Lessons from The Music Room No. 3: Creativity Can’t be Taught

For one year– from Spring2010 to Spring 2011,  I turned my growing family into a laboratory.  My purpose– to set each of us on a Creative path of our own.  We began in the grand central space we call The Music Room.  Our old piano is here and our shelves are stuffed with great books.  There are Kapla blocks to build with and a wooden castle with queens and kings to play with. For one week I’m writing about what I’ve learned this year– about Creativity and what it takes to live it.Yesterday I wrote “Just Do” Cold Showers and Write Short Lists.

A year ago I believed Creativity could be taught.  Today I don’t.  To start– Creativity is difficult to define.  A dozen thinkers have tried in the last fifty years but the concrete/undeniable definition is still at large.  Creativity is still like porn–  you know it when you see it.  There is no flowchart, Krebs-cycle equivalent or educational model to point the way to Creativity. Unlike porn, Creativity cannot be commodified. It is not a process, a brain pathway or a box of crayons ready to go.

Creativity, instead, is an emergent system. It requires a multiplicity of interactions to converge into patterns (i.e., a cultural zeitgeist, clusters of divergent thinkers working at the edge of their fields– each having put in 10,000 hours beforehand, enough money to fund everything).  When so many patterns reach a tipping point, Creatives (See Characteristics of Highly Creative)– and their products, sprout through the cultural milieu like skyscrapers in Shanghai.

My brother just arrived from Shanghai.  He came back totally hyped about China.  He’ll definitely take his children there someday and maybe even live there for awhile. He said,

Just walking the streets you absorb a tremendous amount of energy. Shanghai is super futuristic in architecture.  There are bullet trains going everywhere.  Everyone under thirty speaks English. Parents play with their kids and everyone looks sharp.

One hundred years ago, people said stuff like this about the United States. Seasoned travelers like Alex de Tocqueville hailed new railroads from coast to coast, giant companies still monopolizing trade, landless men claiming free land to improve it and gold nuggets sparkling in small rivers.  Immigrants still arrive in droves to this country shining on a hill but the United States is no longer an emergent economy.  The United States is now complex, grown-up and working hard to keep up economic liveliness and relevance.

Highly Creative people are like that–  complex, grown-up and working daily to Create.  They have set patterns, schedules and tools of the trade to work/play.  They may write books to tell you what worked for them but they can’t teach you Creativity.  Because your Creativity is set at a different life-angle (yours), in a different time, place and among different people.  It isn’t one skill or even a bundle of skills.  It is an individualized system. Just like China will never be another United States.  Even if it were to follow a step-by-step U.S.-based guide to free-market capitalism, China’s cultural roots are vastly different from our newer American culture. But the differences don’t stop there. And so, China is emerging on its own terms instead. Just like each creative person emerges on her own terms, within her cultural milieu, with all her tools, baggage, life experience and unstoppable desires.  Skills that facilitate Creativity can be taught. But Creativity itself cannot.  It is too complex– it is an emerging system and personally unique.



You can’t teach Creativity, but I’ve learned you can feed the formation of creative patterns.  Check out my series: Creativity’s Terrain.

4 thoughts on “Lessons from The Music Room No. 3: Creativity Can’t be Taught

  1. The Chinese are very creative alright. They have learned to flood the world with the shoddiest products . They have no quality control. I suspect they want no such thing any way. They maximize profit and once you buy the stuff you are stuck. What infuriates me is that you can hardly find goods made any where else in the stores. One example is that the city of Miami gave away 500 bicycles to poor families at Christmas and they were so cheap and poorly made.Parts did not fit. If you turn the bolts tight the head broke of. The brake clips on handle bars were so cheap they broke as we installed them. Can you imagine the disappointment in all those families? I bought a paper hole punch the other day and it did not work. Can you imagine a simple hole punch?!

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