the problem with science, science that doesn’t engage students in the exploring, experimenting, experiencing process.  Science that is the bane of science.  Science that says, “We are preparing you for a test.”

Opening Science to Exploration

Tony Wagner (2012) addressed the issue of boring science in his book Creating Innovators.  He profiled a student, Kirk Phelps, who was the product manager for Apple’s first iPhone.  As a high school student, Kirk had a passion for science.  However, he felt stifled by the rigid science curriculum at his elite boarding school so he applied to, and was accepted at, Stanford a year early without a high school diploma.  

At Stanford, one of Kirk’s defining moments was taking the Smart Product Design graduate course taught by Ed Carryer.  Carryer’s approach engaged students in hands-on and open-ended team projects with real-world applications. The projects built on information they learned in their readings and lectures.

Carryer told Wagner that he empowers students by presenting them with different types of problems, not just problems to solve on a test for which there is a known answer.  In other words, his entire approach engages students’ creative thinking as they originate, explore, ask questions, hypothesize, and experiment. 

Carryer also adds one more dimension to each project: whimsy. Thinking about the science activities my student loved, I can see there is whimsy and intrinsic curiosity in them all: The Magic School Bus is a whimsical cartoon that taps into viewers’ imaginations; the Kratt brothers use their imaginations and a mix of reality and fantasy to explore animal adaptations; by observing the way things work and making up experiments, my student is making observations and asking his own, meaningful questions.

So, what if we applied Ed Carryer’s approach to teaching science classes at all ages, from preschool on up?  What if we presented science as an exploration of open-ended questions rather than a set of facts that need to be learned?  What if we let kids make up their own problems to explore?  How might this approach increase science engagement in class or at home?

What’s the Problem?

Einstein spoke much about the importance of forming problems (i.e., being curious enough to ask questions).  Jacob Getzels, a former psychology professor at the University of Chicago, conducted foundational research on this topic in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s.  Getzels (1982) identified three main types of problem situations:

  1.    presented problem situations
    (the problem exists, is given to the student, and has a known answer/way to solve it)
  2.    discovered problem situations
    (the problem exists but is discovered by a student rather than given to him; there may or may not be a known solution or way of solving)
  3.    created problem situations
    (the problem does not exist until someone creates it or asks the question)

Usually students are asked to solve presented problems, those with known outcomes and specific ways they are to be solved.  Some students are content with solving this type of problem.  

However for the highly creative and curious, like my student and Kirk Phelps, this approach to learning is often the least engaging and most boring. For someone who thrives on discovery, a diet of presented problems can lead quickly to disengagement that might manifest as behavior issues, work refusal, laziness, lack of attention, or missed homework assignments.  

Wrote Getzels, “Put in terms of our taxonomy, the production of discovered or created problems is often a more significant accomplishment than the production of solutions to presented problems.”

Carryer’s courses, and the success of his students in going on for PhDs, demonstrate the effectiveness of using discovered and created problems in the classroom.  Discovered and created problems involve creative thinking—originality, exploration, experimentation, observation, and asking questions—which leads to deeper learning, engagement, and satisfaction.  

Taking the “Boring” Out of Science Immediately: Home and School

How can we either introduce our kids to exciting science from the start, or change their perceptions by giving them opportunities to explore science with high-level creative thinking? 

The first step, as it often is, is to encourage curiosity.  

With your kids or students, stage a question brainstorm about a topic (Berger, 2014). Start by asking, “What might be all of my questions about insects?” Or trees, or the ocean, or the stars, or machines, or gravity, or whatever other topic strikes an interest.  Once you have a list of questions, pick your favorites and begin exploring together with books, online resources, field trips, and conversations with experts.  You can do this as a teacher or a parent to engage students in their own explorations of topics that are part of the required curriculum.

The second step is to seek out and expose kids to excellent and even whimsical science resources.  For the younger set, The Magic School Bus and Wild Kratts are great shows. The Magic School Bus is a book series as well.  As they get older, check out How It’s Made and NPR’s Skunk Bear.  Podcasts such a Tumble and Brain’s On are excellent for all ages, actively encouraging kids’ curiosity by answering their submitted questions on the shows.  NYSCI has created iPad apps called Noticing Tools to make science and math meaningful, challenging, and fun.  They also offer extensive teacher training and resources. 

Innovative museums like NYSCI are great places to take your kids. Sparkitivity has been crowd-sourcing a “best creative hotspots” list of organizations to visit or take classes that combine content with creativity.  NYSCI is on this list, as are a number of other science-related organizations, including The Center for Gifted in Chicago which offers some of the best courses we’ve ever seen that are challenging in content and originality alike.  

Finally, don’t forget that many activities in daily life include science: cooking, exploring nature, melting ice cubes, mixing baking soda and vinegar.  Science is all around, and as we can get kids to realize that this is indeed science, we will help them realize science is so much more than copying life cycle diagrams from their text books.

