Star Wars Uncut

At the Emmy awards in 2010, Casey Pugh’s Star Wars Uncut won an award. This is an Internet project that invited fans to submit their own versions of their favorite 15-second scenes from the movie. After receiving hundreds of submissions, some made with Legos or pets, and others mash-ups with parodies from the cartoon South Park and other sources, Pugh had fans vote on their favorites, and edited the most popular clips together and then added the original musical soundtrack for continuity. (However, he doesn’t yet have permission from LucasFilm to use the soundtrack, but you can buy it from Amazon.com and play it yourself along with Star Wars Uncut.)

What a wonderful example of group genius, crowdsourcing, the wisdom of crowds…choose your favorite term for the new kind of collective creativity that is enabled by the Internet. Of course, it couldn’t happen without the structure and form provided by the original movie; it’s not some free-form improvisation, it’s more like a series of embellishments on a theme.

Star Wars itself–the original movie–was itself a sort of mash-up of previously existing material. Few of the visual elements that Lucas used were themselves original. Film historians point out that many of Lucas’s visuals were taken from past movies: the lightsabers and Jedi Knights were inspired by Kurosawa’s Hidden Fortress; the robot C-3PO was a character straight out of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis; Harrison Ford’s portrayal of Han Solo resembles Butch Cassidy. And the story, as is widely known, is based on common mythical elements analyzed by Joseph Campbell. It’s often said of Lucas that “he didn’t actually invent anything” (Seabrook, 1997, p. 48).*

*Seabrook, J. (1997, January 6). Why is the force still with us? The New Yorker, 40-53.

Brigham Young University

I’m spending three days in Provo, Utah, where I’ve just completed three guest lectures.

1. “Emergent innovation.” At the Marriott School of Business, to the Department of Organizational Leadership and Strategy (chaired by the famous Jeff Dyer). Teppo Felin, who runs the orgtheory.wordpress blog, was a gracious host.

2. “Educating for innovation: The learning sciences and the future of schooling.” McKay School of Education, Department of Instructional Psychology and Technology.

3. “Group creativity: How collaboration enhances group creativity and group learning.” Also at the McKay School. Rick West was a gracious host, and he was who extended the original invitation.

The conversations after these talks, and over meals with colleagues, was stimulating and sparked many ideas! I very much enjoyed the visit.

Good writers borrow, great writers steal

It was Oscar Wilde in the 19th century who said “Good writers borrow, great writers steal.”

Or was it Pablo Picasso, who supposedly said “Good artists borrow, great artists steal”?

I tried to track down the original source of this quotation, and I can’t find any evidence that either Wilde or Picasso ever said it. The only documentation I was able to found is T. S. Eliot, who in 1920 wrote “Immature poets imitate, mature poets steal” (p. 125).

It turns out that no one’s even sure who said this first, or what the exact quotation is. Somehow, that makes the point even more strongly than the quotation itself, doesn’t it?

Do schools squash creativity?

Back in the 1960s, when the pioneering creativity researcher Paul Torrance examined the scores of children on his creative thinking test, he noticed an intriguing trend: The scores declined in fourth grade. Torrance called it the fourth grade slump. He concluded that the rigid and regimented nature of school was reducing children’s natural creativity. Torrance’s “fourth-grade slump” is widely cited, but there’s very little empirical evidence for it. Other researchers have tried to replicate Torrance’s results, but without much success.

A new study,* in the latest issue of the Creativity Research Journal, also finds no evidence for the slump. The study assessed 2,476 Hong Kong Chinese students using a new electronic version of a creativity test (the Wallach-Kogan), and found an increase from grade 4 to 5; a decrease from grade 5 to 6; a decrease from grade 6 to 7; and an increase from grade 7 to 9. Overall, creativity increased; the largest drop, at grade 7, corresponded to a school transition in Hong Kong from primary to secondary school. This new study is consistent with the latest review of all of the studies to date, done in 2009 by Mullineaux and Dilalla, which concluded that children’s creativity continually increased, on average, although with occasional fits and starts.

It’s provocative, but misleading, to refer to these developmental changes as “slumps.” But the term persists because the belief that school squashes a child’s natural creativity aligns with Romantic-era notions of the pure essence of childhood, of childhood as a pure state of nature, opposed to civilization and convention. The fact, however, is that children’s creativity increases during development, just like every other cognitive capability. I’m one of the first people to argue that schools could be doing more to foster student creativity; but I’m relieved that there’s no evidence that schools are reducing creativity.

*Lau, S., & Cheung, P. C. (2010). Developmental trends of creativity: What twists of turn do boys and girls take at different grades? Creativity Research Journal, 22(3), 329-336.

Mullineaux, P. Y., & Dilalla, L. F. (2009). Preschool pretend play behaviors and early adolescent creativity. Journal of Creative Behavior, 43(1), 41-57.