Creativity is a fascinating and important subject for anyone to study. Understanding how people tap into their creative powers and why some are better than others is quite interesting. Nancy C. Andreasen is a very qualified person to address this topic. In addition to a PhD in English literature, she later switched careers and earned an MD with a residency in psychiatry. In the current edition of The Atlantic, Andreasen writes on “Secrets of the Creative Brain” (July/August 2014, pp. 62–75). In exploring creativity, Andreasen suggests a fundamental creativity flaw in our educational system:
“The arts and the sciences are seen as separate tracks, and students are encouraged to specialize in one or the other. If we wish to nurture creative students, this may be a serious error.” (p. 75)
This is a significant observation. I have so often seen marvelously talented professionals within their fields who simultaneously had incredible blind spots precisely because of their specialization. Please do not misinterpret me. I think that specialization is powerful and important. That is how cutting-edge, discipline-specific discoveries, inventions, and accomplishments occur. Nevertheless, I think we have to find ways to increase and broaden how we do higher education and professional development. Too much creative potential remains untapped otherwise.
As we have so often seen, it is the multidisciplinary approach that lends itself to a crosspollination of knowledge among fields. This is what tends to maximize creativity. At the risk of oversimplifying, why can’t we all be renaissance people? Why can’t we all be luminaries? Why can’t we all be multitalented? Obviously, we all will not be Da Vincis, but I believe that we each—in our own special way—can be unique and creative academics and practitioners in our chosen fields. I may be shooting for the moon here, but I have been known to do that a time or two.
Enough pontificating. To bring it down home, perhaps the best compromise is to encourage the specialization where appropriate while simultaneously encouraging students to augment their majors with complementary minors that truly broaden their perspectives. This approach makes sense if we genuinely want to maximize our students’ creative abilities. This is an approach that I believe stands to benefit higher education for our students, and society as those students graduate and enter their professions.