H. James Harrington  |  02/27/2009

Uneasy But Useful Allies

Education and creativity aren’t necessarily antagonists.

There’s so much information in the world today that letting people recreate their own databases is a luxury we can’t afford. If we were all allowed to create our own basic concepts without any standardization, we couldn’t effectively interact with each other. Imagine trying to communicate if each person spoke a unique language, or how hard it would be to pay a bill if every individual used a different numbering system.

Often, our education keeps us from conceiving truly creative solutions. It’s important to realize that education doesn’t make an individual creative. In fact, it often has the opposite effect because there’s less need to use creativity on a continuous basis. Someone else is always supplying the answers. Of course, having an education doesn’t prohibit an individual from being creative, either. Highly creative, educated individuals don’t rely on their education to solve their problems. They use it to develop improved solutions.

We begin reducing a child’s natural creative urges early in life by saying, “Don’t try to be creative. We already have an answer that’s better than anything you can create.” Here is an example:

My son Jim, at age 3, wrote “NTP.” When I asked him what it was, he replied, “That’s Mom and Dad, I love you.” My reply was, “That’s good, Jim. We love you, too. Let me show you how to write ‘Dad’.” In my love for my son, I wanted him to learn to conform to accepted practices and stop being creative. From a higher level, he’d created a breakthrough that reduced a 20-letter sentence to three. Yes, education and training can often take the shape of repressed creativity: “Don’t create a language; I’ll give you one. Don’t create an alphabet; copy this one. Don’t create something new; memorize the old one.”

That’s what education (not learning) is all about--maximizing and memorizing what we already know, and focusing less on creating anything new. I’m not suggesting that education is bad. I believe just the opposite. The more knowledge an individual has, the better he or she can perform. The problem is that while we’re collecting know-ledge, we’re not creating.

Most of the time the learning process is occurring, and we’re accumulating more information. The learning process includes education, observation, and experience. These three methods provide us with information. We filter the information into three categories: Knowledge information, wisdom information, and unneeded information.

It’s important to understand that wisdom is a subset of knowledge. Knowledge includes both true and false information, but wisdom contains only true information. Unneeded information is rejected.

When the brain recognizes that a situation requires action, it asks, “Do I have the knowledge that I need to handle the situation?” If the answer is no, it instructs you to do more research.

If you don’t have adequate information, it’s usually because of one or more of the following:

It takes too long to collect the information.

The information isn’t available.

You believe a better solution exists.

You get more satisfaction from creating a new solution.

When you have sufficient information, you take action toward a solution. Whether you already have or need to collect information, you may find yourself using a conventional solution because its effectiveness hasn’t been challenged. An outside catalyst can help break you out of a conventional perspective.

In medieval times, the court jester was such a catalyst. The court jester’s job, then as now, is to ask questions and present situations in ways that open people’s minds to possibilities they hadn’t considered.

Always remember this quote from Louis Pasteur: “Inspiration is the impact of a fact on a prepared mind.”


About The Author

H. James Harrington’s picture

H. James Harrington

H. James Harrington is CEO of Harrington Management Systems, which specializes in total quality management (TQM), Six Sigma, lean, strategic planning, business process improvement, design of experiments, executive management mentoring, preparing complete operating manuals, organizational change management, ISO 9000, ISO 14000, and TRIZ. Harrington is a prolific author, having written hundreds of technical reports, magazine articles, and more than 35 books. He has more than 55 years of experience as a quality professional. Harrington is a past president of the American Society for Quality (ASQ) and the International Academy for Quality (IAQ).