Creativity and Getting It Close to Right

I’ve been thinking about creative thinking lately, due to a book I’ve been reading,World without End by Ken Follett . In this sequel to Pillars of the Earth, a young woman, Caris, becomes a medical healer and faces the customs and superstitions OF 14th century England. It’s interesting to think about the kinds of thinking that people did during that time, processes that are similar in lots of ways to how we want our students to approach problems.

For example, when a highly contageous disease strikes her village, Caris recalls that the Muslims, who are regarded to be superior physicians, believe that some diseases are transmitted by sight, that people get sick when those with the disease look at them. Now, of course, this sounds ridiculous, but there’s a certain kind of logic to it and the hypothesis generated the idea of separating sick people from healthy ones. This kept sick people from looking at well people, but it also kept them from sneezing, coughing, and breathing on healthy people, which turned out to be a pretty good strategy.

I imagine a group of smart people in the Middle Ages trying to figure out why some people got sick and others didn’t. I suppose they made observations drew conclusions, made hypotheses, and then tested their hypotheses. Just like today, some people refused to believe the evidence and continued with ineffective treatments. The practice of bleeding sick people lasted for centuries. But sometimes, their creative thinking was close enough to the truth to make a big difference, as in the case of disease transmitted by sight.

Looking for connections is an important part of the creative process, and we want students to expand their ideas of what is possible by looking for unlikely connections. Some may be silly, some may be spot-on, but some may be close enough to true to have a big impact.

To read more about creative thinking, visit the following Web sites.

Teaching for Creativity: Two Dozen Tips

Teaching Creativity, 2: Debunking the Mozart Myth

Creativity and Creative Thinking


In December 2015, Peggy Grant joined our extended network of alumni.