What are your favorite resources that combine science teaching and creative thinking (exploring, experimenting, hypothesizing, originating, making up problems)?

Kathryn Haydon is a learning specialist, writer, and speaker.  Her second book, Creativity for Everybody, is a Steal Like an Artist approach to the science of creativity. 

Copyright 2016 Sparkitivity, LLC.  All rights reserved.


Berger, W.  (2014).  A more beautiful question.  New York: Bloomsbury.

Getzels, J. W.  (1982).  The problem of the problem.  In R. Hogarth (Ed.), New directions for methodology of social and behavioral science: Question framing and response consistency (pp.  37- 49).  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Wagner, T.  (2012).  Creating innovators: The making of young people who will change the world.  New York, NY: Scribner.    

What the Cubs' Epic World Series Win Can Teach Us About Parenting

Celebration and Leadership

After 108 long years, the whole world was paying attention as the Cubs won a nail-biting World Series championship in the 10th inning of Game 7 on November 2, 2016.  Die-hard devotees of all teams said that Wednesday’s game was the most exciting baseball game they had ever watched.  Even St. Louis Cardinals fans, arguably the Cubs’ biggest rivals, were (at times) willing to concede a little happiness for the Cubs.  With the centrifugal force firmly planted in Chicago, the Cubs’ win ignited a firestorm of celebration nationwide, with “Go Cubs Go” on endless loop in Facebook feeds and on the news.

It was as if everybody was willing to cast aside their own loyalties for a moment to recognize a historic underdog and hardworking team when they saw one.  Here are just a few examples of the post-win celebrations: 

  • The Chicago Bulls played a tribute to the Cubs on their big screen and the entire arena broke out into “Go Cubs Go.”
  • The Empire State Building in New York lit up in Cubs colors. 
  • The Chicago Blackhawks invited Cubs players onto the ice before a game in Blackhawks jerseys to present the trophy.  They also decorated the ice with Cubs logos.
  • The Chicago cast of Hamilton broke out into a musical rendition of “Go Cubs Go” during their curtain call.
  • Public school in the city of Chicago was cancelled.
  • Millions of people peacefully descended on downtown Chicago to cheer the Cubs in their victory parade.
  • Budweiser created an inspiring ad editing famed sportscaster Harry Caray’s voice into videography from the actual Game 7.
  • The Chicago Symphony Orchestra performed “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” in Cubs paraphernalia (well this was a week or two before the win, but still. . . )
  • Several Cubs players and super-fan Bill Murray were invited onto Saturday Night Live.  Murray led a barbershop quartet rendition of, you guessed it, “Go Cubs Go."
  • The team was invited to Disney World in its post-World Series custom.

As a friend and super-fan wrote on his page, “Best 48 hours on Facebook ever.”  Being a Chicago native, my feed was flooded with inspiring, sentimental videos, articles, and photos. The spirit of joy and support was alive.  There may have been criticism, but it was drowned out by Cubs love.  You can be sure that this hyper-celebration fueled the motivation of teams everywhere to work hard through yet another game and long season for the promise of such celebration in their honor.

Transformational Leadership for Parents

It was clear that strong leadership at many levels of the team’s organization paved the way for the Cubs’ win.  Cubs’ management undoubtedly has studied the principles of good leadership, as many business managers do in order to be more effective at their jobs.  Did you ever consider that parents and educators can do the same? 

Parents and educators who adopt the principles of transformational leadership can raise strong individuals who know how to use their strengths to make unique contributions to the world. Transformational leaders empower others to grow individually and to apply their strengths for the greater good.

Based on best practices from over 1,000 business and not-for-profit managers, Kouzes and Posner developed a well-known model of transformational leadership with five underlying principles that guide effective leaders.  Here's the five-point paraphrase:

  1.   Model the Way
         Understand and express your own authentic voice and values.
  2.   Inspire a Shared Vision
         Communicate a vision that motivates others in a positive direction.
  3.   Challenge the Process
          Have courage to experiment, take risks, and innovate.
  4.   Enable Others to Act
          Listen to, understand, and respect others.  Allow and support their choices.
  5.   Encourage the Heart
         Appreciate others, recognize them for their good work, and CELEBRATE   

This model of leadership is straightforward: live your values authentically; use visionary thinking to motivate others to find purpose; be willing to step outside the status quo; listen to other people’s thoughts and motivations while allowing them to make individual choices; and appreciate people for what they do.  It is point number five in the Kouzes and Posner model that begs our immediate attention: celebrate success.  

As adults, we have become incredibly serious.  We are tense, anxious, and high-strung. We are fearful about our children’s future, put ourselves and our children under enormous pressure to perform, and treat our kids like mini adults. Even when children have pronounced strengths, we tend to zoom in on what they don’t do well and go all-in to fix their perceived weaknesses.  

