Maiming Michalko’s Creativity Misinformation

Originally Posted on June 16, 2014

I’m a member of the George Lucas Foundation’s Edutopia, an online community where those in the education industry for k-12 discuss and write about k-12 education. As an established STEM promoter (Yes, I do that too, among a lot of things. You can, when you’ve mastered creative thinking like I have…) I’ve been a member for a number of years now and even got member of the week once. So I know that disputes and disagreements can happen every once and a while over policy issues, teaching tools or techniques, and other things.

Recently, I read a blog post on the site by Michael Michalko, a self-proclaimed “creativity expert”. As you would expect, as soon as I read someone proclaiming to be a “creativity expert” I’m looking long and hard at what they’re saying and for a very good reason – most so-called creativity experts, that are marketing themselves that way, are full of crap. They’ve spent no real time being creative themselves. Usually what they’ve done is try to figure out how and why creative people are creative, package that info in some witty way and then sell it. That’s why I created what I am now calling the Creativity Ratio/Analyzed Productivity or CR/AP™ (pronounced CR by AP, not the word ‘crap’). In other words, the CR/AP detects the amount of crap that a so-called creativity expert is full of. It’s a simple two step process. First, ask how many different fields in their lives have they applied what they claim to know about creativity or innovation. Then ask, how many breakthroughs, from those fields. were they able to achieve. If they reply in single digits, like 9 and 1 or 2 and 5, or the average, which is 5 and 1, you might as well walk away, because they are amateurs, I don’t care how many books they’ve written. Here’s why – a true creativity master (which is what you want, not just an “expert”) knows where creativity comes from and how to use it. They know how it feels like a power, like tapping into the Force from Star Wars. Once they’ve experienced that, they see how they can apply it to other fields than just those they’re familiar with. You can get a high from it, and so you want to use it as many ways as you can imagine and because it increases your imagination, then you find yourself applying it in as many ways and in as many fields as you have time for. Hence, the better you are, the higher your CR/AP will be. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere before, mine is now 30 and 40.

So I read Michalko’s article and immediately knew he was no expert and certainly not a master. The article has so much misinformation in it that it would be shocking if it weren’t for the fact that this is par for the course now in the creativity and innovation promotion industries. I went to Michalko’s web site and it was the typical hodge-podge of alleged creativity enhancers, exercises and gimmickry. One thing that caught my eye, however, was a puzzle involving elves, that is a real mind boggler. They appear on a card but if you cut the card along the provided lines so that there are now three pieces and rearrange them, one of the elves vanishes. How I solved this puzzle, I will reveal in another post. However, after I did, I was curious if anyone else had commented on the puzzle and I discovered that not only had I solved it in a different way than the solution suggested from another site, but that Michalko wasn’t the source of the puzzle – it was originally created years ago by someone else. However, there’s nothing on Michalko’s site giving the proper credit, so the assumption is that his creative mind invented it. Uh, huh. Back to his post on Edutopia…

Equally misleading is #6 There Is No Such Thing As Failure. By over emphasizing the obvious – that you can learn from your mistakes, Michalko, makes the same error that those who promote “smart failing” do, – ignoring the costs of failure. Failure in all levels of life has varying degrees of costs and consequences. How many of you would want to drive a new car whose manufacturer had engineering teams that worked with this ethic? Well, it’s happened before and it’s happening again and we know the consequences – property damage, injury and loss of life. Failure is to be avoided, learned from when it happens, yes, but not just so the same mistakes are not repeated, but that other types or errors can be avoided as well. But NOOOOOOOO! According to Michalko, there is no such thing as failure. I bet that GM customers feel a lot differently…

Michalko also makes the critical error, that to me proves that he has nothing more than the most shallow and pedestrian understanding of creativity, and that is to cite the over-cited Edison quote about not failing, just learning how many thousands of ways something didn’t work. What people don’t hear much about is how much Edison hated Nikola Tesla, the true genius that gave us many other inventions among them, AC power (which Edison fought against tooth and nail and even killed elephants as a scare tactic against AC). Tesla would have flashes of inspiration, work out the details and then build his ideas which would work immediately. That’s one reason why Edison hated him. Compare Tesla’s method to Edison’s and it’s easy to see which is preferred. Edison’s method wastes time, resources, man hours and money as you go through trial and error over and over and over again. Edison had good ideas but he was not a creative genius because creative geniuses apply their creativity to all aspects of the problem solving process, a fact lost on Mr. Michalko. Even though Michalko intimates that you can use creativity to solve problems, without establishing what it really is, where it comes from, how to get it and master it, he has a scatter brain method of training exercises that are essentially a waste of time. I can say that because I mastered creativity without doing any the kinds of crap on his site, so obviously, it’s irrelevant. By applying my method, failure is minimized and becomes less of a factor. It takes many Edisons to equal one Tesla, so many Teslas are worth far more than any number of Edisons. That’s a lesson that companies concerned with innovation are learning now.

So how do you get more Teslas? By teaching people how creativity really works, where it really comes from and how to really use it. That’s the reason there’s so much B.S. in the field – these so-called experts don’t know how to teach those things about creativity and so they invent tricks and gimmicks and exercises and stories to get you to think that they know what it’s all about but don’t. They have no clue how to teach where creativity comes from and how to use it. None. Something that it would appear afflicts Mr. Michalko as well.


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