Creativity: Experiential Education's Big 'ah ha' Moment

Creativity: Experiential Education’s Big “ah ha” Moment
Submitted by Daniel Cape, author, experiential educator, creativity consultant

Archimedes was a Greek mathematician who was assigned the challenge of determining the volume of gold in his king’s crown. One day, after working on the problem unsuccessfully for some time, he stopped thinking about it and joined his friends at a local bathhouse. As Archimedes lowered himself into the bath he observed the water level rise; and then it hit him. The volume of his king’s crown could be measured by the volume of water that is displaced when submerged. And so the story goes that Archimedes was seen excitedly running through the streets naked immediately after shouting, “Eureka!”

Archimedes’ story is well-known in the world of creativity for illustrating the power of the subconscious and a potential result of its work known as an “illumination”; or what experiential educators call an “ah ha” moment. We’ve all experienced it ourselves at some point and have most likely seen the phenomenon happen with our participants. It’s that powerful moment when something connects in the brain and the metaphorical lightbulb pops on. What’s really going on is that our subconscious is hard at work without our knowing; connecting past events, experiences, and knowledge that finally result in an original understanding or idea for the individual. Illuminations are also prone to happen when one is outside enjoying nature or going for a walk. Perhaps there’s a connection here between experiential education and the field of creativity?

The field of creativity is growing as we continue to understand creativity’s significance on our lives. It has permeated nearly every field from business to education to anthropology to psychology; and for good reason. Living more creatively helps us face unexpected challenges. It helps us make associations between dissimilar concepts and discover innovative methods and products. Seeing creativity in ourselves and others strengthens empathy and helps us identify more connections between all people.

Creativity involves being open to experiences, being comfortable with ambiguity, empowering others to reach their potentials by creating safe and playful environments, and embracing failures as a natural part of the process. Creativity involves originality as opposed to repetition. It requires persistence and optimism, collaboration and trust, and many more characteristics that probably sound strikingly familiar to experiential educators. So why aren’t we intentionally teaching it in our programs?

Creativity is a skill that can be developed and taught, and incorporated into an individual or company’s life; but the key is intentionality. First, it must be understood, and then intentionally taught. As Cyndi Burnett, an Associate Professor at the International Center for Studies in Creativity at Buffalo State put it, "Creative thinking is more than just coming up with new ideas. It is about living life in a way that is open, authentic and curious. It is a mindset and approach to everything we do."

Perhaps there is an “ah ha” moment in our future. The cool thing about experiential education is that it’s already an inherently creative field and we’ve most likely found ourselves being part of it because of our creative inclinations. My guess is that, much like our friend Archimedes, experiential education will have a grand “ah ha” moment when we begin to see how creativity has been right in front of us all this time. It will emerge that we’re already in the leader’s position and are ready to take on the challenge of developing future creative thinkers and innovators.

So next time you’re working with a client or group of clients, have them practice divergent thinking by asking how many uses they can think of for a pen or tent pole. Invite them to be mindful of their surroundings and see if they can identify patterns in their environment throughout the day. Recognize and acknowledge creative acts in participants such as deviating from your instructions in a surprising and effective way, trying something for the first time, connecting disparate ideas, or for being the only student who votes in favor of a certain idea when everyone else votes differently. These are just a few of the many ways that experiential educators can and do promote creative thinking among their participants; and the more that we intentionally encourage creative thinking in our programs, the more we empower our participants to reach their potential.

Daniel Cape is a doctoral student at Saybrook University earning his degree in psychology with a focus on creativity studies. He has over 15 years of experience in the field of experiential education and recently published his book From Experience to Creativity: The Experiential Educator’s Incomplete Guide to Creativity and created his EPIC Cards which teach and promote creativity.

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