Habits – they help us to get through the day. We develop them over time. Many of them are helpful but there are some which can be damaging.
We become so use to them, we don’t even notice how much they influence what we do or affect the choices we make.
Until we do something like move.
Our family has moved a number of times – 10 I believe but I might have missed one or two somewhere. When you move, you briefly become aware of your habits although you usually don’t see them as habits.
Why are kitchen utensils in THAT drawer?
Where is the large roaster?
Has anyone seen the shampoo?
All these little things that we use each day are in specific places for a purpose – they help us to go about doing various tasks and getting on with our day without having to pause to wonder where we put your socks this week.
It’s like so many of the things we do. We tend to take the same route to work each day. It’s easier for us to navigate. Ever notice how you feel when you have to make a detour because of road construction? Does it mess things up? Do you talk about it when you get to your destination? Would you discuss your drive if it was just routine?
Routines and habits are necessary for us. They help us to navigate through each day without becoming exhausted from decision-making.
But (you knew that was coming)
these routines and daily habits can eventually lead us to be less creative. As we go through each day, our habits often have us doing things before we really know we’re doing them – turn right at the lights, turn left two lights later – Did you notice the new sign? Was anyone sitting at the outdoor patio? (If it was winter you might notice!)
The routines and habits do serve a purpose as they help us to focus on areas of greater need and not become overwhelmed figuring out where we put the cereal. It’s also why sometimes solving problems is more difficult or coming up with ideas is strenuous, especially if we are in a routine-structured environment such as a school.
What if we want to be a bit more creative?
Franz Kafka was a German-Language writer whose stories would take unexpected turns and twists that seemed to make little sense.
His work, which fuses elements of realism and the fantastic, typically features isolated protagonists faced by bizarre or surrealistic predicaments and incomprehensible social-bureaucratic powers, and has been interpreted as exploring themes of alienation, existential anxiety, guilt, and absurdity.
The Kafka Effect, named after his writing, describes how a person’s creativity seems to increased after something in a person’s life happens which doesn’t seem to make sense such as a spouse leaving, a major move, or another such event. Nick Tasler in The Kafka Effect describes how scientists have discovered that people’s creativity seems to increase when things don’t seem to make sense.
In a series of correlational studies and experiments, Heintzelman and King found that when people believed their lives made sense, they let their intuitionguide their actions. But during times when they didn’t feel life was as meaningful, their brains shifted gears. “Before a trauma,” Heintzelman and King write, “a person was likely on auto-pilot, relying on intuitive processing. However, after a traumatic event, effortful processing may be crucial to making or reinstating meaning.”
This change in the normal creates dissonance. We aren’t sure what we’re suppose to do and our brain begins to look for patterns.
It works like this: When we detect something that doesn’t make sense—when the spouse we rely on to be our rock suddenly starts flaking out, or the neighbor in the Kafka story acts like a horse for no discernible reason—a cluster of brain functions called the salience network immediately activates a powerful set of cognitive skills that go to work finding other meaningful patterns around us. Once it starts, your brain won’t stop looking until it finds something to fill the void in meaning.
According to Tasler, such events create dissonance which creates a “seed incident”.
A seed incident is what stimulates people to explore new ideas because something happened which the same old stories we tell ourselves couldn’t quite explain. The seed incident sends us on a journey of discovery. What we end up finding on that journey is another story.
This seed incident introduces a change to our habits and routines which then opens us up to new ideas or ways of seeing things. These events can can lead us to see things in new ways which allow us to solve a problem unrelated to the event being experienced.
But no one is waiting for a major life-changing event to happen just to be a bit more creative.
Tasler suggests that this isn’t necessary. Instead, we can do things in our daily lives that help us to create dissonance that can lead to creativity. He suggests such things as taking a different route, going for a walk in a different part of the city, meeting with people in a new location or trying something you haven’t tried before can all open us up to new ideas.
Schools are Built Around Routines
Schools and classrooms rely on routines to help organize the people who are there. This isn’t a bad thing. Routine is comforting and helps us to be able to focus more on the non-routine things. Any teacher will tell you that disruptions in routine can really affect students and their ability to focus and concentrate.
However, the routines don’t always lend themselves to students being creative. So how can this be changed? How can we help students be more creative?
Tasler suggest that it’s in the messiness that creativity take shape.
researchers like Kaufmann make a compelling case that it’s right there in that messy, scary period of search and discovery that many of our most important innovations—our legacy-leaving creations—begin taking shape.
Classrooms of Creativity
Re-image the classroom as a place of creativity. There is a time for sitting and working deeply which is an important skill. However, by also allowing for flexiblity in seating and the design of the classroom, students can move out of the regular routine.
Take new approaches.
- Go for a walk before settling in to do learning tasks.
- Take journeys around the school or the school yard but not in the usual ways.
- Have everyone draw pictures with their non-dominant hand and share them and discuss the process with another student.
- Write across the page from right to left.
There are any number of ways to break away from the regular habits creating a little dissonance which may lead to a bit of creativity. It may not but, by building in these ‘seed incidents’, the normal routines are slightly disrupted which opens things up to possibility. Besides, it’s fun and who doesn’t want to have a bit more fun!
How do you already break the regular routine(s) to allow for creativity?
Have you every experienced something like the Kafka Effect?
What are ways you help develop creativity in students within the classroom?
I’d love to hear your ideas and insights.