We have become critics, not only of ourselves and our fellow men and women, but of our children as well.  As author Todd Henry and Michael Port discussed on an Accidental Creative podcast, critics don’t change the world.  “I’ve never read a great biography of a critic.  I’ve never even seen one in the biography section,” mused Henry.

How can we get out of playing the role of top critic for ourselves and our children?

We need to bring back our joy!  We need to celebrate!  As is clearly illustrated in the leadership model above, celebration propels us to start over again and work hard again just as the Cubs will do almost immediately as they get back to training.  Celebration is the fuel that encourages us to go on.  

We talk a lot about developing grit in our kids.  Personally, I prefer the more empowering word: perseverance. But either way, the promise of celebration can fuel us, the celebration itself can refill our tanks, and both help the cycle of growth continue, even through tough times.  

How Will You Celebrate?

As good transformational leaders, we must model our ideas.  

So, first things firstHow can we bring the spirit of celebration into our own adult lives first?  In what ways might we cast aside our own loyalties or insecurities to celebrate the successes of others?  

We can look to the Cubs' celebrations above as examples.  The Bulls and Blackhawks didn’t have to celebrate at their own games.  For the Bulls especially, the big Cubs' win might have drawn attention to the fact that they haven’t won a championship yet this century.  But they didn’t let insecurity stop them, and went ahead and celebrated anyway.  The actors and actresses in Hamilton, the musicians in the CSO didn’t have to take time out of their days to sing and play the Cubs song. 

But they did.  They crossed traditional or stereotypical boundaries to celebrate another’s win.  Practically all of Chicago’s skyline was lit up in red and blue but New York City’s Empire State, with two baseball teams of its own, certainly didn’t have to give a nod to the Cubs.  But it was fun to do, it was joyful to do, and it made people feel good to be part of the celebration. 

Next step: How might we celebrate our children’s big or small wins, for the sake of joy, perseverance, and making hard or good work feel worth it?  

I’m not talking here about rewards, like giving kids candy for bringing home A’s. I’m talking about being a parent-leader and authentically celebrating according to your own values.  It doesn’t have to be school-related, but it can be.  Perhaps your child just took a personal risk, like standing up against a bully at soccer practice, or conquered a lifelong fear of heights with a recent rock wall climb.  Maybe an older sibling helped a younger sibling in a special show of affection.  Perhaps your child helped you rake leaves for a few hours last weekend.  Your celebration can be a simple verbal acknowledgement, or cooking a favorite meal, or bringing home a treat.  It doesn’t have to be Cubs style over-the-top, but just fun and authentic.  It could even be the simple act of celebrating your child for who he or she is at the core. 

To Indians Fans, or People Who Are Tired of Cubs Celebrations by Now

This article might feel unfair to Cleveland Indians fans.  After all, they didn’t win the game.  Is it highlighting their loss to celebrate the Cubs' victory?  Not in my mind, and that is the crux of sportsmanship.

When we embody the spirit of celebration, this attitude pulses outward and creates a ripple effect that all but ensures that when it’s the other guy’s turn to win, he will be celebrated as well.  If you hold back because you think celebrating someone’s good work might make another feel badly, that’s not the spirit of transformational leadership. 

At the same time, if there are Indian fans out there who are not celebrating the Cubs victory, that is their prerogative.  If they don’t feel genuinely happy about acknowledging it, they shouldn’t do so.  They can keep celebrating the amazing feeling of the Cavs' NBA victory and have even more fun! Celebration has to be authentic, so don’t apply this principle of celebration when you really don’t feel it.  

I challenge adults who are reading this article to deliberately work to bring the spirit of celebration to your own lives.  Then, figure out ways to celebrate your kids authentically according to your values.  Ponder the questions above, and think about that celebratory piece of the leadership puzzle that can help you be a transformational parent-leader.

Copyright 2016 Sparkitivity, LLC.  

Creative Thinking: Key to Your Child's Happiness and Success

You know what an audio recording is, right?  Well, a graphic recording is a similar concept rendered visually.  Many companies and conferences have found that hiring a graphic recorder to visually record a talk or meeting adds a new dimension.  It's fun to watch the drawing unfold in real time and the end product provides a visually appealing recap of the main points. 

My talented co-author of Creativity for Everybody, graphic recorder Jane Harvey, snuck into one of my recent webinars and made this awesome and informative graphic recording of the talk.  It's easiest to understand the nuances of a graphic recording if you were present while it was being created.  But if you weren't, it is certain to spark a new idea or two.  I'm delighted to share Jane's graphic recording below!

How Brainstorming Can Make Your Family's Summer Vacation (and Life) Rock!

