Friday, 5 May 2017

Creativity and risk taking

Our vision for Hornby High School ('A centre of creative excellence') is pretty big. Trying to get there could be likened to trying to eat an elephant (not that I am suggesting really eating these beautiful creatures.....)

How do you do that?" Well - one bite at a time, of course. So we broke the vision down into three strategic goals, one of which is "To foster inspirational, risk taking and enterprising leadership in all members of our learning community".

This goal generated a lot of questions when it was first revealed, and in our own minds early justification lay with the idea that successful people are prepared to give things a try, to take a risk, and be resilient enough to accept failure. This left unsaid the idea that there is a basic relationship between risk taking and creativity, something I made reference to in an earlier blog.

This notion of risk taking can be thought of at two levels. The first is the need to take risks to generate new ideas. In a delightful article about Albert Einstein and risk taking, author Steven Kotler suggested:

When the brain encounters unfamiliar stimuli under uncertain conditions—especially when those are dangerous uncertain conditions—baser instincts take over. As a result, brain’s the rational extrinsic system is shunted aside in favor of the intuitive creative system.  Simply put, in an effort to save our own butts, the brain’s pattern recognition system starts hunting through every possible database to hunt up a solution.
He also suggested:
Risk, therefore, causes the mind to stretch its muscles. It creates mandatory conditions for innovation. It trains the brain to think in unusual ways. It trains the brain to be more creative.
So risk is essential to the creative process.

Risk can, I think, be seen in another way too, one very relevant to most us, and especially to teenagers and education. The simple act of sharing something we have created feels very much like taking a risk. The risk comes from the fear of criticism, the fear that others will 'bag you' because what you have produced isn't good enough.

Here is a personal example. In my recent ANZAC Day address at the local Hornby service, I read a poem (a villanelle, to be precise - see if you can spot the pattern that gives it this form). People in the audience commented afterwards that they enjoyed it. What I didn't say at the time is that I wrote this in 2010.

For reference, here is the poem:

What are we remembering?

Oh Glorious acts beheld in history's gaze
In written tomes of acts performed when brave men fought,
Tales abound of men gone past before their days.

Such chronicles of deeds are writ in bloody ways,
From writers who with backward glance their stories wrought
Oh Glorious acts beheld in history's gaze.

Speakers voice with rapture acts that daze
In ways that prompt imagining and thought,
Tales abound of men gone past before their days.

These tales become more mawkish with time's haze
As fewer marchers march with mem’ries fraught,
Oh Glorious acts beheld in history's gaze.

Ghosts of men long gone absorb the praise
Although 'twas not the act their actions sought,
Tales abound of men gone past before their days.

Sunrise welcomes new remembrance days
Do we march each year because we ought?
Oh Glorious acts beheld in history's gaze
Tales abound of men gone past before their days

On reflection it's interesting that, despite my age, I was slightly fearful of revealing that I was responsible for this act of creativity. How then do we expect teenagers to feel? As school Principal, as the one privileged to lead and be a part of such a wonderful team and such a wonderful community, surely I should be prepared to do what I expect others to do?

All of this I write to support yet again the 'Learn, Create, Share' pedagogy, the pedagogy that is the foundation of the Manaiakalani programme that underlies our approach to learning at Hornby High School. This is why we identified promoting responsible risk taking as a fundamental part of the plan to become 'A centre of creative excellence'.

The act of sharing is by its very nature an example of risk taking (think about how I might feel having just published  a poem I wrote seven years ago). This is what we are asking of our young people. And so the act of sharing should stimulate even more creativity. It's not a one way relationship.

Having written all of this, maybe we need to challenge the suggestion I have made about responsible risk taking too. Maybe creativity is stimulated even more in the brains of those teens who are prone to hurtle downhill on their mountain bikes, or throw themselves into a tackle on the league field with everything they've got. If we believe what Kotler said in the article I referenced above, maybe the bigger the risk the more we unleash the creative power that lies within all of our minds.

Maybe bullrush should be mandatory in the school playground? Maybe climbing apparatus in school adventure playgrounds should be higher still?

But I never said that.

Robin Sutton

1 comment:

  1. Kia ora Robin, thanks for sharing your thoughts on risk taking and creativity and aligning these with Learn Create Share. Sharing your thoughts on a blog involves risk taking as you point out, putting yourself 'out there' can open you up to criticism. I think theis feeling susides over time. You are providing a positive role model for your students and staff which will encourage and promote risk taking and creativity. Loved the poem - well done!