Dr. Jennifer W. Shewmaker

Parent, Teacher, Author

Creativity, edu

About a year and a half ago, I first read the book Creativity, Inc. Since that time, I’ve read the book several times, fascinated by how these concepts might work within the educational setting.

As I read the first chapter in Creativity, Inc., at first I felt a pang of jealousy over the culture of creativity that Ed Catmull describes at Pixar. Probably like many reading the book, my first thought was, “I want to work at Pixar!” But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that developing the kind of work culture that Pixar has is something that can be done anywhere, if those in leadership have the courage to try it.

I bring up courage because I think that creating a culture of creativity, collaboration and problem-solving inherently calls leaders to vulnerability.

Leaders have to be willing to say, “We don’t have everything figured out. There will be problems in our work, but we believe in the abilities of the people who work for us to come together and creatively solve those problems.”

In her book Daring Greatly, author and Social Work professor Brene Brown defines a leader as “anyone who holds her or himself accountable for finding potential in people and processes.” In her chapter on leadership, Brown calls for “disruptive engagement,” stating that in order to really transform our work cultures into ones in which creativity and innovation thrive, we have to be willing to honestly engage with one another. When leaders are willing to, as Catmull says, “acknowledge and make room for what they do not know….the most striking breakthroughs can occur.

As I read this book and thought about the vulnerability that Brown suggests is critical to creativity, I kept coming back to the concept of collaboration. Really innovative ideas, groundbreaking ideas, rarely occur in isolation. They usually break through once we’ve mulled something over for awhile, then listened or read about other people’s ideas, sometimes about something that seems totally unrelated, then had some conversations, then tried a few things, and then we think, “Hey, what about this?” But that can only happen in spaces that allow for, even promote collaboration, or sharing of ideas.

This is especially important in education. When we think about higher education, especially, we often think about siloed ivory towers, with folks who are experts on one thing or another becoming ever more specialized within their area. But in my work as the executive director of a center for teaching and learning, I’ve found that many of my faculty colleagues are hungry for the opportunity to connect and share ideas with others. We’ve hosted conversations about creativity and problem-solving in the Adams Center for Teaching and Learning that bring together professors from biochemistry, foreign language, literature, theology, and physics/engineering who sit together and talk about how they might use the practices of creativity to become better teachers, scholars, and colleagues within our community.

So, how do we promote a culture of creativity and collaboration within higher education? That’s the question that I’ll be exploring in this series, called Creativity, edu.


Brown, B. (2012). Daring Greatly: How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead. New York: Gotham Books. Pg. 185

Catmull, E. & Wallace, A.  (2014). Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the unseen forces that stand in the way of true inspiration. New York: Random House. Pg. xvi.

Featured image: Creativity, Ann Arbor Art Center, by PunkToad license found here, no changes made.

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This entry was posted on November 2, 2016 by in Creativity, edu, Education and Learning and tagged , , , , .
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