As a parent, have you ever felt overwhelmed by the sheer number of experts?  I mean, how could you not?  Storefronts and the internet are teeming with people that purport to be experts on every topic, especially parenting.  Everywhere you turn there’s someone telling you what you have to do to raise a successful kid, a healthy kid, a mindful kid, warning you that if you do it wrong, your child will be in juvie by the time she’s 12.

It’s so easy to become a parenting expert these days.  All you need is a computer, internet connection, and kids of your own.  You can write about your experiences, share your personal stories, and declare what works best.  Often you do that with deep conviction and a burning passion that suggests that your way is the way.  While often entertaining readers, these insights can provide support for one of the hardest jobs there is. 

A major difference now from the past is that there are more voices. The likes of Dr. Spock no longer hold the sole rights to advice, and there’s more diversity of opinion as to best practices.  This can be overwhelming on one hand, but it’s helpful to be exposed to many approaches that work for many different people.

I read Mason Currey’s book, Daily Rituals, which has 150 vignettes describing the daily routines of eminent creators. After enjoying the stories, my main take-away was that each creator had to figure out what worked for his or her nuanced circumstances.  

There is no one “right way” to be a famous contributor of original ideas.  There are some things that many creators do, like take a daily walk, but there’s no formula.  This holds true for parents as well.  

It all comes down to the individual family, their specific situation, and the individual child. 

Another brand of so-called experts are like myself: people who have worked with more than hundreds of kids of all different ages and types, and perhaps have advanced degrees in their fields.  We see patterns, and have strategies that help us understand certain thinking profiles.  

But we, too, can fall into the trap of relying on our expertise and research that can fail to consider the unique needs of the individual—unless, of course, we have an understanding of creativity and creativity tools at our disposal.

Now, you might think, “Here she goes.  An expert telling us to beware of experts, and then launching into advice.”  You have a point, but please read on because my end goal is to make you the expert. 

Each parent and each child has his or her own interests, abilities, motivations, and requirements.  When we use tools and strategies that genuinely take these into account, we can support the individual and move toward more effective and harmonious collaboration.  The science of creativity allows us to do just that, and it’s enjoyable as well.  

Though I am claiming to be an expert here, the strategy that I recommend is not a formula. It is a way to take individual nuances and desires into account.  It’s the opposite of prescriptive, and has proven to free people rather than constrain them.  It makes experts out of everyone.

As David Eyman, Creativity Professor at Miami University of Ohio, wrote, using creativity tools results in other benefits including team building, consensus building, engagement, and developing intrinsic motivation.

For example, you are probably familiar with brainstorming, which is a well-known creativity tool.  You may even be familiar with the four original brainstorming session guidelines as outlined by Alex Osborn in 1953 (yes! 1953):  

  1. withhold criticism of ideas; 
  2. wacky and wild ideas are welcome; 
  3. come up with as many ideas as possible; 
  4. build on other ideas. 

But did you know brainstorming can help you have a better summer vacation and bring more harmony to your family?  

Say you have a problem with one of your kids grumbling through family vacation after family vacation.  You can use brainstorming to solve this in a way that engages kids and adults alike.  Here’s how you might go about it:  

  • Gather your family together.
  • Set a fun mood. Tell everyone that you’re going to have some family fun coming up with all the possible ideas of family vacations for the summer.
  • Present the guidelines of brainstorming.  
  • Supply plenty of Post-it notes and pens.  
  • Write this challenge question on a big sheet of paper and post it so all can see: “What might be all of the vacation ideas for this summer?”
  • Ask for family members to write their ideas (in response to the question) on Post-its, say their ideas aloud after they write them, and post the ideas on a large piece of paper that all can see.  Try coming up with 20, 30, 40 ideas.  They can be fun, crazy, outlandish.
  • When you’re done, give each person a pen and have them mark their top five ideas.  
  • After they’ve marked their choices, separate all of the chosen ideas from the unchosen ones.  (Be cautious of the classic pitfall which is choosing the most pragmatic ideas; challenge yourself and go for interesting. Ideas can always be modified later.)
  • Identify through conversation the overlaps and consensus among categories.  Now that each person has registered their interest, you can start from that basis to find something that will work for everyone.  

If there is disagreement, see if there’s a way to combine ideas.  If not, try to identify broader topics that have emerged, and brainstorm again to build on those topics to find a vacation that will be exciting for everyone.  

This outline of the brainstorming process can get you started.  There’s a lot more nuance to this method of using creative problem solving, and there are many resources to help you become an expert if you wish to dig deeper.  

Based on the Creative Problem Solving method, I’ve created a free resource for parents.  (It’s available through this link for a limited time; otherwise, free to email subscribers at sparkitivity.com). In it, there are creativity tools that will help you identify your challenge (you can substitute any challenge for the education question), generate ideas to solve it, evaluate ideas, and implement them.  I created this resource to empower parents as experts, and to find workable solutions to realize their goals for their children.  

