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Many people want to know answers to issues which, if somebody could find a better answer, would have amazing impacts.  Lots of issues which have been identified for people to resolve, including many that you may never have considered.  If you have nothing else to do, maybe you can solve some of the puzzles listed here:

These issues are (sort of) easy to state and history has taught us that there is no easy answer.

Even if you do not seek to change the world, people always want better solutions to old problems.  High school students come to university to learn better answers.  Even in the real estate industry, which is not considered as “creative” as fine arts or literature, employers are looking for graduates with superior “problem-solving skills”.  If everybody wants it then why is it so hard to find?  If universities are full of smart people then why can’t they teach it? 

In my opinion, it is not easy to recognize creativity because many people confuse a truly new answer with a different answer.  When learning anything, there seems to be a difficult balancing act between mastering the necessary skills and being trapped by those skills into not seeing alternatives.  On the other hand, I have been at the museum on the MIT campus which shows what MIT students can do when they know that they can overcome any technical barrier.  Truly curious people look past the routine incremental improvements to make a real difference.

I find it useful to ask lots of questions which focus on how ideas are connected.  By understanding the connections more deeply, you can challenge hidden assumptions constructively.  Children and people from outside the mainstream are naturally less constrained.  They can ask lots of questions which, to an expert, are silly but success requires only one eye-opening question.

History shows that it takes time to make that challenge successful.  It is generally agreed that creative answers are not the result of a brilliant insight but of a long and not necessarily straight process.  Once a hidden but limiting assumption has been identified by somebody else, it is easy for others to shake off the limitation.

This process is also hard to recognize.  As Douglas Adams said “It is a rare mind indeed that can render the hitherto non-existent blindingly obvious. The cry ‘I could have thought of that’ is a very popular and misleading one, for the fact is that they didn’t, and a very significant and revealing fact it is too.”

Both when teaching and when doing my research, I keep trying to ask better questions and that may be the real response to developing creativity.  The students who arrived on campus earlier this month do not yet know which problems they will face but, four years from now, after asking, answering and being asked many questions, they will be surprised at how far they have progressed.  They will see in ways that they never considered and, maybe, that their instructors never expected either.

Creativity is not an “it” which can be packaged.  Universities can teach creativity, but not in the way that most people expect.