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Action learning and creativity

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By Jonathan Milne, Director of The Learning Connexion

Creativity is a balancing act. On one side is experimentation and openness; on the other side is technique and repetition.

Big businesses often take a production-line approach – like workers on a conveyor belt who endlessly repeat their allocated task. Little businesses (including artists who want to sell their work) usually have to be much more experimental as they search for a niche in the marketplace.

Creativity requires both dimensions. Music is a good example. Pianists practice until they can remember every note without having to refer to sheet music. Mechanics and doctors know complex routines that become almost automatic.

‘Technique’ is a sort of deep memory that develops through practice. Bad habits are patterns that have been learned so well that they prevent creativity.

Memory connects with a combination of ‘doing’ and ‘theory’. Schools are still largely based on the belief that theory comes first. Unfortunately, this is an excellent way to establish bad habits.

It’s easy enough to put the practice first. For example, if you want to learn representational drawing, you will most likely become very good if you practice for a mere 15 minutes a day for the next 100 days. There’s guidance in my book GO! The art of change (starting on page 49).


If you want to move beyond technique and into creativity you can use the same process to draw or paint a hundred works in as many ‘styles’ as you like. If you work on it you’ll find your way into the creative thinking that lies behind every art ‘movement’.

To begin with, it’s fine to mimic the styles. You can relate to any theme you like (faces, landscapes, buildings, plants, technology … the list is endless).

Once you get going the challenge is to evolve ideas. Can you find your way into a zone that is new (at least for you)? The drawings are by Katharine White. She was exploring ways to illustrate ‘GO!’ with inspirations from her amazing cat.

If you do a hundred, then it’s likely that you will go through some phases.

Perhaps, ‘This is a stupid idea, why did I start? It’s sooooo boring!’

‘Mmm, that was interesting, let’s try some variations.’

‘OMG what a mess that was!’

‘WOW! This could be taking me somewhere.’

The emotional roller coaster is part of creativity. It takes you towards a zone in which your general flexibility (as opposed to ‘general intelligence’) will be stronger in any situation. It requires time, practice, a sense of humour and some faith that it will take you somewhere. Have fun!



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