About Creative Power Day

The Creative Power workshop is a one-hour interactive curriculum blending approaches from design thinking, systems thinking, and growth mindset. During 2016 and 2017, we conducted 44 workshops with over 1,200 students aged 8-13 in 12 cities across the US, Canada, Iceland, India, Ireland, and Norway.

Creative Power Day was the final international project of the Designers Accord, and led by Valerie Casey.

The one-hour workshop strengthens three main skills:
- Seeing connections between disparate concepts
- Developing an openness to new ideas
- Building resilience through experimentation

Article on Design.blog/LinkedIn
Article on the World Economic Forum Agenda
PDF archive of the original Creative Power Day website


"Don't talk about creativity, just show us how to do it. That gives us power." This is what my 10-year old son said in 2016 when I told him I wanted to help students in his class come up with ideas for solving the big, gnarly challenges they were learning about at school. I believed students could benefit from the same kinds of powerful creative skills we cultivate as designers - the ability to see connections between disparate concepts, the openness to absorb new ideas, and the resilience to take risks and learn from failures.

All human beings intrinsically have these abilities, but as we grow up we are steadily re-programmed by school and the workplace to treat originality with skepticism and creativity with reservation. I came up with a simple framework for a Creative Power workshop that could be easily learned and conducted. It was designed to show young people that building their creative power would make them better at everything they tried - from schoolwork, sports, and arts, to being better friends now and being stronger leaders in the future.

When we nurture the creative mindset, particularly in young people, we're building a life-long ability to see the world for what it could be, not what it is now.

How to conduct the Creative Power Day workshop

Activity 1: Shift Perspective
The Big Idea: If you changing how you look at something, it helps you understand people or ideas that are different from your own. This is called empathy. You can come up with new ideas to solve problems or get inspiration if you change your perspective.

How to do it
Step 1: Ask everyone to stand up and hold a pencil.

Step 2: Have them hold the pencil straight up in the air, and pretend to draw a circle on the ceiling, in a clockwise direction. Tell them to keep drawing the circle and looking up. (Do a quick visual check that everyone is going clockwise.)

Step 3: Act out the motion with them and say, "Now slowly continue to draw the circle clockwise, bring the pencil down a few inches at a time until it is in front of your face. Continue to circle the pencil, and slowly bring it down until you are looking down on top of it. Continue to draw the circle while looking down on it."

Step 4: Ask the group, "What direction is the pencil moving?" (It will be a counter clockwise direction at this point. If people say "clockwise," ask them to try it again.)

Note: Some people lose the integrity of the circle as they bring it down. If you notice this ask them to start over and encourage them to practice "drawing" the circle on the ceiling several times before moving down.

Ask the group, "so what happened?" The initial responses tend to range from the insightful ("what changed is my perspective") to the incredulous and funny. After people have had a chance to try it again, most of them will see that what changed as they brought the pencil down was not the direction of the pencil, but their perspective or vantage point. Have the students share examples about when they were able to shift perspective and see something from a new vantage point.

In relationship to Creative Power, the exercise illustrates how changing your perspective is often simpler than we might imagine. Seeing problems from multiple perspectives is essential when we are trying to solve hard problems. Having empathy is a sign of strength and self-awareness. Also by shifting the way we see something, we are able to come up with much more interesting new ideas.

Exercise adapted from the Systems Thinking Playbook by Linda Booth Sweeney and Dennis Meadows (2001).

Activity 2: Change Habits
The Big Idea: Changing our habits can be uncomfortable or awkward but that's usually a sign of growth and learning. The initial little bit of discomfort you feel when you experience something new goes away quickly. This exercise shows you that it's easier than you think to become open to new ideas.

How to do it
Step 1: Ask the group to stand up and do the following: "Fold your arms the way you would if you were bored, with one arm naturally falling on top of the other. Look at your arms and notice which one is on top. Notice how this feels. Is it comfortable? Does it feel normal?"

Step 2: Now ask the group to uncross their arms and fold them again, the other way, with the other arm on top. "How does that feel? What do you notice?" (Here people may comment that the second way of folding arms feels "uncomfortable" or "awkward.")

Talk about the physical feeling of discomfort when we cross our arms in the second way as being like the emotional and cognitive experiences (the feeling) we have when we are learning something new. Have the students share examples of when they got over feeling uncomfortable when they tried something new.

In relationship to Creative Power, the exercise is meant to show that sometimes our need/desire for feeling comfortable and our tendency to avoid feeling awkward sometimes gets in our way of learning. But that feeling will pass quickly and often those moments when we get outside our comfort zone are when we come up with our best ideas.

Exercise adapted from the Systems Thinking Playbook by Linda Booth Sweeney and Dennis Meadows (2001).

Activity 3: Zigzag
The Big Idea: If we can let go of what we think is the "right" answer, we can come up with really amazing, fresh ideas. Constraints - not total freedom - help us create great solutions. The goal of this exercise is to illustrate three main ideas. First, you always are influenced and dependent on other people whenever you make something - no creative acts happen in isolation. Next, you can create really original, fun ideas even when you have a lot of constraints. In fact, sometimes those constraints make your output even better because they force us to think of things that don't already exist. Last, visualizing your ideas helps you think and communicate better. It doesn't matter if you're "good" at art - it's about experimenting and explaining your ideas. (Standard size paperclips and notecards are needed for this exercise.)

How to do it
Step 1: Form groups of 3 or 4. Ideally, the students are already sitting in grouped desks. To save time, try not to move the students around too much. Each student gets one paper clip and one notecard for each "round."" Each round has one challenge question.

Step 2: Ask each student to bend their paperclip into whatever shape they want but it has to be flat, not 3 dimensional. (Don't tell them what comes next until they have finished this step.)

Step 3: Everyone passes their paperclip to the person on their left, and receives a paperclip from the person on their right. Rotating clockwise.

Step 4: Instruct everyone that their job is to draw their solution to the challenge question on their notecard. They first need to trace the shape of the paperclip and then build on/draw around that shape. Give them only about 1 minute for each challenge.

Step 5: Repeat at least 2-3 more times, with the paperclip rotating to the next person each time. Students get a fresh notecard for each challenge.

Step 6: After 2-3 challenge questions, ask the students to take a fresh paperclip and bend it again. You can decide to reverse the direction they pass the paperclip if you want, or have them keep their paperclip. Ask 2-3 more challenge questions.

Sample challenges questions in increasing difficulty:
_Imagine something that would give you the power to fly
_Imagine your dream home
_Imagine a new kind of sport or musical instrument
_Imagine a way to save water in a drought
_Imagine a new kind of food that could feed everyone on the planet
_Imagine a way that could help people get along better

Ask the students to volunteer to explain their drawings after each challenge question. Ask leading questions to get them to reflect on their process.

Talk about the influence of constraints. Constraints make you more resourceful and that helps drive creativity. How did the outline of the paperclip influence the drawings? Even though it was surprising at first, did it make you faster and freer in coming up with solutions? How did it feel that you weren't in control of the original shape?

In relationship to Creative Power, the exercise is meant to illustrate how constraints force you to think beyond the usual solutions. The exercise shows the interdependencies between people undertaking creative acts.The constraints are designed to create a help students fluidly create without self-consciousness or fear.

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