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Creative Genius: How to Grow the Seeds of Creativity Within Every Child

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« Guide Your Kids Down the Creative Rapids | Main | Advice from Outside the Box »

“That’s The Stupidest Idea I’ve Ever Embraced” 

A stupid idea is a thing of beauty. It’s in the lifeblood of creative thinking. The way to get a great idea is to generate many ideas freely, then select and refine the best. 

Ideas flow out in many forms—stupid, weird, silly, outrageous, weak, funny, and as sparks of genius. That assortment comes with the territory; it’s called “creative process.”

It takes courage not to filter your ideas. Holding back for fear of looking ridiculous keeps genius ideas from flowing forth. I, who love my coffeemaker and electric pencil sharpener, am glad that Benjamin Franklin had the creative courage to keep experimenting. 

I haven’t failed. I’ve found ten thousand ways that don’t work.” – Benjamin Franklin, statesman, inventor, and father of electricity.

Stupid Ideas 101

As a teacher, it’s important to respect your students’ ideas, great or not, if they come from a sincere search for possibilities. It’s important that classmates respect each other’s creative process, too. Kids care deeply about how they are seen by their peers, so a supportive environment is essential if creativity is to flourish in your classroom. 

A new idea is delicate. It can be killed by a sneer or a yawn; it can be stabbed to death by a quip and worried to death by a frown…” – Charles Brower, advertising executive  

Have you ever noticed that those who make fun of others’ ideas rarely have any of their own? If someone doesn’t “get” an idea, maybe he or she isn’t creative enough to see its possibilities. Don’t allow naysayers to inhibit your students’ creative flow. Encourage kids to value their imaginations regardless of others’ opinions. Bad ideas lead to better ideas. Failure is not a final condition; it’s a steppingstone toward success. 

Creativity Is Risky Business

As art director for a gift products company, I headed up a team of three artists. Our task was to come up with a steady stream of concepts and designs for the company to produce and sell. One of our artists put pink and lavender flowers on everything. It was always Easter at her drawing board. Pretty, but borrrrring.

Another artist used nothing but can’t-go-wrong earthtones. Her designs never went wrong, but that’s all you could say for them. Neither artist was courageous enough to explore.

But the third artist was a bold risk taker. Sometimes his artwork looked bizarre and made the non-explorers snicker. But often his designs turned out fresh, exciting, and became runaway best sellers. 

The essential part of creativity is not being afraid to fail.” – Edwin H. Land, inventor of Polaroid Cameras.


We see this scenario in the classroom, too. Some students will carefully follow instructions and produce a standard report on rain, for example. 

What if a student writes his report from a raindrop’s point of view? …and leaves his work out in the rain to heighten the effect? 

Let’s say his report missed some requirements and was graded down for that, not to mention for being hopelessly crinkled. Failure.

I say this kid is onto something. Perhaps one day he’ll author a series of “point of view” science books with groundbreaking interactive content. Creative effort deserves acclamation for its own merits, apart from academic criteria.

Five Famous Naysayers (who were ignored, lucky for us)

The horse is here to stay but the automobile is only a novelty—a fad.” – The president of Michigan Savings Bank advising Henry Ford’s lawyer not to invest in Ford Motor Co., 1903

Television won’t last because people will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night.” – Darryl Zanuck, movie producer, 20th Century Fox, 1946

We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out.” – Decca Recording Co., rejecting the Beatles, 1962.

A cookie store is a bad idea. Besides, market research reports say America likes crispy cookies, not soft and chewy cookies like you make.” – Response to Debbie Fields’ idea for opening Mrs. Fields’ Cookies, 1976. 

“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” – Ken Olsen, president and founder of Digital Equipment, 1977

Ideas Are Works In Progress

Never scoff at anyone’s creative process. Embedded in the stupidest idea could be the beginnings of a brilliant breakthrough. At the very least, the thinker who comes up with a dumb idea is practicing his or her skills in generating ideas. It’s all good. 

Do you have an example of a child’s attempt, successful or not, to make an idea happen? If so, I’d love it if you’d share it in the comments.

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