The simplicity of creativity

Creativity comes in many forms and sizes.  The official definition “The use of imagination or original ideas” itself puts no constriction on where creativity comes from or how it has to be applied.

Every year, sixth graders at St. Andrew’s school in Milford prove that creativity can manifest in a variety of ways.  As students are asked to “invent” a new product or an improvement to a product, their young minds shine with possibilities.  This year’s Invention Convention was no different – there were ideas ranging from a remote-controlled garbage can to a way to relieve back and knee pain at night.

One product I found extremely compelling was a new type of bottom sheet for a bunk bed.  The young inventor sleeps on the top bunk of his bed, and he has a terrible time trying to get the fitted sheet on.  His struggles led him to think about a new way of designing the bottom sheet that reduces frustration but gives up none of the comfort of a tightly-fitted sheet.

His solution was simple, and beautiful in its simplicity:  take out the elastic, add straps, pull the sheet under the mattress with the straps, and tuck the straps into the bed slats to hold it tight.  Presto:  a tightly-made, snug and comfy bed.

Some people may say that, because his solution was so simple, it doesn’t count as true creativity.  Those people would be wrong.  In fact, when it comes to creativity, simple is best.  It’s the simple solutions that are the most elegant and long-lasting.  It’s also the simple solutions that show the person has thought through the situation and gotten it down to its basics.

In fact, his solution started out a little more complex.  His initial hypothesis was he would need more straps and Velcro strips to maneuver the sheet and make it stay.  But after playing with it, he was able to eliminate more than half the straps and get rid of the Velcro.  He landed with a simple, effective solution with a minimum of “parts.”

With high-tech so pervasive today, it’s easy to think something high-tech is “better” or “more creative” than another, non-technical solution, or that someone who creates something high-tech is “smarter” than someone who creates a non-technical product.  Once again, this is simply not true.  Even in the high-tech world, product developers strive (or should strive) for simplicity.  Recently, a good friend from my P&G days, Byron Smith, sent me a link to this article in Wired.  Byron has left the marketing world and now invests in new companies for a living – he sees first-hand what the article states so eloquently:  “Simplicity made Google a verb.”

So as you watch your children play, use things in new ways, or talk about new ideas, don’t discount them, even if they are simple.  Encourage your children to simplify their ideas, digging down to the core, to find the essence of what they’re thinking.  And instead of pushing them to use technology to solve problems, see if they can find non-technical solutions, stretching their brain and enhancing the natural creativity all children innately possess.  It’s not only great for their development – it’s a tremendous amount of fun to watch!


One Response to “The simplicity of creativity”

  1. Cathy Barney Says:

    So true, Andrea; thanks for giving this young inventor credit. Simplicity is elegant.

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