Fostering creativity and innovation

At the Hawaii Education Summit in Honolulu in July, Chief Executive Officer of EdLeader21 (a Professional Learning Community for 21st Century Educationan Leaders) Ken Kay, spoke of the great importance of fostering student creativity and innovation, as these skills are on the top of the list for many employers now, and most likely more in the future. He recommended 4C’s for successful learning: critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity. This column focuses on creativity, but they very often all work together to bring creative ideas into our world.

Creating by definition means “bring something into existence,” with the assumption that it hasn’t existed before. Innovation means to make changes in something already established generally by producing new methods or products. It’s a big change from submitting work where there is one correct answer.

It may seem overwhelming, yet our students experience innovation all the time while hearing the new popular song that is out or going to a new restaurant where someone has created yet another delicious way of preparing ahi.

Even the cooking shows on television are about innovating. The host will ask the cooks to create a meal around scallops and zucchini, and they are always quite different. They fry, saute, grill, bake, turn it into noodles, bread or skewers. Some make it sweet and sour. Some make it hot and spicy.

That’s creativity; that’s innovation. Like your grandma did with spam, hamburger or tuna casseroles. Get 10 people together to make their best potato salad, and you’re going to have 10 different taste and texture combos.

To be creative, we have to think creatively. We just have to be willing to try something new. What are creative peoples’ ideas about creativity? In author Amy Tan’s Ted Talk, she mentions that creative people are multi-dimensional. They use feelings, and some reach to a higher level of their minds. Sometimes we just don’t know where the creative impulse is coming from. She’s experienced that when you open to an idea, you’ll see it repeatedly, as if the universe is helping, and then she generally gets a focus of where to go.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said, “Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.”

Here’s an example of a creative process: In mediation we suggest that disputants brainstorm solutions to the conflict that will help get both peoples’ needs met. While one person writes, others offer ideas that come to mind without critically analyzing them until they cease coming. Often one idea builds from another.

Bringing something new into our minds comes through the right brain, which is our creative side. Analyzing something gets us into the left brain. The left brain is basically your computer. It gives you back what you’ve already put in. So its when the ideas cease, that we analyze them to see if they are actually doable with the resources that are available.

Being innovative, we create a solution using what we have in a new way. This works at home, in the workplace, and in social situations. Brainstorming used in this way is also a form of collaboration, which is one of Ken Kay’s 4C’s.

It may take a while for a creative idea to blink into our minds so that we can even describe it in words. Or we may get a piece of the picture, and as we explore that, more of the picture is revealed. So giving ourselves time to allow an idea to generate is important.

Some people want no stimulation whatsoever, and will wear blindfolds, and earplugs, end even go into sensory deprivation tanks to not be distracted by feeling or smell. Some people find that the rhythm of walking in nature helps release their “monkey minds” so that something new can arrive. Others use classical music. Some people actually use napping. Before they nap they ask the question, then get very relaxed and fall into a hypnogogic (pre-sleep) state. The monkey mind is silenced and the creative mind can offer solutions. Maybe this is one of the reasons behind innovative companies offering “nap rooms” in their buildings!

So have courage to explore the new. Don’t feel bad about failures. They’re experiments that lead us to a better solution. Thomas Edison had 1,000 failures before he invented the light bulb. Now that’s patience. But he knew what an important invention it was. If you have passion for your quest or project, it will take you far. These different steps might help in assessing your ideas:

1. Elaborate

2. Refine

3. Analyze

4. Evaluate

Then use more critical thinking and readjust. Research a bit more. Find someone with skills in that area as a resource.

Then how does the student bring it to the world? There are science fairs for scientific work. Journals that can may receive a good study. Watch the movie “Joy” about Joy Mangano, who wanted a better mop for herself, and ended up creating her own prototype Miracle Mop in 1990. She went on to create her own multimillion dollar business.

At one point, my niece worked for an organization in Manhattan called Quirky. They would receive people’s ideas and the team would get together to decide which ideas they thought they could produce. When I Googled “Where can I pitch (persuade someone to buy) my idea”? 6.420,000 hits came up. Many of them offered suggestions about “how” to pitch an idea, but that could be interesting too. You can learn a lot from watching “Shark Tank” on TV.

I’m nearly done refining a game that I created a few years back. I’ve played it with folks, and even created two other forms of it. So I’ll be looking at how to get it into production as well. As Deepak Chopra says, “Instead of thinking outside of the box, get rid of the box.” Have a great creative adventure!


Hale Opio Kauai convened a support group of adults in our Kauai community to “step into the corner” for our teens, to answer questions and give support to youth and their families on a wide variety of issues. Please email your questions or concerns facing our youth and families today to Annaleah Atkinson at For more information about Hale Opio Kauai, please go to


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