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 callThe 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. My previous post: Creativity Can Be Learned.
There are two creative-types: Creators and Responders. Both creative-types produce creative work, but they work very differently.
Creators constantly put out new domain-specific stuff and don’t even wonder about messing up. With proper tools and protected free time they’re off producing. They master their own energy for quiet productivity and work prodigiously with minimal restriction. From my observations, their creative-development sky-rockets between ages eight and ten years old.
My nine-year old son is a Creator-type. He’s busy all the time– not with homework, chores, video games or sports. Instead he’s mastering a domain– Lego design. He takes breaks to play with his sisters, help tidy up the house or sleep. But the quotidian in general (mealtimes, showers) are superfluous unless combined with Lego-time. Check out some of his daily domain-related activities:
- reading Lego History books (yes, they do exist),
- designing Lego kits on his computer
- building new scenarios and characters using pieces from Lego kits,
- making Lego stop-motion videos ( he’ll soon start posting on YouTube),
- calling friends to talk about Legos,
- talking to his siblings (and anyone else who will listen) about his latest Lego creation/project,
- watching Lego videos on You-Tube,
- updating his page on the Lego social site,
- writing a screenplay for a Lego movie (which he’ll start making soon),
- writing the Lego company in Billund, Denmark (no response, yet) asking for a job as a designer,
- reading Lego Brickmaster magazine,
- collecting free tickets to Legoland (from magazine, etc)
He organizes his days to produce. He learns and makes. He talks and makes. He makes new stuff everyday. He goes to bed excited with a head-full of ideas for the next day’s projects. No doubt about it– he’s a Creator-type. All my son needs is free time (he must control his schedule) and some tools. We give him that. So he creates constantly, fully engaged.
Another child of mine also created constantly and fully engaged when she was nine years old. We gave her free time (she also controlled her own schedule) and some tools. Her domain– writing. Check out some of her daily domain-related activities:
- writing short stories
- writing sketches and observations
- writing plays (and faxing them to cousins so they could start memorizing their lines)
- listening to audio-books
- writing/reporting/editing a newspaper she founded
- learning newspaper-making software
- sending newspapers to relatives and friends across the US
- writing a children’s novel
- walking outside– thinking up new plots for stories
- writing in her journal
- writing letters to cousins
- writing the introduction to her autobiography
Drawing and painting (which she also enjoyed) got less time as she got older because she needed more time to write. No doubt about it– she’s also a great example of a Creator-type.
Albert Einstein was also this type. His domain– theoretical physics. Einstein didn’t make stuff but still constantly produced. He constantly produced new thoughts. He walked and thought. He read and thought. He ate and thought. He sat still and thought. He wrote and thought. He took breaks to converse (usually about big ideas– peace, religion) or play Mozart on his violin– but mostly, he thought. Not all his thoughts were ground-breaking. Most were not. But all this time thinking eventually gave him the intellectual heft to produce the Theory of Relativity.
Responders also produce creatively (eventually) but spend major time (especially in childhood) noting (mostly unconsciously) the activities of others. They produce as a response to others. Their creative domain– other people. Responders write, cook, dance or build for fun but their creative potential lies elsewhere– in the realities of the human condition. They take in what others feel, think and experience as if by osmosis. Because they are so other-oriented, many responders lose creative drive (about the same time Creators take-off– fourth grade) in favor of service to others. For responders, Creative drive is maintained consciously. They have to want to be Creative. They need tools and protected free-time, but they also need prompts. Responsive creativity emerges as an ongoing conversation of sorts. Responders play idea ping-pong. My eleven year old daughter is a Responder-type. When she walks in a room she immediately intuits the emotional climate there. She tracks my moods and everyone else’s, for that matter. She does this naturally, as if by osmosis. Check out some of the ways she spends her free time and note their great variety (as opposed to the examples above):
- playing the piano
- texting friends
- taking long nature walks
- reading historical fiction,
- organizing homework
- making the baby giggle
- looking up horses (she wants one very badly) to buy–online
- helping siblings do stuff (i.e., reaching a high cereal box, gouache-painting)
- attending extra-curricular classes (science, pottery-making, etc.)
- listening to audio-books
- riding her bicycle
- wondering what to do next
These activities seem energy-neutral for her (except for giggling with the baby). They steady her energy but add none to her reserves. Her intellect and energy to do runs on people-powered batteries. A full day with friends leaves her bouncing around the house like Tigger– full of energy and ready for anything. But if I act tired or grumpy, her energy disperses into the breeze and she sticks to what’s required. Responders need proper tools and protected alone time AND people (family, friends) charged with positive energy as well as creative peers to play/work with. Everyone benefits from creative peers but responders Create because of them. Their creativity requires partners. Without partners they don’t play at all and produce nothing original.
Mother Teresa, deeply moved by the plight of the poorest of Calcutta, spent her life holding them, loving them and feeding them. But she did more than aid people one-to-one. She responded by creating organizations so more people could reach the poor and help out. I don’t know how my eleven year old will make her mark in the world. I cannot yet see the scope of her creative contribution. But I am learning how she functions. She is clearly a Responder. So I’ll do my best to give her what she needs– tools, protected time, creative peers/people and me.
Jesus Christ was also a Responder. Try to imagine Jesus without his Father, his disciples, the ruling sacerdotal class or the masses of people needing inspiration in a Palestine under Roman siege. Jesus noted the human condition and changed the world. He responded to the people (their needs, ideas, fears and troubles) around him. No people. No Jesus.
Jessica Jackley, co-founder of Kiva.org is a current-day example of a Responder responding to people in her world.
Her TED Conference presentation (below) is worth watching:
Creators are easy to spot because they are so productive. Responders simmer long instead and need more preening. Both are rich in creative potential.