The Torrance Center for Creativity April 19, 2013Posted by keithsawyer in Education, Uncategorized.
Tags: paul torrance, TTCT
This week, I’m visiting the legendary Torrance Center at the University of Georgia. I’m honored to be delivering the 2013 annual Torrance Lecture, invited by center directory Bonnie Cramond. My topic was “Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration.”
Paul Torrance was one of the first-wave creativity researchers, who helped to found the field back in the 1950s and 1960s. In the late 1950s, he developed the first version of his creativity test, which soon became known as the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking, or TTCT. This test continues to be the most widely used creativity test in the world–often used for admission to gifted and talented programs, for example. You can read more about this history in my 2012 book Explaining Creativity.
In the mid-1960s, Torrance argued that schools should teach creativity, and that curriculum for all subjects should be designed to foster creative learning outcomes. He even developed a series of curricular materials that teachers could use to help students be more creative. He was way ahead of his time–in the last ten years, education leaders around the world have been advocating for creative learning as a “21st century skill,” and I also believe that we need to do a better job of fostering creativity in our students.
He lived a long and productive life, most of it at the University of Georgia, passing on in 2003–and leaving part of his estate to UGA to fund the Torrance center’s ongoing research.
It was awesome to stand in front of the glass display case containing all of Dr. Torrance’s awards. And I wish I’d had more time to peruse his book collection, which lines the walls of the center’s conference room. It was a wonderful visit–to be surrounded by people dedicated to the study of creativity.
Teaching Creativity in the University April 2, 2013Posted by keithsawyer in Education, Uncategorized.
Tags: carnegie mellon, creative thinking, dan berrett, divergent thinking, stanford, studio model, university of kentucky
Colleges and universities around the United States are increasingly introducing creativity into their undergraduate curriculum. They’re responding to national calls for greater creativity and entrepreneurship, and hoping to help solve pressing social problems–climate change, income inequality, global water scarcity. These challenging problems can’t be solved only with technical knowledge, or with the standard textbook procedures. In most cases, they require innovative interdisciplinary teams. Influential national reports from the Business Roundtable and the Council on Competitiveness have argued that our schools need to “educate for innovation,” that we need to transform the way we teach students. Best-sellers by authors like Dan Pink and Tom Friedman, and a popular TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson, have spread the message widely.
Colleges are now getting the message. Many of them are now requiring students to participate in creative activities, or to take courses in creative thinking, as writer Dan Berrett describes in this week’s Chronicle of Higher Education.* Starting this Fall, Stanford will require all incoming students to take at least one course in “creative expression.” Students at Carnegie Mellon now have to satisfy a “creating” requirement, when they create a painting or a musical composition, or design and build a robot, or develop a creative experimental design. Both the University of Kansas and the City University of New York have recently adopted general education requirements that all students take a course in creative thinking. The University of Kentucky requires all 20,000 undergraduates to take a three-credit course in creativity.
The goal is to help students learn about how creativity works; about how to negotiate the twists and turns in the creative process; and to develop their own confidence in their ability to generate creative solutions. I completely support these curricular changes; after all, the 21st century is the creative age, and every career is going to require creative thinking (except for the repetitive jobs that are being automated anyway). Most graduates will change jobs multiple times; many of them will end up in careers that don’t even exist today. They need creativity, adaptability, and flexibility more than just about any other course we might require.
There are lots of challenges to getting this right. First, creativity research shows that you get the best results when you teach creativity within the context of a specific discipline (rather than teaching one “general creativity” course). This means that if you want creative physicists, then your physics department classes need to be changed; if you want creative computer scientists, then the computer science curriculum needs to be changed. If you just add a three-credit creativity course, but then students get the same old memorize-and-regurgitate curriculum in their STEM classes, the creativity course won’t be able to overcome the uncreative STEM teaching.
Second, different departments on campus are likely to have different perspectives on what counts as “creativity.” The professors in the art school and the music department often associate creativity with the arts; but creativity is important in all disciplines, even in science and math, and especially in engineering. (The Engineer of 2020 report, by the National Academy of Engineering, starts with the sentence “Engineering is a profoundly creative occupation.”) If you’re taking a piano class and memorizing a composition by Beethoven for the piano, is that really creative? And what about a computer science class where you design a user interface for a web site? That certainly seems creative… but, what if you’re designing a new database algorithm for a large international bank? Isn’t that creative too? (Even though the soulless depths of a bank’s back office seem to be about as far away from creativity as one can get…)
This is one reason that I’m now studying how professors teach in schools of art and design and architecture. These professors have been teaching for creativity for decades, while at the same time guiding their students towards learning important discipline-specific skills and procedures. Their teaching is domain specific, which is perfectly aligned with creativity research. My hope is that by documenting this “studio model,” I can draw out important lessons for how to reform teaching in science, math, and engineering.
