Ok, so on to the next aspect of creativity that has my wheels turning: following instructions.
Research shows that “building freely” as opposed to following an instruction manual will help people come up with more creative solutions to problems. Much of this research comes from those little dimpled blocks that all children (and today’s parents) know and love: LEGOs.
Researchers from the Wisconsin School of Business and Buskerud and Vestfold University in Norway tested over 130 undergraduate students’ creativity scores after either free-building or kit-building with LEGOs. Those who followed the LEGO kit instructions did worse at solving “ill-defined” problems (those with no rules and infinite possible answers) than their counterparts. Additionally, even looking at a picture of a finished LEGO kit hampered the subjects’ ability to come up with original answers in later creativity tests. http://lifehacker.com/how-a-lego-kit-mentality-could-hurt-your-creativity-1712005926
I understand this idea, especially when it comes to parenting. So much of my professional early-childhood background creeps into my parenting style, especially when it comes to artistic expression. I like giving Stella blank sheets of construction paper, some crayons, tissue paper, markers, scraps, and glue: then just see what she comes up with. This idea is also utilized by our local children’s museum and (funnily enough) the manner in which they encourage patrons to use LEGOs. There are no kits with instructions or step-by-step tutorials. There are simply big bins of blocks of every size and color scattered all over a counter. Kids are encouraged to just sit down, dive in, and create.
This free-creation is a big component of the Creative Curriculum used in early childhood environments which focuses on students creating visual art through experiments, personal observations, and self-expression. Sometimes my organized half gets the best of me and I’ll let Stella color on a pre-printed coloring sheet or make a craft with a very specific outcome (usually for grandparent gifts), but I love letting her create freely. She’s got so many other rules to follow in her little life, so I like letting her be free in this manner.
But…when it comes to my own life…I feel uncomfortable creating something new without directions. As mentioned in my first post, I like organization and outlines, lists and checkboxes. I get easily overwhelmed and don’t know where to start when embarking upon a new creative endeavor when left to my own devices. Wanting to try something new, for me, requires following some instructions. For example, when I decided I wanted to try knitting, I needed guidance. I didn’t know what tools I needed (I assumed yarn, but in all honesty, wasn’t even 100% sure of this) and I had no clue how to start, progress, or finish any sort of knitted project. Looking at a knitted object as a guide to “figure it out” would have simply overwhelmed and frustrated me to the point of quitting before I even started. So my dad bought me Knitting for Dummies for Christmas. I NEEDED the instructions because, well, I DIDN’T KNOW HOW TO KNIT!
I’m reading Make it Mighty Ugly by Kim Piper Werker and I was surprised that she doesn’t shun the concepts of following directions in order to promote creativity. Her book DOES emphasize original thought, ideas, taking risks, and just flat-out making things, but it ALSO discusses how instructions can help people overcome their creative fears. She adheres to the idea that following instructions is not necessarily bad or a complete abandonment of creativity, especially when it comes to trying a new craft/practice: “…only some crafters design and innovate; most follow instructions” (5).