What is Creativity?

March 20, 2017

Three questions about creativity for those ‘in and outside the tent’

My long-term creativity collaborator Susan Moger came up with three questions worth considering on behalf of those inside the tent (educationalists, practitioners, researchers, and so on) and those who might be attracted into the tent (educationalists, practitioners, researchers, and so on).

Here are Susan’s questions

What is creativity anyway?

Why should I care about it?

Why should I spend my time on it?

The tent metaphor is from a crude expression by President Lyndon Johnson.   [I don’t want to mis-attribute the quote]. Incidentally, LBJ also was reported as saying

“If one morning I walked on top of the water across the Potomac River, the headline that afternoon would read: ‘President Can’t Swim.’”

What is creativity?

Returning to the three questions, I have been consistent in my view that each individual has to take a view on the first question, but may be informed by the conclusions reached by many who had studied creativity extensively. The consensus is that there is no clear consensus!

That is not quite as bad as it sounds, and is consistent with the view that truth is always viewed through the lens of personal beliefs. Plato said it with another metaphor about seeking reality by having to interpret shadows on the wall of the cave.

I explained in a lengthy video a few years ago, how you may still hold on to some constant core of belief, even if the precise way you define those beliefs may change with time and experience. If you had the luxury of an hour to space with a good supply of refreshments, you may find it interesting. I recall mostly it was painful, as I sustained an attack of cramp due to being perched on chair too high for me to reach the floor.

Why should I care about it?

Because if you care about anything, you become more alert to possibilities. Creativity, even before we agree about formal definitions, is ‘something about’ how we discover new and useful things – about ourselves and our world. The useful things include life-skills, what we do, and how we might do them better.

There is a case which can be made for creativity being spontaneous. Some ‘Creatives’ [ugh!] worry they may lose their creativity if they (or others) examine it too carefully. I prefer to believe that study helps move from implicit to explicit knowledge. This helps us discover more about how we are creative and how we sometimes fail to create through barriers which are often self-imposed

Why should I spend my time on it?

Partly my answer to question two applies. A further argument is contained in the ironic comment made by Gary Player the golfer, to the effect that the harder he practiced, the luckier he got.

Maybe there is something in the old saying that practice makes perfect. I prefer the point that the wrong sort of practice makes permanent. It takes a special kind of practice (creative practice, maybe?) that leads towards improvement.


From a creativity session in Brazil, ca 2010

Brazil Miami Sept 2010 070.jpg

Becoming a leader: A matter of education?

January 5, 2015

Banner med logo og bilder


An International Research and Education Conference on Bachelor Programs in Leadership, Whether Leadership can be Learned, and Leadership as a Profession


Tuesday 16th June (lunch) – Thursday 18th June (lunch) 2015


The conference will be held at the University of Nordland in a city called Bodø, located in Northern Norway (within a province of Norway called Nordland). The university is located around eight kilometers outside the city center.


Lately, some universities (mainly in the U.S.; others are to follow on this trend) have started to offer Bachelor degrees in Leadership (not in management). Behind this phenomenon there is an assumption that leadership is something that can be learnt and, perhaps even more important, that leadership is a subject important enough to major on. The phenomenon also indicates that what a leader mainly needs to know is leadership – not management or knowledge specific to the certain industry. Leadership, thus, might be categorized as a profession in its own right.

This conference is meant to be an arena for knowledge exchange, debate and discussion on, mainly, bachelor programs in leadership, but also on any subject connecting to this issue (please see below for a more extensive list of suggested themes that can be taken up). Attendants can, preferably, submit something that they would like to present at the conference, in terms of a research paper/abstract, an argumentative paper, a program description or an experience-based paper. But please note that those without such submissions are, definitely, also welcome to attend the conference.

