Serious Creativity

There, climbing on the center island in my kitchen, is my 18-month old grandson. The lower rack on the island is full of wine bottles and he is stepping on those in order to get up. He has to step up in order to grab the box of popsicles that he so desires and that were placed in the center of the island so that they would be out of his reach. This is the first time we have seen him do this, so as my wife grabs him, I am caught in wonder about how his thought process has included stepping on the wine rack as the means to get at the popsicles. Of course he doesn’t know that the bottles he steps on can break because the tension for him is not what is on the rack—the breakable bottles—but the use of the rack to get higher. You see, he doesn’t know if he can reach across the island to get the popsicle box even if he steps up on the rack. But he commits to this strategy and when his hand reaches out as far as it can, he is just able to reach and grab the box. And just as my wife grabs him, he looks at me, as if to say, hey how do you like that? I figured out how to get the box of popsicles!

Gifts Used for Art Building

Few people might remember that one of our most creative architects Frank Lloyd Wright was educated by his mother in creativity training influenced by Friederich Froebel’s building block curriculum. In an article by Robert D. Clemens called, “Modern Architecture’s Debt to Creativity Education, A Case Study” (Pennsylvania State University, 2016), Wright is described as heavily influenced by the aesthetic and mathematical knowledge gained by playing with simple blocks. Froebel, who is described as the father of “kindergarten,” didn’t just use blocks, but had a variety of “gifts used for art building” for his students. These gifts could be balls of yarn to teach color and weight, blocks to teach mathematical shapes like cubes, cylinders and spheres, and larger blocks to build larger projects.

Unstructured Play Leads to Creativity

Froebel was the one who advocated for unstructured play because he thought it would feed children’s imagination and develop their creativity. Many examples can be seen of this where children make up their own games, use tools or rooms in new and imaginative ways, or simply create something to play out of using kitchen utensils like spoons and forks. This probably should not be standardized in schools as a formal lesson plan but it should be incorporated into a learning process. Each child develops their own creativity as a process linked to their thinking. When others insert their thoughts the stendent process of learning is influenced but continues on in its individually developed way.

Creativity Leads to Work

The amazing thing about all of this is how creativity leads to work. It has been assumed by our educational system that students must be taught how to work, not how to play. Froebel stipulates that joyful play leads to work. The arts know this and teach this. When children play with cubes or paintings, their first ideas lead to the next and on to the next. When students tire, it is only because they realize that this is hard work. They then give up, or rally, and continue on. The arts engage them through interest, but working in the arts teaches them how to work and sustained engagement in the arts tells them how to work hard. Another gift.

Serious Creativity

Edward DeBono has written extensively about creativity. For example, he says, “In my courses, I find that people who have a brainstorming background tend to perform rather poorly. This is because they are always looking for the way out, exotic idea and often miss the simple, practical idea which is at hand” (DeBono, 2016). He talks about serious creativity as a structured way of thinking and gives examples of six different ways of creative thinking and puts them into colors of hats to help you remember them:

White Hat: This covers facts, figures, information, asking questions, and defining information needs and gaps. “I think we need some white hat thinking at this point…” means “Let’s drop the arguments and proposals and look at the data base.”

Red Hat: This covers intuition, feelings and emotions. The red hat allows the thinker to put forward an intuition without any need to justify it. “Putting on my red hat, I think this is a terrible proposal.” Usually feelings and intuition can only be introduced into a discussion if they are supported by logic. Usually the feeling is genuine but the logic is spurious. The red hat gives full permission to a thinker to put forward his or her feelings on the subject at that moment.

Black Hat: This is the hat of judgment and caution. It is a most valuable hat and the one we need to use most of the time. The black hat is used to point out why a suggestion does not fit the facts, the available experience, the system in use, or the policy that is being followed. The black hat must always be logical.

Yellow Hat: This hat finds reasons why something will work and why it will offer benefits. It can be used in looking forward to the results of some proposed action. It can also be used to find something of value in what has already happened.

Green Hat: This is the hat of creativity, alternatives, proposals, what is interesting, provocations, and changes.

Blue Hat: This is the overview or process control hat. It looks not at the subject itself but at the thinking about the subject. “Putting on my blue hat, I feel we should do some more green hat thinking at this point.” In technical terms, the blue hat is concerned with meta-cognition.

DeBono, E.

Which Creativity Hat?

What hats were Frank Lloyd Wright and my Grandson using to think creatively? They were hard at play, creating an opportunity to get the popsicles and relate the building spaces while wearing many hats as they went. I am not sure what Frank Lloyd Wright was regularly thinking, but I think my grandson was green hatting and red hatting when he was targeting the popsicles. I would want to give my grandson many more opportunities to experience the different hats of serious creativity at home, in grandparent houses, and most especially in our schools.


  • Clemens, R. (2016). Modern Architecture’s Debt to Creativity Education, A Case Study. Philadelphia: Pennsylvania State University.
  • Debono, E. (2016). Serious Creativity. in The Journal for Quality and Participation, Vol. 11-3. ©The Association for Quality and Participation.
Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

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