Conference of the Americas – workshop summary

Conference of the Americas – workshop summary

Many thanks to all who participated in my workshop at the IB conference of the Americas in Toronto last week. Below is a quick overview of the workshop.

Entitled “The Importance of Community to Creative Thinking,” the aim of the workshop was to demonstrate that creativity is the result of new associations or connections, a process significantly enhanced when an individual is a member of a collaborative community. Evolution has made this a fundamental and unavoidable element of humanity.

The potential for creative thinking can be enhanced in our classes if we see our learners as members of a collaborative community that sets out to solve real-world problems. Here are 11 principles that can help achieve this:

  1. Learners must be encouraged to contribute different perspectives, life experiences, knowledge sets, values, and cultures. The more diverse these contributions are, the greater the potential for creativity.
  2. Our learning environments must be exempt from judgement, to allow for unrestrained sharing.
  3. All new ideas must be valued. Some will be retained; others will eventually be set aside. An idea that might not seem pertinent on first consideration could spark another idea or could contain elements that may be worth pursuing at another time.
  4. We need to encourage the search for new information, resources, and ideas that allow learners to complete their tasks. This is research, but intrinsically motivated.
  5. Failure should not be experienced as entirely negative, but rather as a step in the learning process that can provide a lot of valuable data. As Thomas Edison said: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
  6. Schools should be a place where learners can discover, express, and develop their individual passions. The motivation and knowledge that arise naturally from individual passions can be invaluable to group work and creative thinking.
  7. Our classroom communities need to celebrate experimentation, which may or may not result in success.
  8. Educators and learners must develop a culture of deep listening; this goes beyond the words and includes intention, tone, emotion and body language.
  9. Non-conformity must be allowed. Very few of the world’s innovations or creative productions have resulted from conformity. Indeed, non-conformity is a surer path to creative thinking.
  10. We must de-emphasize standardization, which is one of the best ways to kill creative thinking.
  11. Lastly, we need clear objectives for each project. Learners who understand the goal will do a better job of thinking creatively.

For educators, the challenge is to design the right problem, or rather to guide the learners in identifying the problem and setting the objectives. This is where we come full circle: teachers are members of a professional community of educators that can also engage in the process of creative thinking as they design their classes. Together with their colleagues and other stakeholders in their educational community, they can observe the principles listed above as they set out identify the real-world problems that become student projects.   Here is some inspiration:


Your comments are welcome. So are your suggestions for real-world problems that students can tackle.

Community, Creativity and The Geography of Genius

Community, Creativity and The Geography of Genius

The Geography of Genius is a highly readable and often entertaining inquiry into the mystery of places of genius.


Author Eric Weiner visits seven cities, ancient and modern, that have produced a disproportionate share of the world’s creative geniuses. As he moves through time and geography, from Ancient Athens to Hangzhou, China of the Middle Ages, to Renaissance Florence, to Edinburgh during the Scottish Enlightenment, to Calcutta of the British Raj, to Vienna in the early 1800s and then again a century later, and finally to Silicon Valley in modern times, Weiner tries to pinpoint the factors behind these golden ages. What was it about Florence that inspired contemporaries Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Botticelli, amongst many others, to create what is still considered as some of the world’s finest works of art? How could a small, sun-bleached city on the coast of Greece produce Plato, Aristotle and Socrates within three generations? Why do we owe so much of the modern world’s technological innovation to Silicon Valley?

In each of the golden ages Weiner explores, the period of creative genius was short: around 50 years; they were also intense and incredibly prolific. The more questions he asks and the deeper he delves into the secrets behind these places, the more elusive the easy answer becomes. The support of a generous benefactor was crucial in Florence, while a connection to the past was at play in Hangzhou. Weiner even credits physical exercise, and walking in particular, as a contributing factor to the golden age of Athens. He identifies a very long list of social and environmental conditions, such as conflict, constraints, structure and discipline, risk, education, social or political instability, humour, mentorship and tolerance, as factors that make creative genius possible. None of these factors operates alone and no place of genius contains them all.

There are however three important constants that emerge from Weiner’s book: creative genius appears almost exclusively in cities; it invariably requires community, the more diverse, the better; and it is nearly impossible to predict.  Creativity happens.  It can’t be planned, although we can create the right environment in which is might flourish.

International Baccalaureate Conference of the Americas

In July, I will be leading a workshop on community and creative thinking at the annual regional conference of the International Baccalaureate in Toronto.

The Geography of Genius gives me food for thought because many of the conditions for creative genius are sitting right in our classrooms. As our urban populations become increasingly diverse and the wealth of experience and backgrounds more varied, our schools should be fertile ground for creative thinking.

To be continued…

Please share your thoughts.

Canada’s diversity can lead to greater creativity

Canada’s diversity can lead to greater creativity

The Huffington Post reports on a study published by UofT’s Martin Prosperity Institute.  Canada’s status among the most creative nations has improved, thanks to inclusiveness and diversity.

This makes a lot of sense since creativity and innovation come about when new associations are made.  The quantity and diversity of sources increases creative potential, thus a society where people from around the world routinely work together is a society with enormous creative potential.

But are Canadian businesses and educational institutions doing enough to foster this potential?  Could we become more creative and innovative?