The primary group of target is all those scholars who have an interest in leadership education, primarily bachelor programs, and either already give those or consider to start giving them, as well as those who teach at such programs or do research that is more or less tightly connected to such programs. But anyone who has an interest in the main theme or any of the connected themes is most welcome to at-tend the conference. This means that those who, for instance, teach leadership but not at any bachelor program in leadership, leaders/managers who take an interest in the debate on leadership as a profession, consultants and many more, are most welcome to attend this conference.


• Research papers (full paper or abstract) on any of the main or connected conference themes
• Presentation material of bachelor programs in leadership
• Ideas, reflections and argumentations connected to any of the main or connected conference themes


Places on the conference are limited (maximum around 200 participants). However, to make sure that presenters get an opportunity to pay after their submissions have been accepted, we will keep 50 places (of the 200) open for presenters until 31st January 2015. This is intended to give those who might want to attend the conference only if there submission is accepted a chance to wait to pay until they have been informed about our decision in this regard.

Please note that by submitting any kind of material where your bachelor program is presented or the like, you automatically give us the right to use and spread your material.


All relevant contributions submitted to the conference will be considered for an edited book, in terms of an “academic debate” that discusses whether or not there is reason to turn Leadership/Management into a true profession.


Submitted descriptions/presentations of (or experiences from or plans for) bachelor programs in leadership will be put together in electronic form and circulated among those who have attended the conference, and also, somehow, made accessible to other than those who have attended the conference.


The conference is organized by people at the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Nordland.


To be formally registered as an attendant of the conference, you must pay the conference fee (please note that you are not registered until we have received the full payment).  The conference fee for the main conference (to be held 16th-18th June 2015) is 3,950 NOK (Norwegian kroner) (early bird rate 3,500 NOK, until 20th January 2015).

Included in the fee is:
• Permission to attend the main conference
• Lunches Tuesday, Wednesday & Thursday
• Coffee/tea/water & refreshments during the conference
• Transportation: bus between Scandic Havet Hotel and the university (which is the actual conference venue) and back, on Tuesday, Wednesday & Thursday (on Thursday p.m. the bus will make a short stop at the hotel and then continue to the airport)
• Excursion with dinner Tuesday evening
• Conference dinner at Scandic Havet Hotel on Wednesday evening


On all matters that concern the very conference and, especially, the program and presentations as well as acceptances of submitted papers/presentations, please contact Anders Örtenblad [anders.ortenblad@uin.no]

The Book with a Hundred Authors: Technology’s New Place in Education

October 29, 2012

Valerie Harris

The “book with a hundred authors” was reviewed in a earlier LWD post. It is just one manifestation of how technology is reshaping the way that creativity and education are processed by students

While many parents may find themselves wishing that interactive gaming, Facebook, and smartphones had never been invented, these and other technologies can have beneficial effects on classroom learning and lifetime education.

Students today are encountering Internet-based technologies in school in ways unimaginable even five years ago. On the whole, education policy makers and teachers alike have generally been impressed by the ways in which computers can enhance student learning in most disciplines.

Effects of Technology on Classrooms and Students

The United States Department of Education said in a report titled Effects of Technology on Classrooms and Students:

“Technology use allows many more students to be actively thinking about information, making choices, and executing skills than is typical in teacher-led lessons. Moreover, when technology is used as a tool to support students in performing authentic tasks, the students are in the position of defining their goals, making design decisions, and evaluating their progress”

Such learning is often interactive. While computer programs and learning models are no substitute for careful lesson plans and curricula, they can work together quite powerfully.

iPads in the classroom

The growing use of iPads in the classroom is one example. High School English students are able to read novels on their devices, then add comments and chat with their classmates about major themes and plot developments in real time — often outside of school hours.

Older students have also proved the worth of an iPad for to foreign language instruction. The wealth of language resources available through specialized apps and mobile-enhanced programs has made it easier than ever to interact with and learn from native speakers.

Even primary school children as young as kindergarten are benefiting from this form of interactive technology. According to a 2012 Time magazine special report, students with early exposure to classroom iPad use have an increased rate of literacy and better mathematical abilities by the time they reach the third grade than peers in more “traditional” classrooms.