I’m glad to see that so many universities are responding to the need for greater creativity!
*Dan Berrett. “The Creativity Cure.” Chronicle of Higher Education, April 1, 2013
Sequestration Rhymes March 20, 2013Posted by keithsawyer in Uncategorized.
Tags: american federation of government employees, john kluczynski federal building, protest
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A protest against the automatic budget cuts, known as “sequestration,” is taking place today in Chicago. The organizers had lots of trouble coming up with catchy protest chants. Here’s the best they could come up with (according to the Wall Street Journal):
- Thank you for the irritation, We say no to sequestration
- We have major detestation, for your idea of sequestration
- Congress should have sterilization, when they thought of sequestration
- Hey we ask for dispensation, from your fast, called sequestration (you have to understand Lent to get this one)
- Congress needs some liquidation, they dreamed up this sequestration.
*Elizabeth Williamson, March 20 2013, “Demonstration against sequestration has reasons, but few rhymes.” Wall Street Journal page A1. (Awesome headline, by the way!)
Intellectual Property Law Update March 15, 2013Posted by keithsawyer in Organizational innovation, Uncategorized.
Tags: copyright, first to file, first to invent, library of congress, patent, pto, sound recordings
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Today’s Wall Street Journal reports two new developments in U.S. IP law.
First, on Saturday March 16, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) is dramatically changing its patent system, from a “first to invent” to a “first to file.”* Under the old first-to-invent system, if you could document that you were the first person to come up with an idea, you got the rights to that idea–even if someone else had filed a patent for that idea first. So what’s wrong with that? It sounds logical: if you thought of it first, it shouldn’t matter that you didn’t run to the PTO before everyone else.
There are two problems: First, every other country in the world uses a first-to-file system, which means if you filed first for the patent on the idea, it’s yours, no matter who can prove they really thought of it two years before you did (from their lab notebooks or whatever). In an increasingly international economy, having our patent system align with the rest of the world is a big deal.
Second, under first-to-invent, imagine how complex the court cases get, when some inventor somewhere says that they actually thought of that idea five years ago. Then, lawyers are poring over old lab notebooks and reading hundreds of emails. It might sound simple: All you have to do is find the email that contains the idea on a certain date–but in fact, it always takes a lot of complex interpretation. Was this lab notebook sketch really evidence of the idea? Usually, it’s close but not quite exactly the idea that’s in the patent. Many inventors think their idea really was this idea, but everyone thinks their idea has a broader scope than it really does under patent law. Companies have been spending billions defending themselves against patent lawsuits, and this change is intended to reduce the litigation.
The second article** talks about copyright protection on sound recordings. The Library of Congress wants to convert their old (and decaying) sound recordings to digital, and then make these digital versions available to their patrons. And it turns out, that’s illegal for something like 177 years after the recording was originally made. The copyright protection even for the oldest recordings, made when the technology was first invented back in the 19th century, will not end until 2067 at the earliest. In Europe, in contrast, sound recordings enter the public domain 50 years after their initial release.
The more I learn about IP law, the more I realize it’s a huge complicated mess. I’ve been impressed with my IP law colleagues, negotiating complex issues at the intersection of law, economy, and psychology of creativity (hence my involvement with the issue). But as I concluded back in 2007 in my book Group Genius, patent and copyright regimes today are too restrictive, and this is reducing societal innovation.
*Ashby Jones, “Inventors race to file patents.” WSJ March 15, 2013, p. B6
**Terry Teachout, “Copyright protection that serves to destroy.” WSJ March 15, 2013, p. D6
Bringing Together Copyright and Patent Law February 25, 2013Posted by keithsawyer in Uncategorized.
Tags: american law institute, copyright, dcma, georgetown law school, patent, stephen breyer
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I’ve just participated in a small conference on copyright and patent law, hosted by the American Law Institute and Georgetown University Law Center, a few steps from Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Of the 40 people in the room, I was the only one who was not a lawyer or a legal scholar—I was invited to contribute perspectives from creativity research. I was honored to be in the room, because these were some of the most highly respected people working in intellectual property—scholars from Stanford and NYU; senior legal counsel from Google and Walt Disney; judges on the Federal Circuit Court; and our lunch speaker, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. He impressed the hell out of me…a great speaker, savvy in the political ways of Washington, and a brilliant mind. The smartest guy in the room–and in this room, that was saying a lot.
