Dr. Robert Sternberg, is an American psychologist and psychometrician and Provost at Oklahoma State University. He was formerly President of the American Psychological Association. Although Dr. Sternberg developed assessments for creativity and practicality (problem solving) he is not a fan of the current model of educational testing. He asserts that rather than focus on what has been learned, he is interested in assessing a student’s ability to learn. In his talk at a recent Creativity Summit at the Philbrook Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma, he answered his own questions, “What do you mean by creativity?” and “Why isn’t everyone creative?” He restated an idea he promotes in much of his work: “There are people who buy low and sell high in the world of ideas.” This is shorthand for Sternberg’s Investment Theory of Creativity developed with Dr. Todd Lubart. My short version of the theory goes something like this: Creative people come up with novel ideas. The mere novelty of the idea causes it to be rejected by the majority of people. This rejection is not just a rejection but an acceptance of the status quo. This is the “buy low” portion of the theory. The innovator invests effort into convincing others that the idea is not only workable but superior to the status quo. This precedes the “sell high” portion of the argument. When an idea’s value is finally recognized, the creator ‘sells’ the idea to others to develop while the innovator moves on to other projects. As Sternberg notes, “If you think about it, that’s what creativity is about.”
Sternberg has been quoted as saying, “Creativity is a decision.” He cites 7 Key Decisions in creativity:
1: Decide if you have a problem that seems unsolvable. Then ask, “Can I redefine the problem?”
2: When you have a creative idea, ask yourself three questions: a) What’s the best that can happen? b) What’s the worst that can happen? and, c) What’s likely to happen? This helps an innovator analyze potential outcomes.
3. Look for entrenchment. “Where there’s vested interest, it’s hard to sell creative ideas.”
4. Realize that knowledge is a double-edged sword when it comes to creativity. Knowledge means less repetition but it can also cause entrenchment. When knowledge of past outcomes is the lens through which a person creates, “many experts are less creative… [because] they can’t see through other lenses.”
5. Be willing to take sensible risks.
6. Persevere in the face of obstacles.
7. Find what you love to do. “With your kids and with your students, what’s important is not what you want them to do but what they want to do.”
Dr. Sternberg is an authentic and innovative thinker. Despite expertise that could cause entrenchment in a less playful personality, Dr. Sternberg is the perfect person to explore the educational landscape of assessments and creativity. Although the entrenchment many of us face in the world of teaching makes innovation challenging, it will help to remember Dr. Sternberg’s 6th Key Decision. Keeping the creativity conversation alive may cause enough of a shift to allow innovative thinkers a seat at the table when assessments are discussed.