Wooden Wednesdays: Overlooked Habits 2

Note: this is the seventeenth of a series of posts investigating the leadership style of John Wooden and its applicability to choral music education.

We have reviewed the fifteen traits John Wooden included in his Pyramid of SuccessThroughout, I felt there was a universality to his selected traits as applicable to all disciplines, despite his developing them as a basketball coach.

That said, I think there are at least a few overlooked character habits that he missed along the way. Perhaps it’s just that he was limited by the dimensions of the pyramid, and perhaps it’s because the habits I’m thinking of are more frequently considered in the arts and sciences than in athletics.

The second trait I want to address is CREATIVITY.

There is no question that the synthesis of multiple old ideas into something new is fundamental in every discipline: basketball, engineering, music, education, medicine. This synthesis is what I define as creativity. We build a unique perspective over years of observation and experimentation, and then when a new problem or situation arises, we apply that perspective to devising a solution.

It is a universal need.

And yet we do not intentionally build this habit of creativity, and I think I know why. I think that John Wooden considered creativity a gift, not a skill. Many do.

I am certain that if Wooden had considered creativity a habit, he would have included it in his pyramid: certainly basketball players must react creatively to novel situations all the time, and their success can stem from their creativity. To pick a different sport, consider a few highlights of longtime Detroit Red Wings forward Pavel Datsyuk. He was widely lauded for his seemingly infinite bag of tricks, but I think more likely is that he possessed a deep well of creativity that allowed him to react quickly to the moment at hand.

Most creative people will tell you that their creative success has come through failure: from trying and trying and trying to create. They will tell you that they constructed a vast library in their heads of ideas to synthesize, and then they made bad copies before they made good ones; they made good copies before they made bad original work; finally the good creative work came, inconsistently and then regularly.

How do you teach CREATIVITY?

The most important is by providing opportunities to be creative, free of judgement. Judgement can shut down creative thinking, and the more often it is shut down, the less likely creativity is to manifest itself again – let alone strengthen.

Brené Brown explains in Daring Greatly:

85 percent of the men and women we interviewed for the shame research could recall a school incident from their childhood that was so shaming that it changed how they thought of themselves as learners. What makes this even more haunting is that approximately half of those recollections were what I refer to as creativity scars. The research participants could point to a specific incident where they were told or shown that they weren’t good writers, artists, musicians, dancers, or something creative.

[emphasis mine]

We have to empower our young people to build the creative habit, and the only way to do it is to free them from shame about their nascent creativity. That means no grades, no judgements, no expectations except that you be creative, and that you will be creative again tomorrow.

As educators, coaches, directors, we can help our students build this creative skill. Begin by accepting that it is a skill, then foster an environment where creativity is regularly exercised and never judged.

If I had one conversation with John Wooden, it would be about creativity, and his perspective on it. I’ve found very little in his writing that addresses creativity as a skill.