Although a lot of the legal terminology went over my head—“doctrine of equivalence” and “settled expectation”—it was really stimulating. After all, the research shows that one of the best ways to stimulate creativity is to learn something about a new field related to your own. I give this advice in my new book, Zig Zag (on pages 67 and 68):
Branch out: Always start with your core area of expertise—but don’t stop there. Branch out and study subjects in every area that is somehow related to your problem….Successful creators are curious by nature. They ask questions and listen closely to the answers, even when the information has no obvious relationship to what they’re working on at the moment.
This conference was perfect for me, because intellectual property lawyers think about creativity every day, but using a totally different language and perspective from my creativity research colleagues. Here are some of the key themes I took from the day:
- The panel I spoke on discussed how (and whether) patents and copyrights provide incentives to creators to create. The research shows, not very much. Creators almost never think about patents or copyrights; when they do, they mostly get annoyed and consider them to be a hassle. Lots of creativity takes place in areas which are not eligible for patents or copyrights—from top chefs inventing new recipes, to the time-consuming and effortful work of writing fan fiction.
- Do judges even need to pay attention to what these scholars think patents and copyrights should do? After all, isn’t the role of a judge simply to interpret the statutes as written by Congress? I was a bit surprised to discover that pretty much everyone in the room thinks this is naïve and simplistic. The statutes are thought to be broad and ambiguous, open to interpretation. And after ten or twenty years, things change so much—and so much case law develops—that the statute really isn’t that helpful any more.
- Justice Breyer was asked, “We have a bumper crop of IP cases before the Supreme Court; is there an increased interest in these issues?” Breyer’s response was that the legal community has been saying that the Federal Circuit Court (which handles all patent appeals for the entire U.S.) has become “too patent friendly,” and the Supreme Court is listening and essentially, checking to see if that’s true.
- A common theme was the tension between generality and specificity. Patent law is general—it applies to all technologies and scientific domains. One could imagine a more specific regime; for example, the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DCMA) is a statute concerning intellectual property that is specific (to digital rights and copyrights) rather than general. My sense was that the consensus was in favor of general regime and against specific regimes. A second manifestation of this tension is with the courts; the Federal Circuit Court handles all patent appeals, which means those judges develop specialized knowledge about patents. Before the Federal Circuit was created, patent appeals were heard in the regional District Courts, by judges who heard appeals of every kind of decision—a more general role. Most scholars seem to think this is a good idea, although the Federal Circuit has been widely criticized, as Justice Breyer noted, for being too patent friendly.
The stated theme of the conference was “bringing together copyright and patent law in court,” and I’m not sure we got any good answers for how to do that. But I probably only think that because I’m not part of this legal community; the folks I met there told me that copyright experts and patent experts are like people from two different planets, who rarely come together. In the courts, the Federal Circuit handles patents and the District Courts handle copyrights. So I’m pretty sure the conference organizers would consider the event a success, simply by getting copyright people and patent people in the same room together.
I stayed one extra day, and toured several museums. The high point was visiting the old Patent Office, just a few blocks from the conference, which had a special exhibit of historic patent models from the 19th century. The building also houses the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian Museum of American Art. And–it’s a bit geeky–but I also loved the Postal History Museum, in the old post office building right next to Union Station. If you want to learn about facer-canceller machines, or about the handmade artwork in old cancellation stamps, this is the place for you!
Is Innovation Dwindling in Importance? January 31, 2013Posted by keithsawyer in Uncategorized.
Tags: angry birds, great innovation debate, john horgan, matt ridley, the end of science
Take a look at the cover story of the January 12 issue of the Economist magazine. Inside, the leading editorial is titled “The Great Innovation Debate.” This refers to a growing belief, among academics and venture capitalists, that anything new that we invent will just not be as important and life-changing as all of the things we’ve already invented. Think of how much the invention of electricity changed our everyday lives. Computers are cool and fun, but no one would argue that they’ve changed the world as much. Think of how much the invention of antibacterial medications has been; we no longer worry about polio or syphilis or tuberculosis. And even before that, think back to the time when cities figured out how to handle urban sanitation, resulting in clean water and a drastic reduction in disease. Compared to all of these, Angry Birds or Windows 8 or the iPhone just don’t seem all that important.
If this is true, it’s a problem because innovation is the driver of productivity increase, and productivity increase is the driver of a higher quality of life.
