Unleashing Creativity — A Remarkable Guest Post by an 11 Year Old Girl

Tina Seelig
Oct 27, 2019 · 6 min read

Below is an article written by Ilana Katwan, an 11 year old girl at the International School in Brussels. Her teacher, Jennifer Cook, asked her students to apply the Innovation Engine model that I describe in my book, inGenius, to themselves and to different periods of history to examine what allows creativity to flourish.” Here is Ilana’s response to that assignment… It blew my mind!

Until we’re somewhere around the age of eleven, we seldom think about what will happen after our parents have decided that they’re tired of all the extra expenses we generate. When we’re younger, we might suddenly convince ourselves that we’re on the verge of discovering a cure for cancer by mixing water with milk. Or perhaps we might daydream about working in fields for which we have no qualifications whatsoever.

However, we never really think about the kind of lives we actually want to lead until we hit the double digits.

Nearing this age really does make us start to seriously consider the kind of impact that we want to make on the world. Of course, even then, the lives we imagine we’ll lead aren’t always entirely plausible, but they are certainly a lot more realistic than the very rough notions of what it means to be an adult that we have when we’re only four.

At eleven, we start to realize the importance of originality and creativity in our lives. How creativity can be more than just a tool to make an imaginary game seem like a reality, or a test seem like an imaginary game; it becomes essential to the person that we’ll eventually become. The next few years are, I imagine, a kind of struggle, in which we are trying constantly to figure out how to most effectively utilize our creativity.

It is also during our younger teenage years that we really start to experiment with some of the more complex applications of creativity.

Sometimes, creativity can be a kind of self-fulfilling experience; regardless of whether it will give us a competitive advantage, the simple act of being creative can be a source of immense satisfaction. It eventually becomes apparent that creativity is not merely self-beneficial but can genuinely make a difference in the lives of others.

Still, most of us somehow manage to go through life without bothering to fully understand the nature of creativity. Understanding the conditions under which creativity is born and those under which it thrives — one of the driving forces behind some of the most important parts of the world — is not, for some reason, is not, for some reason, something many of us truly understand.

Tina Seelig’s Innovation Engine model (which is explained here) introduces a convenient solution to this problem. The framework explains not only how creativity works, but how best to unlock its potential. This kind of thing would likely make a difference if taught to children at an early age.

So, The International School of Brussels (ISB) has taken matters into its own hands, and decided to try and make that difference. Through a comprehensive unit on creativity centered around Seelig’s model, sixth grade students are given the opportunity to explore the ins and outs of original thinking.

Starting by simply thinking about creativity in their own lives, students work their way up to identifying the key factors of the creative mind in the lives of some of the most highly regarded original thinkers.

A few months ago, my class learned that we would soon be starting a unit on creativity. I have to admit, I was somewhat skeptical at first. Back then, I didn’t really think of creativity as subject to conscious development. I thought that the way creativity unfolds and develops over time was completely beyond our control. In short, I had an ironically unoriginal, static view of creativity that is common to a lot of people, and I had never doubted it for a second. So it’s no mystery why having an entire unit devoted to creativity seemed kind of superfluous to me. However, on the wild assumption that my teacher might be slightly more knowledgeable than me on some subjects, I decided to take the class as seriously as I could.

On the first day of creativity class, we were asked to define “creativity,” and immediately, the room fell silent. Of course, we were already familiar with the concept of creativity, but putting it into words seemed another matter altogether. This led me to question what I thought was my understanding of creativity. It was then that I (rather grudgingly) realized just how much I had yet to learn.

Eventually, we were shown the TED Talk in which Tina Seelig explained her model. We spent a couple days discussing her ideas in more detail, and the subsequent weeks were spent testing them. We would study particularly creative time periods and people, and then look at how all of the elements of the Innovation Engine influenced them.

The elements of the Innovation Engine include knowledge, imagination, attitude, resources, habitat, and culture. The first three are internal to you, and the latter are characteristics of your environment.

The further we ventured into the unit, the more I started to think about how I could put what I was learning to use. I began to think about how I could apply this model to myself, rather than to other people. Of course, it’s important to understand how the minds of important creative figures worked, and what caused them to work in such a manner. But it was fairly clear that we were expected to be able to understand with equal clarity the ways in which our own minds worked. So, hoping to do exactly that, I started thinking more about how the six components of the innovation engine have influenced the development of my own creativity.

The first thing that came to mind was my recent change in habitat. In July of 2018, I moved overseas (from America to Belgium). It wasn’t an easy adjustment. I had grown used to my life in America, and had never expected to have to abandon the close friends I had made there, the nice neighborhood I’d lived in, or the wonderful school I’d been going to. It was kind of like jumping into a cold pool on a hot day without first testing the water: a shock. But the transition compelled me to look at the world in a different way. Suddenly, I was in a new place, ripe with new experiences to be had, and new things to be learned. Adjusting to life in a new place widened my perspective considerably.

For instance, the school I went to in America had an altogether different approach to teaching, which more or less meant that I had an altogether different approach to learning. It relied mostly on its students’ competitive drive as a tool for self-discipline and motivation. While there were a lot of normal activities and lessons, competition was a universal element of their teaching style, so, naturally, I spent a lot of time focused on my knowledge of the areas the school valued, as well as on my performance in comparison to that of my peers.

ISB, however, hopes that its students will be more self-motivated than peer-motivated. We’re expected to focus on understanding the areas that we don’t already understand. ISB also works with a more diverse range of kids, with different levels of knowledge on different subjects. So, they focus on being accommodating to all their students rather than pushing all their students to do their absolute best. So I had a little more freedom at ISB. I was less stressed, and was able to focus on my own particular areas of interest.

While both schools are excellent, you can see how ISB offered an alternative set of resources, and immersed me in its own culture, one completely different from that of my previous school.

My new school’s culture impacted my attitude, and the resources in the curriculum brought new knowledge that I wouldn’t otherwise have. And the habitat brought with it a new culture, and different resources.

From this, it became clear to me how the different components of the innovation engine greatly influence one another. Changing only one element radically affects the others.

While this unit may not have completely changed the nature of my being, I really did learn a lot from it. Of course, while the age of eleven is a good time to learn what it means to be creative, the meaning and importance of creativity is important at any age. Whether you’re four, eleven, twenty, or fifty, creativity plays a role in your life. Creativity is a valuable asset to everyone and anyone. It certainly is to me!

The Startup

Tina Seelig

Written by

Innovation & Entrepreneurship at Stanford. Author, What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20, inGenius, Creativity Rules http://www.tinaseelig.com/

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