Building Creativity in a Time of Creative Downfall


This column was originally published in the High Point Enterprise.

By Dr. Shirley Disseler, Chair of Elementary and Middle Grades Education in High Point University’s Stout School of Education

Research shows that the creativity level of Americans is on the decline, affecting areas like problem solving, ideation, and entrepreneurial endeavors from those who finish high school and college as they enter the workplace. Many workplaces, such as Google, LEGO, and Disney, are choosing to put play into the workday to enhance communication, reduce stress in the workplace and create a greater sense that out-of-the-box critical problem solving is accepted in adult work environments.

That’s why International LEGO Building Day occurred on Sunday as a way to celebrate the patent of one of the most creative toys in the world. People across the world joined in the idea that play is not just for children.

HPU’s Stout School of Education has embarked on a mission in the last five years to introduce LEGO workshops to elementary and middle school students across the state.

According to experts in the field of play and creativity such as Stuart Brown, Sir Ken Robinson, and American Association for Play Therapy, the phrase “Playing with Purpose” is important to all people in terms of health, critical thinking and problem-solving, and communication. Building things with one’s hands provides the brain with a release that decreases stress, and promotes active thinking, which is key to positive decision making. A child’s imagination forms the building blocks of lifelong creativity, which is why it’s not such an outlandish notion that “Play” can help adults unlock a more creative side of themselves.

According to the famous artist, Henri Matissa, “Creative people are curious, flexible, persistent, and independent with a tremendous spirit of adventure and a love of play.” In our schools, we need to pay attention to the degree to which we allow for creative flow to occur within our classroom if we want curiosity, flexibility, persistence, and independence in our graduates.

According to research of Fortune 500 companies, 60 percent of them seek employees that demonstrate creative abilities, yet America ranks No. 11 in comparison of all nations in the numbers of employees that actually demonstrate creativity in the workplace. A recent survey conducted by the Families and Work Institute revealed that 41 percent of Americans feel extreme levels of workplace stress. Surveys conducted at locations where creative play was interwoven into the day showed much less stress, less absenteeism and a happy disposition towards their job. Being allowed to be creative in college courses also creates graduates that are better at solution finding, critical thinking and ideation.

The future of our country depends on the ideas of people, not on memorized facts; therefore, all educators, employers, and parents should embrace creativity, promote play and allow for the building of thought with hands-on materials such as LEGO Bricks. Stanford Professor James March, founder of Organization Theory, points to four domains (Called the 4Cs) in which play is crucial. First, he states that play is essential to the development of the cognitive capacity whereby neural pathways are formed through role-play, experimentation and risk-taking. Secondly, he points to creativity as a crucial factor in abolishing rules for creative endeavors. Thirdly, he discusses the connections formed through diverse working teams that offer out-of-the-box approaches to problem solving; and the fourth “C,” courage, offers workers and leaders the opportunity to change things and feel comfortable going out of the norm in their thinking and producing of ideas.

Companies interested in integrating play into the workplace need to first lighten the mood through silliness in small chunks; Secondly, advocate for change by allowing a sharing of ideas amongst groups of employees; thirdly, keep a stash of play materials in the office and put them out on Mondays to get the week rolling; and lastly, be open-minded and prepared to play yourself.

-In addition to her role at HPU, Shirley Disseler, Ph.D., is a LEGO Ambassador; LEGO Education Trainer; Curriculum Developer; and Author of “Brick Math Series: Using LEGO Bricks to Teach Math.”
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