When I think about my most creative work (Ditch that Word blog, Living Facebook, Adventures in Pencil Integration, goofy cartoons, a superhero memoir), these happened, not because I deliberately tried to be different, creative or innovative; but because I was intrigued by an idea. I had an impulse to write or to sketch or to create because I found enjoyment in the process and in the product.
I have come to the conclusion that creativity and innovation work only when I am not deliberately trying to be either. In my own experience, innovation happens because of true relevance and relevance happens because of meaning. If I am consumed by meaning, I will find creative ways to get there.
The following is a list of reasons why innovation isn't the answer:
- Chasing the Trendy: Remember how lazer discs were going to save education? Remember how revolutionary WebQuests once were? Chasing after trendy new ideas often leads to a superficiality that places novelty above quality. It's hard to believe this, most almost every app that people gush about will be forgettable in a year or two.
- Missing the Vintage: Some of the best ideas are vintage, but you wouldn't guess that in a culture experiencing historical amnesia. When I read about the "next best thing," I am often reminded that this idea had its roots in Dewey or Piaget or even earlier. Local community centers, multi-age learning, mentoring / apprenticeship programs, open dialogue - these ideas have their roots in guys like Jefferson or Socrates or Jesus or Erasmus.
- Killing Creativity: When I try hard to be creative, I fail to be creative. However, when I strive to be meaningful and to consider what is best, I am often creative in the process. When teachers screen their actions through a lens of innovation, they often become less innovative than if they simply tried to do what was meaningful, ethical and best for children.
- Groupthink: I once went to a concert with a bunch of hipsters. Everyone was trying so hard to be different and ironic that no one was ironic. Or maybe they were, in the subtle irony that in being un-ironic they were collectively ironic. I think the same thing happens with creativity. I experienced this with #pencilchat, where I noticed many people (myself included) saying essentially the same thing with a different phrasing. The more I tried to sound different, the more I sounded the same.
- Overly Cautious: This feels really counter-intuitive, but the more a teacher tries to be creative, the more that teacher self-censors. Over time, the creative teacher might have a few really different ideas, but spends so much more time being risk-averse in fear that he or she isn't being creative. I see this less with teachers and more with writers and bloggers who throw up their hands and say, "I'm not saying anything anyone else hasn't already said." Then, in the process, they sacrifice their own voice.
- Losing Identity: I've gone through various phases where I tried to be innovative in some area - in writing, in teaching, in art, on Twitter. I wanted to be different. So, I invented a personna and I donned a mask and I wasn't honest or vulnerable. It is the vulnerable, humble, human element that makes someone innovative. Jesus was an innovative teacher, not because he said something different, but because he spoke boldly and he shared what really mattered.
- Irrelevance: I understand that outliers change the world. I get it. Fringe people move the middle toward a more radical area. And yet, there is a danger in any system, of simply speaking outside of it and becoming entirely irrelevant. We become the Ron Pauls of the teaching profession. True innovation is much more quiet and subversive. It often involves interaction that looks much more traditional than it really is.
- Missing Sustainability: Innovation often falls into the trap of trying to fix a current problem while failing to predict what this particular issue will look like given the trajectory of the current context. In the process, long-term, meaningful, sustainable solutions are often ignored in the tyranny of the now.
- Too Critical: When I try to be innovative, I begin with a presupposition that the present is inherently bad and needs to be changed. I start with this mindset of "everything is a problem" and then I hammer away at what is broken rather than chiseling down to what is already working. I get this way sometimes on blogs and on Twitter. I place myself above the fray, being the lone innovator judging all things traditional. Yet, watch a group that is pushing hard for innovation and notice the sheer number of poorly constructed metaphors, the loaded language, the straw men they tear down and the name-calling they engage in.
- Little Mastery: It's been hard for me to admit that I need to edit my work. I need to re-teach a few lessons. I need to work on mastering what I have already done. When I am consumed by the need to be innovative, I automatically discount former projects in the insatiable thirst for novelty. However, there is a subtle stagnation in constantly starting something new. Long-term mastery has its place. A quality work takes time. I miss that when I am obsessed with creativity and innovation. It took a long time for me to realize this in blogging. I changed the name of this blog probably twenty times. I couldn't settle down. I couldn't stick with anything. I was so scared of getting stagnant that I didn't allow people to find continuity in my writing.