KALEIDASCOPIC PERSPECTIVES: a background to the idea

by Paul Henrickson, Ph.D. © 2004

tm. © 2007

The title of this paper came to me when bewildered by how to communicate to a myriad of trained mindsets. My hands automatically took on the position one uses in order to change the patterns in a kaleidoscope, that age-old visual learning toy-tool that our grandmother may have used for inspiration in creating patterns for quilts. These, in turn, would keep us warm in bed and provide enriched dream-images some of which would later enter the “real world” of the everyday. Such are the nutrients of the imagination. Nearly fifty years ago I was by chance introduced to the writing of Viktor Lowenfeld in a book entitled “Creative and Mental Growth”. In spite of the fact that English was not Lowenfeld’s mother tongue, his ideas were sufficiently well-expressed to convey convincingly the compassion is obviously an indispensable ingredient to successful learning…successful learning being that product of mental activity, which encompasses the aggregate richness of our perceptions. . In general, I searched the writings of a variety of extensively published contemporary psychologists and quickly retreated in fright to the safety of William James, Jose Ortega y Gassett, George Santayana, and Roger Fry, a response on my part which should tell the reader that I was much more comfortable with aesthetic philosophers than with the mechanisms of a statistical analysis of fragmented evidence. But I did take refuge in the observation of J.E. Drevdahl that the creative mind is like a criminal evading the pursuit of the police and recognized the practical application of that response and the probability that no matter what statistical methods these myopic researchers might employ the creative mind, the truly robust creative mind, would remain no less than one step ahead of the mind police. Perhaps it is, after all, this kind of leapfrog relationship that characterizes any advance in cultural expression. However, I am impelled to suggest that culture is not civilization and that the culture might be thought of as the vigorous expression of a society in the throws of evolution and that civilization represents the plateaus of its expression. Although, to be perfectly honest, I am not too satisfied with those definitions. Perhaps these definitions might be refined somewhat if we think of culture as something that is done within a group and civilization is what observers think about it.

That is, the relationship between the creative thinker and the status quo traditionalist is always like that of the inch worm with the front end arching up and forward and the rear end drag-lifted along behind. There is mounting evidence that the world community, in its entirety, and in its several regional areas, is currently undergoing social and geo-political adjustment. Perhaps one may be the cause of the other, in which case flexibility in the response to problems may need to be developed in every one of us. There are significant migrations and diasporas impelled by a variety of circumstances, many of them man-made, such as the political upheavals that have sent Vietnamese, Cubans, and Eastern Europeans to the Western Hemisphere Others, geo-physical and cosmos related, are already in progress but their final results unknown and pending, are seemingly immanent such as earth warming. Ozone holes, and melting icecaps. With the planet earth itself undergoing transformations that make age-old periodic events such as winter, summer, day and night, no longer entirely dependable as indicators of short time future events. A creative flexibility seems to be the keynote to human survival. Thus, we find ourselves unable to disagree with those studies which conclude that an education based entirely on an authoritative tradition is no longer valid, for what the world faces, at present, there are no authorities…no human ones at any rate. A half century ago it was determined by psychologists that there was an identifiable group, a sub-group, if you will, of human beings who in spite of the social, cultural, authority and peer oppression of their minds sets, life-styles, and intellectual performances were, in some circles, considered undesirable, dangerous, and perverted. Even in these days, there are those authorities who would administer drugs to silence the expression of individuals with disturbing perceptions. The perceptive person’s aesthetic dis-ease, thus eliminated from making its contributition to society, is the equivalent, perhaps, of depriving the human species only early-warning system made available to us, as a species, for the purpose of alerting us to the changes we must make for the survival of the species. Without this aesthetic perception dis-ease we are more vulnerable to destruction. The characteristics of this group, we have been told, include being able to function independently, to think on one’s own, to be flexible, manipulative, and original in behavior. These are words, even today, which can set off alarms of anxiety among some who consider the established order as sacrosanct. How humiliating it might be for the upright, the socially respectable, and the rule-following majority to learn that when it comes to the crunch, their rules, regulations and habits won’t do the job and that the sometimes unruly, unaccustomed, and inventive will accomplish what

needs to be done. The solution I see is the application of the gestalt view upon a situation rather than the imposition of the rulebook approach. We have seen at least twice in my lifetime the humiliation of material power (the U.S.A.) by cultures with an aesthetically oriented sense of being (Vietnam and Iraq). Three years ago I launched an internet web site called “The Creativity Packet” which, originally emerged from an observation made by an Austrian banker whose responsibility was to assess the probability of success of the newly freed states of the Soviet Union within a very different economic system established by the European Union. The results of his mission were disappointing to him in that he felt it would take no less than five years or the former satellite states to attain what was needed, while the Soviet Union itself, on the other hand, would require fifteen or twenty years to reach that point. We both felt that the explanation for the startling difference in transitional performance was due to the greater experience in exercising political flexibility the satellite nations had had. The disappointing response to my vision of an appropriate corrective approach to a change in the culture of the European Economy I felt was probably due to several factors. Primary among these was the understandable reluctance of those in control to share power with their subordinates, for my proposals included encouraging and rewarding “employees” for their effective creative solutions to problems. Second among these reasons, it was felt, was the reluctance of administrators to allow “employees” to learn just how valuable a resource they really were which my approach to analysis implied and, really demanded. I am fully in sympathy with an administration’s response to the matter of handing over power to a group of possibly ambitious employees, but an imaginative use of mathematical equation building (changing definitions and values in the equation might well iron-out any perceived threat to status and still reward those who deserve being rewarded.) The process, as I envisioned it, would also increase the incidence of mutual respect and the performance of good moral and ethical behavior. Two of the tasks I use in the The Creativity Packet approach to creating an organization’s creativity profile of associates I devised while I was a research assistant to E. Paul Torrance who was then chief of the Bureau of Educational Research at The University of Minnesota. The reason I was there was partly a matter of “if you can’t beat them, join them” but the really important reasons were related to the need to understand more completely something to which I was antagonistic, in order, in part, to understand my own thinking processes better. It is true that for the year that I was there I never made a friend of any of my co-workers, with the exception of two teen-age clerks who assisted me in certain related tasks. I was unable to relate to the colleagues of my own age for reasons I attributed to the absence of commonly shared experiences.