App development

App developers have been quick to follow this trend, creating a range of education-driven programs to appeal to teachers and parents both. In fully wired classrooms, teachers can give students space to explore new subjects or areas on their own, but all while monitoring their progress. For Math activities a teacher can direct all students to complete a basic task through an app on their tablet computers, then remotely track students’ progress through a calibrated “master” screen. This gives the teacher the opportunity to spend more time with those who are struggling, while offering more challenging problems to those who need something harder—all without sacrificing time in class, or “dumbing things down” for the benefit of the whole.

Technology is also making several ground breaking changes to delivery and assessment of education including:

• International connections and links between virtual classrooms. Rural students are often able to leverage video technology to stream lessons. Places where it is difficult to find and attract quality teachers—remote villages in Africa, for instance, or war-torn parts of Southeast Asia—often benefit the most from these sorts of arrangements.
• The ability to take standardized tests on computer. Graduate school exams like the GRE and the GMAT are increasingly being offered as computer-adaptive tests. Mainstream exams like the SAT and grade level exams may soon follow. Adaptive tests serve questions based on real-time student performance, and are usually able to give at least an unofficial score immediately on completion.

The integration of technology with classroom learning is already showing great promise for future developments.


Valerie writes for Masters Degree On Line, which discusses graduate-level online education for prospective students. The book with a hundred authors was reviewed in LWD in 2009.

Sir John Gurdon’s Nobel Prize and his No hope School report

October 12, 2012

When John Gurdon shared the 2012 Nobel Prize for medicine for work on stem cells, one much reported story was of a school report which rated him very unlikely to succeed as a scientist. It becomes the latest in a line of predictions of future failure including those for the young Churchill, Einstein, and Edison

In October 2012, the news broke that Sir John Gurdon was to share the 2012 Nobel Prize for medicine, for work on stem cells. One part of the story revealed that a school report had rated him very unlikely to succeed as a scientist. It becomes the latest in a line of predictions of future failure including those for the young Churchill, Einstein, and Edison.

The ridiculous idea

According to the report from Eton College, his biology teacher wrote:

“I believe he has ideas about becoming a scientist. On his present showing this is quite ridiculous; if he can’t learn simple biological facts he would have no chance of doing the work of a specialist, and it would be a sheer waste of time, both on his part, and of those who have to teach him.”

Duffers who did well

An article in The Mail gave an excellent list of schoolboys and a few schoolgirls, mostly British, who were deemed duffers at School only to confound the expectations of their teachers. Among the names were Winston Churchill, Stephen Fry, Ian Fleming, John Lennon, and an excessive number of actors and actresses. In most cases the individuals were rebellious in the eyes of their teachers, although perhaps strong-minded might be another description of them.

What about Edison?

One name worth adding would have been that of Edison, who was sent home from school as someone who was inherently incapable of benefitting from education. The Independent compiled a similar list and mentioned Marcel Proust [“Pas intelligent” according to his Professor].

Discouragement or a valuable wake-up call?

The argument can be framed as one supporting the benefits of no-nonsense direct feedback. However, another perspective is that students of a strong enough self-image are able to achieve their potential despite ill-judged feedback.

A question of pedagogy

The Mail argued that there is too much euphemism and false positivity in feedback to school pupils. Perhaps a blunt ‘wake-up call’ had been good for the young Gurdon. It’s a popular and ancient argument still heard in discussions of leadership style. “Some people need an arm around their shoulders, others need a kick up the backside”. It’s a version of situational leadership.

Maybe the Mail has a point

Maybe the Mail has a point. Perhaps there has been a movement towards avoiding the more robust forms of direct feedback to students. However, there are a few nuances to consider.

Or maybe

There is also the possibility that such blanket assessments are hopelessly wrong. Teachers who dismiss some (many?) pupils as being inherently inferior and unlikely to amount to much, suffer from a blinkered view of potential. My suspicion is that wrongly diagnosed ‘failures’ such as Sir John survive such feedback , rather than succeed because of it.

