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« Creative Genius: It Takes Both Sides | Main | Brainstorming: A Climate for Creative Growth »

Creative Connections

Creative thinkers play with metaphors and analogies. This means that they look at one thing as if it were another thing. They ask, “What else could this be like?” They make new connections between unrelated things. 

Dragons as spiraling tornadosArtists frequently use metaphors in their work. In the days when I was illustrating dragons for giftware manufacturers, I wanted my dragons to look dynamic. I asked myself, “What else looks dynamic?” A spiraling tornado. I used that concept to add lines of movement to my dragon poses; I thought of my dragons as spiraling tornados.

Musicians have been known to compose pieces based on the sounds of rainstorms, wind, or ocean tides. Berry Gordy, who founded the Motown sound in the 1960s, was inspired by the rhythmic sounds he heard in the auto factory where he worked. He connected those sounds to music and created something wonderful.  

Many famous inventors have used analogies to solve problems. The Wright Brothers studied birds in flight and George de Mestral invented Velcro by observing burrs stuck on his socks. These inventors asked, “How can this phenomenon be translated to a man-made invention?”  What could a burr from a plant near a river have in common with a ski jacket? 

Connect the Dots of Paint

The French painter, Georges Seurat, made a creative connection in the late 1800s. As Seurat gazed at a green field dotted with yellow wildflowers, he observed that the field appeared to be solid yellow-green. That was the exact color that would result by mixing the dark green color of the leaves with the yellow color of the wildflowers.

Seurat speculated that if the eye can mix nature’s separate colors in a large field, why couldn’t the eye mix separate colors of paint on a canvas? Seurat experimented with dots of paint, and introduced Pointillism to the world. He had made a connection between a field of flowers and dots of paint on a canvas.

Connect Creative Thinking Skills to Fun

Encourage your kids to play with ideas, metaphors, and analogies. If this seems highly intellectual, it is not. While the concepts behind such play may be a subject of educational theorists, in the real world kids play this way all the time. 

Every restless schoolchild who’s ever turned a wad of paper and a ruler into a ball and bat knows how to think metaphorically. Pretending things are other things is a classic favorite activity among kids of all ages. Recognize it as a valuable exercise in growing creative genius and offer ways to focus and stretch your kids’ natural creativity. Batter up! 

Some “Not-Bored” Games

  • Astro-tabletop Game – Try this imaginative game with your child next time he’s fidgety in a restaurant. Tell him that the tabletop is the surface of a strange planet. The napkin dispenser is a rocket ship and a dish is a volcano. Salt and pepper shakers are a lot like robots, and your hands are alien beasts who roam the planet. A simple game of “let’s pretend” actually exercises the creative muscles that make connections between unrelated things, such as seeing a hand as a beast.
  • Tiger Toes Game – Here’s a lively game to play outside. Ask your child to pretend her feet are animals, such as two grasshoppers, two turtles, or two butterflies, and to let her animal feet move her around. Try several animals. Perhaps your child will grow up to invent a new kind of sport shoe!
  • Alike Because… Game – With two or more people in the car, take turns as follows. Name one random thing that everyone can visualize, such as a scooter, a cat, or a Popsicle. Now ask a second player to name one more random thing. For example, you might say “flower.” The second player might say, “cell phone.” Take turns naming all the ways the two unrelated things are alike. For example “They are alike because:  they both fit in a pocket… both have some green parts… both were created this year… both bring enjoyment… both are found on Earth… both break easily… both weigh less than one pound… both have a hollow part… both have a round part…” and so forth, until one of you runs out of “alikes.”

Connecting Ducks and Boots 

This classroom lesson plan will stretch students’ creative thinking skills as they brainstorm to discover surprising commonalities between unrelated things. Our free download is here.

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Reader Comments (2)

Hmmmm … It would appear that the teacher in your cartoon example has a very limited definition of the word "art"!

Sadly, I see this every day. Poor definitions to concepts that should be expanding our minds and enabling us to see new horizons end up inadvertently becoming mental straitjackets. And the most incredible thing is that we do not even notice this until it is pointed out to us. Sometimes a friend or colleague point it out to us, sometimes life itself can point it out to us, even painfully at times. I really hope we can all stop and look at our own personal definitions of certain words so that we can avoid this in our own lives.

One such situation I have seen in my own work life is what it comes to many peoples' definition of creativity. It should come as no surprise that when people use a restricted or limited concept of the word creativity that the results in their lives are often less than wonderful. Do we not all need new and useful solutions to some of the problems and challenges we face? I think to ask the question is to answer it.

Thanks for your post.

September 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTrevor McAlpine


My cartoon teacher is an exaggerated example of narrow thinking, of course (although I actually was subjected to such a teacher decades ago – see this post)

You make a great point about our definitions of words limiting our thinking. People often hold the assumption that “creative” means to produce a work of art or music, or to invent something. For this reason, many people think that cultivating creative thinking skills is not important in their lives.

The reality is that creativity is an expansive, problem solving way of thinking that applies to every endeavor in life. Salesmen, athletes, and microbiologists can benefit from creative thinking. Creative people see more possibilities in their personal lives, as well. Creativity is a precious life skill that we need to develop in our youngsters so they are prepared to overcome obstacles and lead productive, fulfilling lives.

Thanks for your comments. You added an important perspective to this issue.

September 23, 2011 | Registered CommenterMarjorie Sarnat
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