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SXSWedu Part III: Understanding is creating

SXSWedu Part III: Understanding is creating

To the question "Can you learn creativity?" I usually answer no, it cannot be learned, but it can be understood. To understand, in French comprendre, stems from the latin cum prendre, as in taking with oneself; to seize, to grasp, developing one’s intelligence on the subject.


As a matter of fact, the term intelligence has two meanings in both French and English. It may first describe the understanding of a person, a situation or an object, "having a good understanding of its market position." This is its most common usage, but it is not the only one. The term is also synonymous with complicity, of "being in harmony" with a person. If in management we have little difficulty with the verb to have, the verb to be is more problematic.


However, understanding creativity is to place oneself at the intersection of the two definitions. In creative terms, quantity (the accumulation of learning materials) and quality (combinatorial art, that of the novel, both de-constructive and re-constructive) both count.


While teaching creativity for the past couple years, I gradually realized that considering it a "learning objective" almost inevitably condemns to failure. Or, at least, a lot of frustration. Reducing it to an object inevitably projects it outside of yourself. Of course, whether you are in a business, a university or a school, you can use classic teaching methods, allowing everyone to develop some views about it, to build a discourse on creative thinking and action.


But even then, we cannot "understand"; we cannot make them "our own". Ultimately, we do not know because we do not experience it. Creativity remains the object of an inert thought, duplicating and not an intimate, singular posture that creates alert and productive thinking.


Beyond the importance of personal experience and commitment, which alone can enable true understanding to adopt the posture of creation, there is a striking resemblance between the exercise of learning to understand creativity and the enactment of creativity per se.


The best definition I know today of what we call creativity is on a metaphorical level, seeing in it a form of contraction of time. The often-widespread idea that a system or a being can remain the same, always identical to itself, is a thought without any equivalent in reality. All being and systems evolve. Everything changes, always and constantly. Creativity can then be imaged as a tightening or contraction of time in this evolutionary process. A guided contraction because nowadays, a value is given to creativity. What we call creativity is then also associated with aspiration. It is to modify, evolve, and change for the better.


If guided time is the raw material of creativity, quickly arise the issues of speed, location, time, moment, and relative effectiveness of the creative process. It is striking to see how the same issues arise in terms of learning. As a teacher, when I achieve understanding, I realize that this is a creation that then takes place where nobody comes out unscathed, neither I nor those who, in this now, in this place, are no longer facing me but by my side. Each teacher, each mentor, each parent, each brother, each sister knows the particular quality (and addictive nature!)  of moments of understanding, which are always moments "with".


In the context that is ours, no matter what our organization or our environment, we are ultimately called to be "facilitators" of meaning rather than its "pastors", according to the beautiful expression of Michel Serres. Sometimes, we do not share our inability to assign words to our thoughts, to produce or to give it body. This part remains then obscure. It is in this state, this chiaroscuro of my words or my actions that it sometimes happens: "we understand something!" And this moment of exclamation, dense and open, is also a moment of creation. The most beautiful is that it reveals for each a distinct and individual experience. We can then be happy. For that day, the mission was completed; additional degrees of freedom were granted to the group as to each individual person who composes the whole. From there, ordered or not, may be born new forms, unpublished. The only ones that matter: those of tomorrow.


"To increase freedom," shouldn’t that be the primary purpose of the transmission of knowledge?



More from Pierre Balloffet's series on Education:

> Part I: Go back to school! 

> Part II: Knowing how to count can be frightening


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