Dr. Bonnie Cramond encourages
people to explore and use
their creative abilities
in everyday situations
Interview by Deborah A. Benedetti
Creativity and innovation are much talked about tools at higher education institutions involved in economic and workforce development, including Penn State. A couple of new initiatives at the University reflect this trend: A group of faculty, students and staff has proposed a Center for Creativity that would encourage new multidisciplinary collaboration on solutions to some of society’s major problems as well as develop and disseminate ways of teaching creative thinking skills to children and adults. In addition, Penn State Outreach has launched an initiative to foster creativity and
innovation within the Outreach organization and its programs. As part of these efforts, Outreach last fall invited Dr. Bonnie Cramond, professor of educational psychology and director of the Torrance Center for Creativity and Talent Development at the University of Georgia, to talk with faculty and staff about her approach to fostering creativity. Cramond also answered questions from Penn State Outreach magazine.
Q. How do you define creativity, and what are some characteristics of people who are creative?
Cramond: Creativity is the generation of novel, useful ideas. People who are creative are open to new experiences, curious, risk-takers and thrill-seekers, have a sense of humor and are persistent and courageous.
Q. You’ve said that everyone is creative. Please elaborate
Cramond: There is big “C” creativity, exemplified by the creative work of eminent people like Einstein and Mozart. Then there’s little “c” creativity that we use everyday when we face problems and situations and have to come up with solutions.
Q. The British psychologist Dr. Michael Kirton has identified two creative personality types: innovators and adapters. How do these types fit in the workplace?
Cramond: Innovators like to come up with new ideas and solutions, and adapters like to make ideas work. Some people are one personality type or the other, but most are somewhere in the middle and have a little of each personality type. With only innovators, an organization would have chaos, but with only adapters, there would be stagnation, so an organization needs both styles to move forward and be effective.
Q. How does the creativity
approach translate to
Cramond: Creativity can be developed in a number of ways. First, it should be recognized and valued. Too many creative people, especially children, are expected to conform to a narrow view of acceptable behavior. Also, creativity can be developed through exercises and activities. A Torrance Center creativity assessment, for example, asks people to think of as many uses as possible for old floppy disks within two minutes. Another asks people to add lines to incomplete drawings to tell stories with pictures. In the lateral-thinking approach to creativity, people examine both sides of a topic and agree, disagree or decide it is irrelevant, or they assess the topic as positive, negative or interesting, and finally, they ask for other people’s views. This forces people out of their comfort zone.
Q. You met with Penn State faculty members who are pursuing a new model for enhancing creativity at Penn State and beyond—a Center for Creativity, which is being supported by Penn State’s Outreach Thematic Initiative Fund. How would a center like this help higher education?
Cramond: This is a very exciting concept that will bring in a diversity of ideas and energy. Penn State’s emphasis on making this a cross-disciplinary effort is just what we’ve been trying to achieve with the Torrance Center. This will be a wonderful opportunity for faculty, staff and students from different fields to use their creativity to address complex problems in innovative ways. Today, the National Science Foundation and other grant agencies are looking for collaboration across disciplines and transformational ideas. Penn State’s center is very timely.
Q. Do you have any advice
for those involved in the proposal?
Cramond: Penn State needs to recognize and encourage this effort. As an organization, it’s also important for Penn State to nurture and help people get their ideas to fruition by providing the means to make this happen and by removing any barriers.