If you’d like to go even deeper and receive specific training in creativity and problem solving, check out the resources and offerings at the International Center for Studies in Creativity. You can attend conferences, take individual courses, and earn certifications and masters degrees.  

If you want to give your kids the opportunity to learn creative problem solving while they tackle complex world problems (or local community issues), check out Future Problem Solving Program International.

The bottom line is that there are many, many tools in the field of creativity and innovation that can help you with every phase of family decision-making: with school work, projects, arguments, major decisions, and more.  These tools help you turn the tables on all of us bloggers so that you and your children can confidently become the experts on you and your children.


Currey, Mason.  (2013).  Daily rituals: How artists work.  New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf.

Eyman, David.  (2015).  Are the other benefits of group creativity practices just as important as good ideas?  In M. K. Culpepper & C. Burnett, (Eds.), Big questions in creativity 2015 (65-77).  Buffalo, NY: ICSC Press. 

Osborn, Alex.  (1953).  Applied imagination.  New York, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons.

Copyright 2016 Sparkitivity.  All rights reserved.

Does your child create poetry, short stories, inventions, musical compositions, or visual arts?

The International Torrance Legacy Creativity Awards are a wonderful avenue for students ages 8 to 18 to share and become recognized for their creative work. The contest celebrates the life and work of E. Paul Torrance, whose work on creativity and learning has greatly influenced Sparkitivity's philosophy and practices. The deadline for this year's awards is August 20, 2016, so your child has all summer to create!

Please Thank a Teacher for Doing What This Teacher Does

Alan Harvey is an educator-gem.  You know the ones I’m talking about: the teachers that truly love what they do.  The teachers that look for ways to help their students understand more about who they are in the process of learning.  The teachers that encourage self-expression and that exemplify Einstein’s quote: "It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge."

Alan is the middle school science teacher at Woodmont K-8 in the Federal Way School System in Washington State.  He also teaches seventh grade social studies and one elective course.  Alan’s been teaching for 16 years and has a master of education in integrating teaching through the arts.    

At the beginning of each year, Alan’s goal is to create supportive culture in his classroom.  He shared, “With my new class I want to quickly establish their personality strengths and bring them together as a unit.”  When he read Creativity for Everybody, Alan was struck with an idea that would help his students think about their own strengths as they studied science, writing, history, and art.

One of the ideas central to Creativity for Everybody, and to creativity in general, is “starting with what you have” and identifying your “creative strengths.”  The book includes a graphic that looks like the night sky, populated with over 50 creative strengths “stars,” such as trustworthy, active, original, curious, courageous, inquisitive.   

For his project, Alan typed up the adjectives from the star chart in the book. He gave each student a copy and instructed them to choose between 12 and 21 of those adjectives that best described themselves.  From that list, they highlighted six to eight of their strongest traits. 

Then, he gave students a copy of the star chart graphic.  With a push-pin, they punched through each star that corresponded to their chosen traits onto black construction paper.  They used a pencil to enlarge the holes for the six to eight strongest traits.

From those stars, students “connected the dots” and developed their own pictorial constellations, imagining what each shape might represent—a bird, king, flower, dolphin, or anything else.  Alan told me, “Einstein said, ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge.’ Who am I to argue?”

At this point, the class set the project aside until later in the year to integrate with their study of astronomy.  Already, students had obtained valuable awareness of their own creative strengths (and those of others) to build upon immediately.  

Alan said that when they returned to the study of space, the students already had a personal connection to the content since they had worked with their own constellations.  As many educators know, this personal connection creates meaning, which is essential for deep engagement (Mayer, 2002).

When the constellation projects emerged again, students created original artworks of their constellations with colored pencils.  

They then translated them onto black scratchboard, revealing golden stars connected by golden lines.

Finally, they wrote myths, ancient Greek style, to explain the existence of their personal constellations.

Alan said, “The artwork definitely reflects the individuals who created it. Their personalities shine through. The scratch boards create a uniformity that unites the class, and the myths were some of my favorite results. They incorporated the self-identified traits with their constellation figures.  Angelina’s daisy had each of her traits on the petals and Erienna’s boat sailed for cancer research, which is a present concern for her family.” 

Creative Learning in the Classroom
Alan’s project is a model example of creative learning.  Creative learning necessarily provides opportunities for students to apply their own original thinking, which can include self-reflection.  It also integrates traditional subject matter (Craft, Cremin, Burnard, & Chappell, 2007; Sawyer, 2006; Torrance & Safter, 1990). 

In this case, literature, history, science, writing, and art were all incorporated into one exploration.  When they are able to make a personal connection to a topic, students are more engaged.  When they apply their own original thinking, they are using creative thinking, which is the “highest form of mental functioning” (Millar, 2004; also see Krathwohl, 2002).

