Silver anniversary

Picture of a cake with white frosting, topped with yellow fruit and two candles. The candles are in the shame of the number 2 and the number 5. The number 2 candle is being lit by a white woman with a lighter.
Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko on

This is the 25th blog post I’ve written where I mention creativity and the first where I feel able to describe it as more than imagination or originality.

The reason is that I like short lists. I like to be able to take concepts and distil them down to three, four, or five discrete words or phrases which help me both understand – and later describe – in more detail.

I found such a list last week when I heard an HBR podcast about, strangely enough, creativity. It mentioned a phrase I’ve never heard, distal thinking. This means imagining things as very different from the present and is how many people characterise creative thinkers – the visionary who can see the edge and beyond the edge. I don’t like being labelled as this kind of creative. This creates the image in my mind of the frustrated introvert, coming up with concepts which are unrelated to the real world both difficult to reach and slightly off-kilter.

More importantly, the podcast talked through 3 other kinds of creativity

  • Integration
  • Splitting
  • Figure-Background reversal

I’ve discovered integration is my preferred way of working. It’s about bringing together unrelated concepts, ideas, processes and ways of doing and assembling them to create something new. It’s where I’ve framed my work as ‘bricolage‘ in the past.

Splitting is the opposite of integration – it’s breaking things down and I do this often too – why produce 100% of a learning resource where only 30% may be effective and required to prompt learning? This is why my drive to improve data from evaluation is so keen. If you can’t judge the impact of individual elements of a learning event, path, course, etc, how do you know what you should do more or less of.

I also use figure-background reversal to reframe ideas. This creativity takes the form of context shifting and allowing opportunity to appear. An example is with the use of podcasts within learning activities in a different way – keep your eyes peeled for more on this with Rachel Burnham and me in the near future.

Being able to label what I do matters to me. I have no problem with being seen as slightly unusual in the way I think about things. Being able to explain to myself why and how I do that is – after a lifetime of thinking differently – is highly satisfying.

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