Faithful readers of this column know that I occasionally will ask authors of books I find interesting to answer a few questions. I am always grateful for these very busy people that take the time to respond.
The following interview is with Erik Wahl, author of “UNthink” and the forthcoming “The Spark and the Grind.”
I am sure that many of you have seen Erik but for those of you not familiar with Erik and his work, here is a brief introduction:
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Can you give us a 5,000 foot view of your book UnThink. What inspired you to write it?
Once I distilled and understood the creative process for myself as an artist and entrepreneur, I realized that the power of creativity is within everyone. When we tap it for businesses, education, nonprofits and even relationships, we only improve our efficiency and output. We see tangible results.
The subtitle of your book is “Rediscover your creative genius.” That, of course, implies that we lose our creative genius. Why do you think people lose that creative spark as they get older?
Everyone is born creative. But it takes a tremendous about of discipline to activate it as we move through life. And much of that discipline is letting go of cognitive biases that build up through school, at work, and through our own self-doubt. We create false narratives about how creative we really are. The good news is that there are ways to get it back and incorporate it into our daily lives.
Ken Robinson, another expert in creativity, says that schools teach the creativity out of children Do you agree with that sentiment? What can schools do to not be the killers of childhood creativity?
Absolutely. There are so many schools that extinguish creativity, and precious few with teachers and staff who truly get it, nurture it, and celebrate it. Robinson accurately points out that we’re losing some of our most talented creative kids because they don’t fit into the model of standardized “one size fits none” academics.
It’s not the fault of the teachers – most of them just want to reach their students. But the system is too deeply ingrained in logical pragmatic curriculum, which is very difficult to change. The onus will fall on parents to ignite curiosity, passion and creativity in our kids. It will be a balance of both public schooling for the reading, writing, arithmetic and social diversity, and the importance that parents place on values, integrity, empathy and creativity.
What do you mean when you say we must learn how to unThink our way through challenges? Some of us can’t even THINK our way through challenges.
Art is not about producing a product. Art is about thinking and making. Sadly, the public education system is teaching our kids to be drone thinkers in the name of streamlining academic and operational efficiencies. This means we’re sacrificing fascination, curiosity and self-driven exploration—and that’s how kids truly learn. As we expand our consciousness through art and experiential learning we disrupt linear, predictable, logical thinking and ignite curiosity beyond the four walls of the classroom. It helps our children navigate ambiguity and master complexity in an increasingly disruptive and rapidly changing economy.
You are someone that obviously has been able to balance the adult way of thinking with the childlike way of creating. Do you think anyone can achieve that balance, or can only certain people? I have known many educators that feel creativity cannot be taught, that either you “have it” or your don’t. Some would look at you at say “Yeah, but he has an innate artistic ability to begin with, so he can do that artwork.” What would you say to them?
Some have a more natural explorative nature. They embrace risk and have greater tolerance for failure and unmet expectations. 0ur educational system stigmatizes mistakes—and for some kids, their entire school experience is about trying to be perfect. When our kids are afraid to be wrong (which happens at a very early age) they will never come up with anything new.
Do you think society places a higher value on those people that just “go with the flow” over those that don’t? I am thinking of how many starving artists there are that almost have to give away their work, as opposed to jobs like managers that require little creativity that pay quite well.
Structure creates freedom. This is the paradox of creativity. It takes great discipline to activate ideas into execution. We must build up a tolerance for risk, and even perceived setbacks. But failures are not the opposite of success. They are part of success. If we are not failing, we are not trying hard enough and we’re not pushing ourselves outside of our comfort zone. Growth and comfort cannot co-exist.
We need to re-think/unthink how we educate our kids. Our kids are fascinated with social media and mobile gamification—how can we better unleash and unlock our education system by using those vehicles to engage them? The old-school dinosaur days in the industrial Victorian-factory models for imposing education and memorization on our kids are over.
Why do you suggest that people accelerate their creativity output, as you do with your art work?
Focus on excellence and ignore success. Focus on what you passionately love and then surrender to the outcome. You cannot control how pop culture or an audience is going to respond. We cannot control what makes a video or idea go viral. But if we create enough content from that sublime combination of passion and talent, we feel internally fulfilled—and we increase our chances of having our work seen. It doesn’t ever have to be perfect, and if we spend all our time waiting to create until the conditions are absolutely correct, we will never move on our work. Just start making something. That’s the best advice I can give.
I always end with this question: Who is listening to your message? How do you know they are hearing what you are saying?
I am booked full time on the corporate lecture circuit. It is a niche market of high-level professionals in leadership roles in fortune 500 companies around the world. But just in the last year, as I am further exploring the changes in consumer behavior, I’m noticing that more of books, my videos and my blogs are being consumed by the general public. I am excited and encouraged about the opportunity for new growth in education and among Millennials.
What will be your next challenge?
Right now I’m fully immersed in the launch of my new book, THE SPARK AND THE GRIND: IGNITE THE POWER OF DISCIPLINED CREATIVITY. This one goes deeper into the science of creativity and makes an even stronger case for creativity throughout every aspect of our lives.
Information about Erik Wahl:
Please check out his new book The Spark and The Grind
Erik’s website is: http://www.theartofvision.com
Since you made it all the way to the end of the article, here is a coupon for 40% off the hardcover version of Erik’s new book “The Spark and the Grind.”
Author: Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback.
Feel free to leave a comment. Read his previous columns here.