They made no attempt to include me and I really can’t blame as, I felt, they may have sensed my disdain for their style of humor and their everlastingly sly boastfulness. In that period of time I do not recall anyone of them asking a penetrating question, but seemed content to view the world of statistical analysis as holding the answer to all questions. Since I had no handle on their intellectual vocabulary I worked essentially isolated. The task I created for Dr. Torrance at his request was eventually called “The Just Suppose Test”. This was a task that required the participant to list as many consequences to improbable situations as they could. It was my job to think up the situations and to devise scoring methods. This took no great effort on my part and so, having been, as it were, baptized into the faith, I created another task, which emphasized the non-verbal abilities. This I called The Creativity Design Test and in it incorporated many of the concerns that are of interest to artists, devising a scoring method for it as well. These tests are still used to identify the creative minds within groups and do, also help to distinguish those with verbal creative skills from those with non-verbal, i.e. graphic organizational skills. One of the more interesting results from my application of these and other psychological assessment tasks is that those subjects identified as creative tend to consistently receive grade point averages one grade point lower than those identified as less creative who also tend to tell more lies (as identified by an independent measure) designed to enhance their status within the larger community and their peer group. This should be a finding of considerable interest to administrators of departments and organizations: those identified as creative people will not always say what others may want to hear. It takes an unusual administrator to resolve that conflict, the conflict between diminished professional progress and social acceptability on the one hand and heightened professional productivity and social discomfort on the other. As Alan M. Kantrow, editor of Harvard Business Review, observed: those in business “must face the realty that there may have to be fundamental changes in who they are, what they do, how they do it as wrenching and dislocating as it may be”. We can understand from these findings why it is that the creative individual is often a social pariah, get passed over for promotion, or unable to find employment. In a time of national, group, or organizational need, an emergency, a crisis, this way is not the way to go. If you want a solution to the problem, do it the proper way, that is, the right way, by structuring the roadway with the material available, to perform functions optimally and with due consideration to appropriate rewards to those who have actually indicated and structured both the theoretical abstract relationship and the organizational “in place” solutions.

More than a year ago, or so it seems, a prominently known Canadian colleague identified that business organizations are often rigid with apprehension when confronted with the unexpected. She well comprehends the important contributions to corporate health that creative mind-sets produce and is vitally interested in the potentially invaluable service these mind-set types can provide organizations who well comprehends the important contributions to corporate health that creative mind-sets inject into the system and is vitally interested in the potentially invaluable service these mind-set types can provide existing organizations should their insights be integrated smoothly into the existing order This observation in the context of this paper would mean that the world-wide economic structure is at the back-end of the inch worm, or putting it another way, without the perception of the creative mind trying to guide the organization may be like driving at night down a darkened road without headlights. If, at this time, I seem to be emphasizing the economic aspect of our culture it is merely because it is a very timely matter of concern to the entire western world as its influence on other segments of western society is increasingly being experienced. When the economic times get out of joint, all aspects of our society are affected. What is called for is not repair, but a wiser and broadened reconstruction which includes more of the more recently formed economic units ...also the results of creative thinking practices…than had been previously and consciously incorporated into the system. In short, make effective room for the new in order to avoid a jamming of the system due to a reluctance to incorporate the untried. One must be brave to deal with the unknown. In times of stress one’s first response may be to revert to the tried and the true, but that response may have already proved itself ineffective and it is at that point that an innovative approach, while risky and unknown, may turn the tide. The flexibility that a creative approach to problem solving implies and actually requires is an approach that the very young inevitably use when confronted with situations they see as problems. There are, of course, those few who may refuse to respond to a challenging situation, which retreat and who hide away, and these we may have labeled as deficient in intelligence. My experience tells me that that label is wrong both factually and morally, for the labeling process itself is a serious inhibition to the understanding that is required for any alteration. The fear of trying, the fear of making an error, keeps us from discovery. To offer an analogy, let me point to the natural world. There are many more fertile elements, than are required for the propagation of the species, and many of those are destroyed, in one way or another, along the way. Some, if they find unfamiliar and unaccustomed environments adjust to those environments and, in so doing, may make a small, but important, change in behavior supporting the survival of the species. It is the flexibility to try various adaptations that is the key and the two tasks described above (The Creativity Design Test and The Just Suppose Test) make important contributions to the identification, encouragement, and training of that characteristic.

The culture of a society that supports creative approaches to existence and to the solution of whatever problems they encounter is a culture that will be a vital and fertile force in the world and will be a culture that can lead others, more inhibited, more tradition bound, toward a less timid response to change, and a more developed and sophisticated approach to evaluation and appraisal. A culture of experimentation encourages the production of a more refined product. It is an organic approach to an organic existence…and it will be based on sense data, whether the number of those senses is five, six, seven or more. Dr. Henrickson’s address is: prh@tcp.com.mt