There are many teachers out there who give their classes the opportunity to experience creative learning. They know that if they can get their students truly thinking and originating, they will learn more and the learning will stick.  They know that if their students can get to know themselves in the process of learning, they are setting them up for life success. 

Even though such teaching yields deep learning for students, as evidenced by project results and enduring knowledge, it can be a lonely row to hoe as an educator. 

As Alan said, “Projects like these are incredibly valuable for the students. But teaching like this can feel isolated so I hope to share with others about the benefit of incorporating the arts in our students’ lives.”

Though it may be an ideal way to teach, teachers who do so are often bucking the system by “straying from the curriculum guide.”  They do this at their own risk because they know it is right and they see the increased engagement and depth of their students’ learning.  

These teachers deserve to be mentioned, and they deserve to be celebrated.  If you know teachers like this, please thank them.  If your child has teachers like this, please support them.  Did you ever have a teacher that igniting deep, integrated, creative learning?

Teachers, if you love to give your students experiences in creative learning, please contact me at Sparkitivity.  inspired@sparkitivity.com We are developing a world-wide network of creative hotspots where creative learning thrives.  We’ll be happy to add you and your classroom to our list, and connect you with other like-minded educators.  We know that pioneers must have support, and it is our mission to support creative learning around the globe!

© 2016 Sparkitivity, LLC.  All Rights Reserved.  


Craft, A., Cremin, T., Burnard, P., & Chappell, K.  (2007).  Teacher stance in creative learning: A study of progression.  Thinking Skills and Creativity, 2(2), 136-147.  

Haydon, K. P., & Harvey, J. (2015).  Creativity for everybody.  New York: Sparkitivity.

Krathwohl, D. (2002). A revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy: An overview. Theory into Practice, 41(4), 212­218. 

Mayer, R. E.  (2002).  Rote versus meaningful learning.  Theory into Practice, 41(4), 226-232.

Millar, G.  (2004).  The making of a Beyonder.  Bensenville, IL: Scholastic Testing Services, Inc. 

Sawyer, R. K.  (2006).  Educating for innovation.  Thinking Skills and Creativity, 1, 41-48.

Torrance, E. P., & Safter, H. T. (1990). The incubation model of teaching. Buffalo, NY: Bearly Limited.


Creativity for Everybody Reviewed by QRCA Views Magazine

Creativity for Everybody Reviewed by QRCA Views Magazine

"Creative thinking is necessary for any business, and it is essential in the insights industry. But how to incorporate “creativity” in business has been a challenge. Creativity for Everybody is the best resource I have found to do just that."

Why Teachers Need Parent Input: Taking the Long View on a Child’s Education

Why Teachers Need Parent Input: Taking the Long View on a Child’s Education

Sure, parents might need support and coaching for specific aspects and issues. But when it comes to breadth of overall understanding, parents are the only ones that can see the full picture over the course of time.

Just Launched! Sparkitivity's Creative Hotspots Map

Just Launched! Sparkitivity's Creative Hotspots Map

We've just launched our Creative Hotspots map and are looking for even more great schools, organizations, educators, and creative resources to add! 

The Importance of Parents in Education

The Importance of Parents in Education

It boils down to the little things—and we find that those little things are really not so little. They are everything, and they all point towards the need our children have for us to try to understand them for who they are. 

This is What Happens When Kids' Creative Strengths Are Leveraged

“Motivating, inspiring, and hard.”  These are the words that my former student turned entrepreneur, Nicolas LeBrock, used to describe his recent venture into fashion design.  What these words mean to me is that kids want to be inspired and they want to work hard, if the work uses their abilities and is meaningful on an individual level.  Often, we as adults need only to point out their strengths and allow them to prove their greatness to themselves.  It is unfortunate that, more often than not, they need to look outside of school for these opportunities to be inspired and encouraged.  

One of the main things that fuels my teaching and work with families is seeing students apply the creative light inside of them.  Every child has strengths that need to be discovered and be put to use.  Imagine my joy when I learned recently that a former student, Nicolas, age 15, had started his own fashion line and was running a small business to sell his clothing!  

Creative Approach to Summer
Last summer, between his 8th and 9th grade years, Nicolas’s parents wanted him to do something educational.  His mom, Linda, asked, “What would be interesting for you to do to keep you engaged in learning this summer?”  Since he didn’t want to attend camp, Linda suggested that she give Nicolas a micro-loan so that he could start a business.  He lit up at this idea and decided that he wanted to screen print his drawings onto t-shirts and other clothing items.  He researched and found wholesale t-shirts, built his own website, created products, and began to sell them online.  Nicolas told me, “I really like fashion.  There are a lot of clothing companies but I wanted to make something different.  I wanted to do my own thing.”

