To succeed in this creativity economy, being innovative, flexible thinkers is the most important skill that students can learn, he said. Yet, creative thinking is hard to cultivate, because of something that Eagleman called the “problem of the path of least resistance.”
“The unconscious brain is ruthlessly efficient,” he explained. “It is looking for the easiest path [to a solution]. You have to shake it off of that path.”
Here are five ways that educators can help students overcome this challenge and foster creative thinking:
- Bend, break, blend. Have students practice bending (or changing) existing objects or ideas to suit a different purpose, breaking them into smaller components and blending or remixing them to create new objects or ideas, Eagleman suggested.
2. Challenge students to go deeper. Get students to think beyond their initial response. For instance, Edison would challenge his employees to come back to him with seven possible solutions to a problem.
3. Develop a culture of exploration. “Failures are the portal to discovery,” Eagleman said. He urged educators to create a culture “where it’s OK to get a wrong answer.” Educators can learn from the world of gaming, he explained, where the stakes are low and students can explore freely without consequences.
4. Build creative spaces. “Your environment matters,” Eagleman said, describing how the brains of small mammals have been shown to have more neural pathways when their cages contain more objects to play with. “What are you doing in your classroom to engage and inspire? Nothing is meant to be glued down. The key is to change things up. This is what maintains brain plasticity.”
5. Maintain the arts in schools. Whenever schools are running out of money, Eagleman said, the first items they cut are typically programs such as art and music. “We need to make sure every student has creativity as part of their curriculum,” he urged.
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