Is creativity something only some people are born with? No, says George Kembel, you’ve got it right now. The cofounder and executive director of Stanford University’s school of design, the d.school, believes that “creativity is a profound, latent human capacity available to all of us if we know how to awaken it.” Kembel’s talk at Chautauqua two years ago, which addressed just that process of awakening, is today the most popular Chautauqua lecture at FORA.tv.
But awakening creativity, that’s the easy part, and it’s not quite enough, said Kembel at Chautauqua’s “Sparking a Culture of Innovation” series this year. “Stretching your capacity, developing it, and nurturing it to its full potential and bringing it out in others, that’s the hard part.
How do we best nurture creativity? We need to re-think our entire learning structure. “If we look now at the folks in our community… who have experienced the deepest personal transformation and have had the most significant influence on others and made the largest impact in the world,” they approach the world as students, doers and teachers.
Instead of thinking of these roles as a linear life progression, we need to be constantly switching back and forth fluidly between the mindsets of learning, doing, and teaching (what Kembel calls “postures”), he said. Lives lived in this constant flux serve as veritable nurseries for creative minds.
He went on to describe successful people who have done just this: a GE executive, rocked by a personal experience, who talked to children to design a new kid-friendly MRI scanner; a literacy teacher who went back to school to reinvent her curriculum.
Kembel defines “learners” as anyone who is willing to open themselves to the possibility of learning; “doers” as “anyone who is willing to have a bias towards action”; and “teachers” as “anyone who has a heart for nurturing others.” Given these broad definitions, anybody can play these roles at any time, regardless of their position or station in life. Creativity comes from the balance between the three. “You don’t have to be a student to be a student of innovation… you don’t have to go some place special to innovate.”
Through anecdotes from his teaching experiences at the d.school, heartfelt storytelling, and just a few wacky props, Kembel showed the audience at Chautauqua that we all, to some extent, already play the roles of learners, doers, and teachers every day. Creativity doesn’t have to be art, he said, but can be as simple as a new approach to an old problem. Switching roles in our lives helps us see things differently, and the more we do it the better for our creative minds.
“The goal is to integrate these postures in a more balanced way so that you can alternate between your learning self, doing self, and teaching self, bringing all of yourself to everything that you do.”