Linda’s $100 micro-loan to Nicolas grew from there by his own reinvestment. “My mom helped me start out, and as I progressed I started to make some more money, saved it, and invested it back into the business to make more shirts and clothes,” explained Nicolas.  He tapped into his network and collaborates with a classmate who is a photographer to take product photos so they can market through Instagram and Snapchat.  He even got some shirts into the hands of a famous BMX biker who is going to promote them on social media.  

Creative Strengths Not Understood at School
Nicolas is, and always has been, a kid brimming with creative strengths.  However, these strengths—as often happens, anecdotally and according to a half century of research (Amabile, 1989; Beghetto, 2010; Davis, 2004; Goertzel et al. 2004; Kim, 2008; Torrance, 1963; among others)—are not frequently leveraged in the classroom.  

Many creative thinkers don’t thrive in school, and it’s not because they have a learning problem.  In fact, it’s often because their very strengths—the ability to make complex connections and think differently; a desire for deep meaning; their sensitivity, intuition, and internal motivation—aren’t activated in a one-size-fits-all, standardized approach to education.  Often, these strengths are misinterpreted as deficits because of a poor fit with “the system,” which causes further struggle and disillusionment.

Applying Creative Learning
In his early childhood years through third grade, Nicolas did well in the hands-on, multi-disciplinary classes at his small progressive school.  His depth of thinking shone behind his eyes, and we his teachers loved that.  However, when he matriculated to a different upper elementary school that practiced test-based teaching, he became disengaged.  His mom, Linda, said, “There was lots of memorization and the learning was not connected to any bigger picture. This approach and environment were killing his spirit.”  

Concurrently, Nicolas was an engaged student in rigorous but creative classes at Ignite Creative Learning Studio (the precursor to Sparkitivity).  This contrast showed that his creative thinking ability and inclination toward original thinking was not being nourished enough in the regular school day.

So, we began to apply creative learning principles to school subjects.  To give Nicolas a new entry point into math, we connected him with a professional video game developer and mentor.  They worked together on coding to explore math concepts, and in the process, he was introduced to web design and programs like Photoshop that allowed him to apply his original ideas and design talents.  He soon got a summer internship at an architecture firm where he learned Sketch-up, and was able to further develop his skills.  By approaching a traditional subject (math) in an untraditional way (coding), Nicolas discovered all sorts of avenues through which he could channel his creativity and high motivation to do meaningful, rigorous work.  Ultimately, this led to his current initiative creating an “underground clothing company,” as he calls it.

Using Strengths Leads to Future Vision
More than just an adjunct activity, Nicolas’s entrepreneurial venture has influenced his future vision, his perspective on school, and his self-knowledge.  “I learned that when I get into something I keep going and I don’t stop until I succeed.  That’s my mindset in soccer, and I applied it to this because I want to do well and have a future,” he said.  

According to a longitudinal study that followed children through to adulthood to measure creative achievement, conducted by E. Paul Torrance, “. . .having or not having a future image that they were in love with was a better predictor of adult creative achievement than indexes of scholastic promise and attainment in school” (Torrance, 1983, p. 73).  Torrance went on to say, “My experience and research have increasingly made me aware of the dreadful importance of falling in love with ‘something’ –a dream, an image of the future. I am convinced that the driving force behind future accomplishments is the image of the future of people” (Torrance, 1983, p. 72).

Torrance’s statement applies universally, as it did to this particular student.  While Nicolas would “much rather make designs and draw all day” he has realized that “to succeed more I need to stay in school.”   Because of his work, he has learned about colleges that focus on design and even did an early college tour to one of them.  He could see himself in such a creativity-focused environment.  This vision has motivated him keep his GPA up, and it has given him additional motivation to slog through the hard work that before might have seemed not worth doing in the past.  

Said Linda, “He needed to find a place where he could be rewarded and not punished for being who he is.  Through his business, he has recognized that there is a way in the world where he can use his creativity.”

More than ever today, it is essential that we look at all students individually to try to understand their strengths, abilities, interests, and motivations (Haydon & Harvey, 2015).  As parents, teachers, or mentors, if we can draw these out and make a connection, the course of a child’s life can change in a positive way.  As is almost always the case in such a success story, Nicolas’s mother clearly saw and acknowledged his creative strengths even when teachers didn’t see them.  She found ways to support her son’s desire to learn in a way that he could truly think and be creative.  “Creativity is the highest form of mental functioning,” said Torrance (Millar, 2004, p. 57).  When a kid starts a business based on his interests, the truth in this statement becomes self-evident. 


Amabile, T.  (1989).  Growing up creative: Nurturing a lifetime of creativity.  Williston, VT: Crown House.

Beghetto, R. A. (2010). Creativity in the classroom. In Kaufman, J.C. & Sternberg, R. J. (Eds.), The Cambridge handbook of creativity (pp. 447-463). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Goertzel, V., Goertzel, M. G., Goertzel, T. G., and Hansen, A.M.W.  (2004).  Cradles of eminence.  Scottsdale,  AZ:  Great Potential Press.

