As part of RBC Thought Leadership’s deep dive into the Creative economy, Disruptors podcast host Trinh Theresa Do talked to Josie Fung, executive director of I-Think, a non-profit organization based at the Rotman School of Management in Toronto. I-Think partners with educators to foster creative problem-solving skills in students.
How would you define creativity?
What we’ve seen, having worked with hundreds of thousands of students, is that creativity is about having insights, seeing something that someone hasn’t seen before and doing something with it.
Does it have to be relevant to the ultimate stakeholder?
Absolutely. Creativity is often driven by a need that is unmet. For your creativity or idea to have value, you have to meet that need.
Integrative thinking is a guiding methodology for I-Think. What is it?
Integrative thinking is this idea developed by [former Rotman dean] Roger Martin. When we have to make a tough decision, we’re often stuck between two ideas. A or B? Integrative thinking says instead of choosing, we’re going to create a new idea out of elements of those two ideas. On a practical level, there is no one way to do things and our job is to be constantly searching for new ways to approach problems.
How has Canada’s education system historically treated creativity?
When I was growing up, you went to art class to be creative. But now I think education is seeing that students are amazingly creative and our job isn’t to make them more creative. It’s to keep their creativity alive. About 10 years ago, Ontario came out with play-based kindergarten. That was a big signal to the system. We’re starting with kindergarten, but how do you infuse it throughout the system?
There are still people who see a divide between creative and noncreative fields. What do you think is stopping them from accepting that creativity can be useful everywhere?
Many of us went to school believing our job was to find the one right answer. And if you don’t get that right answer, you’re just wrong. Inherently, if you really want to be creative, you have to be unafraid that there are many possible answers that haven’t been discovered yet.
So as educators, what should they do to remove that fear?
One of the key ingredients for great creativity is diversity, meaning different people, different viewpoints. The second thing is how do we stop focusing on evaluation as the marker of success? What I hear from students is that by the time they get to our course, ‘I have this opportunity to see things in a totally new light. But I’ve never been asked to do that before.’ They keep asking us what the right answer should look like. But when I’m giving them a real world problem that doesn’t have an answer, there’s no right answer.
How do we get their voices more involved in those discussions?
It’s about creating spaces where we’re giving those real world problems that students can solve. It turns out that students have just as good ideas as the rest of us, the rest of us being adults. Sometimes even better.
How do we maintain that in these students when they enter the workforce and may be given even more constraints?
What we’ve seen is creativity actually thrives on constraints. When we started our work with I-Think we thought that if we gave students open reign on creating ideas, that would be the way forward. By giving a few more constraints, it actually helped channel their creativity.
Is that is that the problem in the corporate world? The lack of constraints?
The challenge of the corporate world is that we have this unwritten social contract that the things we are, are the ways they have to be. In this pandemic, for example, we have this conversation that is on one side ‘we should never return to the way things were before.’ And on the other side, ‘we want things to be as they were before.’ Could we not ask ourselves, what have we learned in this last year?It’s been hard. It’s been tough, but what have we learned?
We have to remember in the corporate environment is that there is no creativity department. And sometimes when there’s no creativity department, it feels like that’s no one’s job, but actually it’s everybody’s job. How do we think about every single job as being a creative job?
Where do you think Canada ranks among the most creative nations?
I think Canada’s up there. But we have some choices ahead. What makes us really successful is our diversity. We have in a given classroom, sometimes as many as 21 different languages being spoken. Just imagine the number of experiences these students have, the perspectives they’ve drawn from their families. The more we can bring that around the table, the more we have the opportunity to create new and amazing ideas.
What does that future Canada look like?
Future Canada is a place where there’s a hub of innovation. And instead of thinking about tech and innovation hubs localized in one geography, it’s a nation of creativity. It’s a nation that generates all sorts of ideas, that fuels the world.
So what is needed to enable every single job to be a creative job?
It starts with our leaders asking the question of ‘am I hiring people because I want them to do a specific task?’ Are we a world of just asking people to do tasks and, check things off a list? Or are we hiring people and supporting people so they’re solving the biggest problems in the world?
What do you think is preventing some leaders today from doing that?
Quite honestly, I think sometimes our incentive programs are flawed because we’re expecting people to generate outcomes on a very short term basis, whether that’s from the expectations of the street or because of how our incentive plans are built.
And do you think classrooms have a role to play in changing those incentive structures?
I think young people do a great job of is asking those questions. And the key is how do we have people listen to them? Because there’s so much of richness and value in what students have to say.
This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.
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