The pupils who went on to achieve great things were those of strong self-image and less likely to be damaged by assessments which could be harmful to others of weaker ego strength.

How to achieve a high grade for an essay-type examination question

December 27, 2010

Here are a few hints to improve your grades on essay-type examination questions. The suggestions are based on common weaknesses identified by an examiner with many years of experience

Different courses set such different challenges that there is no general list of hints available on how to write a good essay. These suggestions are among those I have offered to graduate-level business students based on essays they have written.

[1] Plagiarism: This still occurs in open-book examinations. Copying out anything without attribution is plagiarism. It is rather easy to detect, will result in a severe penalty and the candidate will risk disqualification from the examination and maybe the course.

[2] Poor citations: This is less serious version of [1]. Take care to indicate in the essay which contributions are your own ideas, and where they connect to sources you have drawn on.

[3] Answering the wrong question: Although relatively few students get an answer completely wrong this can happen. An examiner can award a 0% if there is no overlap with what was required.

[4] Bull****ing: An examination is intended to test whether a student has read and understood the study materials. It is easy to detect even the most imaginative bluffing. The loss of marks depends on how far off the mark you are, and could be substantial (20%- 50%)

[5] Weak argument signals: For example, try not to use terms such as “surely”, “clearly”, “logically.”. The examiner concludes that the student is unable to clarify his or her thoughts. This may make the difference between a good grade and a distinction as it could lead to marginal downgrading (10%).

[6] Over-simple causality claims: Beware of claiming that something was ‘caused’ by something else. These claims are unconvincing when there are often multiple ’causes’ to an observed outcome. For example: I recently came across a statement to the effect that “BP boss Tony Hayward lost his job when he said he wanted his life back”. Statements of this kind suggests you have an over-simple “map” or mental model of a topic. What evidence was there that the job loss was caused simply by one ill-judged remark. Grade loss could be quite serious (20%).

[7] Universal claims or generalizations: If you write “All effective leaders communicate well”, The examiner will test it by thinking up counter-examples. The student should qualify the claim as accurately as possible. (possible loss 10%, as in [5]).

[8] Failure to test ideas: Coming up wiuth an imaginative idea, but then spending the rest of the essay justifying it rather then critically inspecting it. Be your own first examiner. Examiners like to see ideas “tested” from different perspectives. (Possible grade loss 10%)

[9] Disorganized scripts: This covers various ‘scrambled’ answers which make the key ideas in script difficult to detect. Make sure your first paragraph shows you know what the question is about. Really confusing efforts will risk the patience of the examiner. Could be serious (5% up to 20%).

[10] Compulsive scribbling: Some students rush to get their ideas down on the page. The result is often hard to read and to follow. If you are a compulsive scribbler, listen to the inner voice asking “ am I writing something an examiner will be able to read and understand?” (Possible grade loss 5%)

[11] Wrong tone: Don’t get too chatty with the examiner. This is the case even if you suspect the examiner to be that friendly professor you met in your classes.

Don’t do as I do …

Great essayists (such as michel-eyquem-de-montaigne pictured above) break the rules. But they are not writing to pass an examination. Furthermore, their genius shines through their work. For examination purposes, a student is advised to stick to ‘plain vanilla’ practices suggested above.

Good luck.

Pupils Interviewing Teachers: A Cause for Concern?

April 7, 2010

Pupils interviewing teachers? The idea appears to have led to a Teacher’s Union seeking industrial action. But is it an example of a good idea badly implemented?

According to the BBC,

The NASUWT teaching union says attempts to give pupils a voice in their school are being abused by head teachers. Delegates have voted unanimously to support a motion for a ballot over industrial action where abuses of student involvement are identified. Student voice was developed in the early 1990s to allow pupils to participate in decision making with the idea that students with a greater involvement in their school community were better motivated to learn.
But a paper at the NASUWT conference in Birmingham suggests steps to improve student voice in some schools have gone too far. It reveals schools are using pupils to answer questions about teachers’ competence and to help interview them for promotions, which the union says is unacceptable. NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates [described] a dossier which was “littered with examples of demeaning, embarrassing and humiliating practice”.