Haydon, K. P., & Harvey, J.  (2015).  Creativity for everybody.  New York: Sparkitivity.

Kim, K. H.  (2008).  Underachievement and creativity: Are gifted underachievers highly creative?  Creativity Research Journal, 20:2, 234-242.

Millar, G.  (2004).  The making of a Beyonder.  Bensenville, IL: Scholastic Testing Services, Inc. 

Torrance, E. P.  (1963).  The creative personality and the ideal pupil.  Teacher College Record, 65, 220-226.  

Torrance, E. P.  (1983).  The importance of falling in love with “something”.  Creative Child and Adult Quarterly, 8, 72-78.

Copyright 2016 Sparkitivity, LLC.  All Rights Reserved. 

New York Hall of Science

New York Hall of Science

New York Hall of Science (NYSCI), located in Queens, NY, is one of our favorite field trips of all time. It’s no ordinary science museum, featuring a maker space and design studios where young minds can apply original ideas as they learn and create.  That's what you'd expect from the hosts of the annual World Maker Faire, and they do not disappoint. 

Lessons on Creativity and Innovation from Sextet eighth blackbird

Lessons on Creativity and Innovation from Sextet eighth blackbird

Last night, I attended an astounding premier program performed at Carnegie Hall by my favorite music group, eighth blackbird.  The experience got me thinking about the extent to which this ensemble of six perpetuates creative thinking and has influenced my own work, including Sparkitivity.

Sketchnote: A graphical note taking and visual test with students

Sketchnote: A graphical note taking and visual test with students

Check out this great article on visual thinking & graphic note-taking from French education blog Apprendre à éduquer, featuring Sparkitivity's Kathryn Haydon! We've translated the piece for you here...

Creative Challenge - January: Look at Life Around You in Another Way!

Creative Challenge - January: Look at Life Around You in Another Way!

The ability to think differently is key to creativity. Take the Sparkitivity January Creative Challenge, and engage your kids to think differently about the things you see around you while having some good family fun.  

What to Do If They Say Your Kindergartener Needs a Tutor

What to Do If They Say Your Kindergartener Needs a Tutor

If your creative, imaginative child is not connecting with reading and writing letters and words at school, it is likely that the school’s approach is not playful and imaginative enough to hook your child at this age.  There’s a lot you can do to help.

Book Review: Creativity for Everybody by Kayla Tanksley

We recently received the following review from Kayla Tanksley, a college student at SUNY-Buffalo, who selected our book to read as project for an undergraduate course she is taking in creativity.

Creativity for Everybody provides an overview on the topic of creative thinking so that anyone can be creative and support the creativity of others. The authors write, “Whether you currently identify yourself as being creative or not, you can use it for positive growth, change, and innovation” (p. 7).

The first section of the book starts off by the authors giving the reader “an invitation.” They say that learning about creativity should be like choosing your own adventure. The first part of this book is designed to resonate with the reader personally and get the reader engaged in the reading. The second part of the book is set up to help the reader dig deeper by providing information about each topic on creativity.

After the invitation for the reader, the authors jump right into describing what creativity is not. One of my favorite thoughts from the book was that Creativity ≠ The Arts. Creativity is present in all areas of life. And, the arts can even have moments that are not creative. Creativity is essential for human survival, not just a frilly, optional activity. Creative behaviors are often misinterpreted as “bad behaviors,” especially in rigid settings.

In conclusion, I think anyone who enjoys creativity and its history will enjoy this book. The book is written in a way that is easy to understand. Overall the book was a very quick read and a nice overview of creativity. My favorite qualities and topics of this book are that each pair of pages stand on their own, meaning that you can flip anywhere and read the idea without being lost. Actually, the authors encourage the reader to participate in the book this way. Also, on every page there is a second set of ideas written vertically along the side of the page. The thoughts are simple and easy to understand.

Source: Haydon, K. P., & Harvey, J. (2015). Creativity for everybody. New York: Sparkitivity.

Why Creative Thinkers are Like Natural-Born Soccer Players

Why Creative Thinkers are Like Natural-Born Soccer Players

The extraordinary and important-for-life thinking skills of creative children often go unrecognized and therefore unsupported. This can lead to serious issues at home and at school. Even if they don't have a specific "creative talent," we can look for creative thinkers as we look for budding sports players, musicians, and actors.

How Teachers Change Lives: Inspiring Stories About Teachers Shared by Teachers

How Teachers Change Lives: Inspiring Stories About Teachers Shared by Teachers

When we are giving workshops at schools and conferences, we often hear inspiring stories from teachers and administrators about how they are changing lives, or how their own childhood teachers changed theirs.