I was reminded of a 1998 article in MIT’s Technology Review, inspired by John Horgan’s 1997 book The End of Science: Facing the Limits of Knowledge in the Twilight of the Scientific Age. Horgan’s book, and the magazine article, argued that scientists had already made all of the most important discoveries. We know the basic structure of matter. We know how cells and genes work (at least, the broader outlines). We know the structure of the universe and the cosmos. Horgan’s point was that anything else we discover is just going to be details that fill out the big picture that we already know. I mailed in an objection to this that was published in a later issue: My objection is that Horgan focused on the natural sciences, while our biggest lack of knowledge today is in the social sciences. (This is one of the reasons I chose a career in the social sciences…I thought there was more that remained undiscovered than in physics or biology.)
The Economist rejects the argument that innovation is dwindling, making the counter-argument that “many more brains are at work now than were 100 years ago” and also that communication technology like the Internet makes it possible for all of these people, and their ideas, to come together more effectively. This is the argument that Matt Ridley made in his 2011 book The Rational Optimist; he famously argues that innovation comes when “ideas have sex” and the more ideas, and the more “sex” (idea interchange), the more innovation–and this is made possible by the Internet.
I can see the logic in both sides of the argument. It’s hard to imagine an innovation as important as clean water or electricity or safe surgery. But on the other hand, there were scholars back in 1900 who famously stated that humans had already discovered everything worth discovering. So what’s your opinion on “The great innovation debate”?
Ten Travel Necessities January 27, 2013Posted by keithsawyer in Uncategorized.
Tags: booking.com, flighttrack, tripit
My Friday night flight home from the creativity workshop in New Jersey was cancelled due to snow, and I found myself with an unscheduled night in an airport hotel. I was SO glad that I’d brought my usual “necessary travel items,” a list developed from trial and error as I’ve traveled to keynotes, workshops, and academic conferences over the years. Here’s my list of ten things I always make sure to pack. Please comment and share what’s on your own list!
I saved the best and most unusual one for last!
1. iPhone, with the travel apps TripIt, FlightTrack Pro (it receives airline updates minutes before the staff at the gate know), and Booking.com (find and book last-minute hotel reservations, at guaranteed lowest price available)
2. An extra set of underwear and socks
3. Lots of ibuprofen
4. A stack of all the magazines that I never have time to read while at home
5. A shoehorn, for getting my shoes back on after getting through security
6. Bose QuietComfort 15 noise-cancelling headphones (so expensive that I waited years to buy them, but so totally worth it and now I can’t imagine traveling without them)
7. Eyecovers and wax earplugs, for better sleeping
8. Tide To-Go Stick instant stain remover (am I a klutz or what? I end up using this on every single trip)
9. Bandaids (for foot blisters, finger cuts…something always comes up…see “klutz” above)
10. A three-plug wall outlet so you can always share with one of those people who’ve already taken all of the wall outlets in the airport terminal (this is a fancy one from Belkin but you can buy cheap ones at any hardware store)
Learning Spaces and 21st Century Skills January 22, 2013Posted by keithsawyer in Education, Uncategorized.
Tags: architecture, creativity, jeanne narum, learning spaces collaboratory, srg, traditional classrooms
Take a look at this fascinating graphic (click on the link, it’s a pdf):
A Fabric of Learning in Spaces 2013
(developed by the architecture firm SRG and Jeanne Narum of the Learning Spaces Collaboratory)
At the left, you’ll see a list of 21st century skills, including Adaptability, Collaboration, and Innovation.
At the top, you’ll see a list of various types of physical spaces that are found on college campuses.
The content of the graphic shows to what extent each skill is fostered in each type of space. There is so much rich information here, but the first thing to notice is that “Traditional Classrooms” do the least to foster these skills. And “Tiered Classrooms” (like you find in a business school) aren’t much better.
So what do you think the college campus of the future should look like? What will we do with all of those lecture halls? After all, if this graphic is correct, then why wouldn’t we “flip” all classrooms and have all lectures videotaped and delivered over the Internet?
Check Out The Awesome Cover Design of ZIG ZAG, My New Book January 12, 2013Posted by keithsawyer in Uncategorized.
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Thank you to everyone who helped select the title for my new creativity advice book, ZIG ZAG (in the comments on this blog post). Last month, the awesome art team at my publisher, Jossey-Bass, spent a few weeks coming up with different cover ideas. I am so excited by the final cover design, and here it is! The creative process that led to this cover was a perfect example of the zig-zag nature of creativity–wandering and exploratory, with several dead ends, and with many steps along the way.
ZIG ZAG will be published in late March, and you can now pre-order it here.