Turns out that the Union action may have been triggered by a successful introduction of pupil involvement in the management of a previously-failing inner-city school.

Pupils at a school in East London are so involved in the running of their school, that they interview all prospective teachers – even the head. Student panels were introduced at George Mitchell School in Leyton two and a half years ago in an attempt to give pupils “ownership” of their learning… The 70 pupils involved in the “Making Learning Better” (MLB) scheme regularly observe teachers’ lessons and make suggestions about how classroom displays, teaching styles and discipline can be improved.

The MLB scheme is the brainchild of a formidable partnership between head teacher Helen Jeffery and her deputy, head of English, Matthew Savage, as assistant head teacher. It was Mr Savage who laid down the foundations for the MLB programme by asking for pupils to get actively involved in improving lessons in his department. Now the scheme has been rolled out across all departments.

Ms Jeffery was brought in as acting head in September 2003, charged with improving attainment at a school which has languished for years near the bottom of the local league tables. Many of the pupils at George Mitchell come from an estate of high-rise tower blocks which dominates the vistas from the school.

The scheme has had its inevitable setbacks, including overcoming scepticism and robust interviewing behaviours from pupils. Results however have been promising, although the process has thrown up some interesting dilemmas of leadership.

Ms Jeffery recalls how two candidates were invited for interview for a vacant post last summer. By lunchtime, having interviewed and observed both, the pupils decided only one candidate should continue into the afternoon for interviews with the head and other teachers. “The students came to me and said they didn’t think this person was suitable. It left me in a difficult position”.

What happened next?

If you want to find out what happened next you will have to go back to the original link. But you don’t need to do that to decide what you might have done, or to explore the merits of the idea of such pupil power. Or to see its significance for concepts of distributed leadership and for developing the self-esteem of members of social groups.

Is leadership training up the pole?

October 4, 2007

stairway to heaven

Originally uploaded by t.rickards

A recent visit to a leadership training camp prompted the question ‘what’s the point of all this pole climbing?’.

The very reasonable question was posed by a colleague who had not been part of the experience. Where to start?

Faraday was asked ‘what’s the point of electricity?’ Being a bright spark himself, he was able to reply ‘What’s the point of a baby?’

Experiential learning has to be experienced

It is perhaps a dilemma of leadership. No amount of conceptualizing seems to help answer such a question. The fundamental divide may be between those who learn from experience, and those whose reluctance to engage with experience prevents them from ever finding out for themselves.

Case for the prosecution

It is very difficult to demonstrate the direct link between experiential learning and subsequent real-life behaviors. Therefore, the cost-effectiveness of such programs are also difficult to demonstrate.

Individuals will have very different capabilities to cope with the physical and emotional challenges they are confronted with.

Organizations are increasingly aware of the corporate duty of care, and where the ultimate legal responsibilities and sanctions fall.

Case for the defense

It is very difficult to demonstrate the link between almost any form of business education and subsequent real-life behaviors. There are various technical reasons. These can be found (among other sources) in the Chapter in Dilemmas of Leadership as well as in texts on evaluative inquiry for learning in organizations.

The entire Business School curriculum is increasingly under pressure to accept its limitations, and change to cope with the challenges of the 21st century. The rankings of Business Schools are widely regarded as based on dubious mathematical manipulations and rely on indirect measures of assessing educational value (proportion of faculty with higher degrees; average salary gains among its graduates; ratings in scholarly publications …). Nor is there much agreement about the relative merits of various ranking systems.

Students generally rate experiential projects highly. The exit assessments for the cohort of the Business School described here were overwhelmingly in favour of the projects as a valued part of the course.

A better way?

Here’s a challenge. There must be better ways of assessing the impact of experiential learning as part of a business education.