Divergent Thinking and Collaborative Creativity


What are the conditions of the creative attitude, of seeing and responding, of being aware and being sensitive to what one is aware of? First of all it requires the capacity to be puzzled. Children still have the capacity to be puzzled.’ Erich Fromm

This session we thought about those times when we felt we had been creative. Tried to consider what had contributed to these creative moments, informed our creative process? We began to think about ways in which every act of creativity is informed by our cultural background and our domain knowledge.

We looked at Guy Claxton’s analysis of the dispositions of creative individuals: including the ubiquitous acronym.  This one being CREATE.

  • Curiosity: wondering about things, living with the question
  • Resilience: independence of thought, standing out from the crowd if need be
  • Experimenting: playing about with ideas, materials, asking what if…?
  • Attentiveness: becoming rapt, becoming immersed in solving the problem
  • Thoughtfulness: having a respectful scepticism towards your intuition, being able to segue between dreaminess and focused thinking
  • Environment setting: being aware of what helps them at different points in the creative process, surrounding themselves by the right people

We discussed whether we felt there was such a thing as a Creative Disposition. And, if it did, wondered how we might create the circumstances to encourage it in others.  Especially if we were being asked to do it in relationship to more formal education.


Role of cultural knowledge in creativity.

As part of an experiment in divergent thinking we undertook one of Guilford’s Alternative Uses Test for Creativity (1967) – using a large book. Listing as many different things one could use if for as possible.


We looked at the scoring criteria offered below. Shared responses from the group. Scored ourselves on:

  • Originality – how many others gave same e.g.
  • Fluency – total e.g.s
  • Flexibility – or different categories e.g. carrying things, cleaning things
  • Elaboration – amount of detail given for use [1]

Then we looked at Guilford’s work on [2] creativity, that suggests creative thinking is different from intelligence as measured by IQ.  We looked at ways in which creativity relies on being able to draw freely on patterns one already knows and to transform into something new. Developing divergent thinking being an important part of this.  We explored ways in which we might encourage divergent thinking by developing activities that asked people to think of one thing as something else.  e.g. playing with a bottle of water as though it could be anything one wanted it to be other than its literal reality.   We looked at the role of the symbol. The metaphorical. And thought about how quickly we are, as children, to use one thing as another.  By looking at making our own metaphors for a simple object we then began to realise the role cultural and domain knowledge can play in our ability to think metaphorically in this way.

We tried to think back to our own favourite play activities as children. Discussed the difference between those that were based on the fantasies and stories we created ourselves (often based on other stories we knew or our knowledge of adult behaviour).  Asked ourselves which of our games were based on playground/oral tradition games? Discussed the different relationship of these and our fantasy games to creativity.

We pondered on the relationship between creativity and constraint/rules/repetition in games and play? (And in things like poetry writing etc.)


Creativity and Play

We went on to think further about the nature of play.  And its role in our creative development. Looked at the importance Piaget, Rousseau, Montessori, Dewey place great importance on the role of free play and guided play in children’s social and development and learning.

We looked at the links that have been increasingly placed on the role of play in the development of divergent thinking skills.[3] (see activities above) Noted Russ and others noting of the importance of distinguishing between creative process and creative product in speaking about children’s creativity. We asked ourselves, if product depends finally on an external view of its aesthetics and its value, might we be in danger, in focusing mainly on product of ignoring the process that leads to it and the role of play in its development.

As we often do we went right back to Plato to look at different views of the role of play in our development, noting his distinction between the unstructured play that is useful to children as opposed to the role of structured play (or games) in the education of young adults.  We looked at the way in which the Romantics turn this on its head and place the modern value on play as part of the creative act that leads to our self-fulfilment. c.f. the role of free play in Derrida, Nietzsche, Cixous, Wittgenstein. We also looked at the notion that one might still need the ‘rules’ or the structure, even if they were only introduced in order to be broken.  We considered A.N. Whitehead’s notion that, ‘unlimited possibility and abstract creativity can produce nothing”‘.


Creativity and collaboration

In thinking about encouraging creativity in others we looked at Vygotsky’s suggestion that play is a collaborative process: often relying on the response of a more capable peer or an adult to object substitution (or using one thing to symbolise another) within many children’s play.  We noted the evidence that suggests that the use of the ludic symbol (one object as another) arises as much, or even more, from participative as from solitary play, in most cases influenced by the adult’s contribution and response. C.f Saxton and Morgan on responses to children.

We considered how when children play in terms of re-creating adult life/fantasy play what contribution this might make to encouraging their creativity? And what the place of feeling and emotion is within this learning (Or what S. Russ and T. Amabile[4] sometimes call affect)?

We touched on Paul Willis suggestion that teenagers carry on using play as a means of expressing their creativity through activities that are: ” actually full of expression signs and symbols through which the individual groups seek creatively to establish their presence, identity and meaning”[5].


Creative play, rules, boundaries and Brecht.

We then took some of Brecht’s exercises to explore play and being creative within certain boundaries, and the role of the audience/viewer on this.  using our own stories and those of our peer group:

Making a contract in action – eye contact. In pairs. Stood in neutral at a comfortable distance. Took an object, such as a shoe, and threw it from one to the other, marking the moment of acceptance through eye contact. Ensuring our partner always caught the shoe. No tricks.

Action followed by action – communication with your audience. In pairs. One of the pair carried out a simple, real action – no mimed objects. Their partner carried out their own action in response. The first thing that came into their mind with no attempt to impose structure and meaning. There was no physical contact between the actors.  Each marked the moment of change by making eye contact with the other. We shared.

The rest of group made end on audience. One pair carried out the same task but looked to the audience to mark the end of their action. Made real eye contact with them. Then another pair looked at the audience and then their partner. Then one looked at the audience, looked at their partner, looked at audience etc. and built this.

Talked about making a contract with the other players, then building up a contract with the audience and the development of both inclusion and collusion.



We then took this relationship further by working on Brecht’s notion of advocacy and his suggestion that, ‘everything hangs on the “story”; it is the heart of the theatrical performance. For it is what happens between people that provides them with all the material that they can discuss, criticise, alter’…..Brecht on Theatre

We started by telling each other stories.  Personal and meaningful but able to be shared with others. Sat in pairs opposite each other to do this. One story followed by the other story; without interruptions.

We selected/volunteered a story. The story teller re-told it to another person; they sat in chairs opposite each other but didn’t look at us. The audience was the fourth wall. Watching and listening.

The ‘listener’ the represented the story but in the first person taking on some of the physicality etc. of the teller but without “becoming them” but as if it was their story. They faced the audience. Included them in the story telling.

We then started the court scene. (Brecht loves court scenes) This ‘story’ was now part of the history of someone who had committed a crime. It was being re-told to the jury in a court of law. The lawyer for the defence was telling client’s story to the jury to prove mitigating circumstances.  The prosecuting lawyer then re-told story from the opposite point of view – as if it was part of the evidence for the prosecution.

We looked at the exercise in terms of audience and creator, story being built together as a shared collaboration.  the ability for anyone to then own the story in their own way and to work creatively with it.  Not starting from nothing but seeing what is there already and creating a masterful copy, building on other people’s offers. etc.

[1] See also (Torrance Tests on VLE)

[2] Guilford, J.P. (1950) Creativity, American Psychologist, Volume 5, Issue 9, 444–454.

[3] S. Russ: Affect and Creativity 1993

[4] Teresa M. Amabile: Affect and Creativity at Work

[5] Willis Common Culture Common Culture: Symbolic Work at Play in the Everyday Cultures of the Young Open University, Press 1990

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