Cultivating Creativity

Bill Gladstone alerts me to this paper:

Cultivating Creativity in Conservation Science

Article first published online: 27 NOV 2013

DOI: 10.1111/cobi.12173

© 2013 Society for Conservation Biology

Ref. Conservation Biology Volume 28, Issue 2 Pages 299 – 626, i – i, April 2014

creative; creativity training; effective conservation; innovative; strategic


Conservation practitioners and scientists are often faced with seemingly intractable problems in which traditional approaches fail. While other sectors (e.g., business) frequently emphasize creative thinking to overcome complex challenges, creativity is rarely identified as an essential skill for conservationists. Yet more creative approaches are urgently needed in the effort to sustain Earth’s biodiversity. We identified 4 strategies to develop skills in creative thinking and discuss underlying research and examples supporting each strategy. First, by breaking down barriers between disciplines and surrounding oneself with unfamiliar people, concepts, and perspectives, one can expand base knowledge and experiences and increase the potential for new combinations of ideas. Second, by meeting people where they are (both literally and figuratively), one exposes oneself to new environments and perspectives, which again broadens experiences and increases ability to communicate effectively with stakeholders. Third, by embracing risk responsibly, one is more likely to develop new, nontraditional solutions and be open to high-impact outcomes. Finally, by following a cycle of learning, struggle, and reflection, one can trigger neurophysiological changes that allow the brain to become more creative. Creativity is a learned trait, rather than an innate skill. It can be actively developed at both the individual and institutional levels, and learning to navigate the relevant social and practical barriers is key to the process. To maximize the success of conservation in the face of escalating challenges, one must take advantage of what has been learned from other disciplines and foster creativity as both a professional skill and an essential component of career training and individual development.

About Lisa Roberts

Project leader
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2 Responses to Cultivating Creativity

  1. Lisa Roberts says:

    It’s great when conversations stimulate writing as well as art making. It suggests there’s some listening as well talking happening. Reading is a form of listening and responding to someone’s writing approaches conversation.

    I used to think of art making as a conversation we have alone in communion with our environment and materials at hand to work with. But now after years of conversations with climate scientists I include people as part of my environment and try to see through their eyes as well as my own. This is always confronting but seems the only way to see beyond my self.

    The scientific method is a way to understand beyond feelings, which seem mostly driven by personal needs and desires (like feeling the need to love and be loved). As we talked about yesterday, academic thinking allows us to drill down deeply into fine details through logical analysis whilst embodied knowledge comes from sense experience in a lateral way. As Chris described this I imagined the cross, the primal form used to express spiritual connection. The challenge is to see both ways simultaneously.

    Perhaps if the two ways of knowing are more widely known and practiced, the cross can work again as a symbol to bring people together, as well as to reconnect our thoughts and feelings. I’m not religious but I find it comforting to think of knowledge accumulating over time, within us and around us like an onion skin. So there’s another primal form to bring to the cross: the circle that describes the sphere (impossible model of perfection). Something to aspire to?

  2. I found this paper really interesting. I love the premise that creativity can be used to engage people in protecting biodiversity and expanding their idea about their individual role in doing so. It delivers a healthy dose of optimism in the face of a lot of bad news about the scale of human impact on our beloved planet. The idea that by breaking down barriers between disciplines and meeting people where they are, which results in new combinations of ideas becoming possible, somehow seems to break down the challenge into something that is immediately do-able.

    The aim of explaining a complicated concept clearly to a neophyte is bound to improve one’s communication style, or at least clearly understand where one is falling short… This is a particularly resonant issue for me in relation to the Living Data ‘conversation’ project, as I navigate confusion, understanding and questions of relevance and communication.

    Effective and transformative communication seems to be at the core of what this paper is discussing, and also what Living Data’s aims are. These Living Data conversations also seem to be as much about communication and generating new ideas, as about data per se.

    Lisa said something that stopped me in my tracks, to the effect that not everyone communicates emotionally. (I would add that this is probably especially the case in scientific circles). After Lisa said this, I became aware of my assumption, (which was that everyone responds to information best when they have an emotional connection with it), but I now understand that this is not the case! This is part of what can be so exciting about talking with people from other disciplines and mindsets; the meeting of lenses, assumptions and knowledge, sensitively handled, can become so much more than the sum of its parts.

    How exciting that putting a toilet in the middle of a building, rather than tucked away in a corner can have such an impact on idea generation! And this: “Avoiding risk can stifle creativity”. Yes indeed, I’ve faced down that one before… it goes hand in hand with how much freedom our culture (and ourselves) allows us to try something, but fail. I imagine it is the same for scientists who are often dealing with large public grants, and feeling the pressure to perform… “Individuals demonstrate greater creativity when motivated to achieve positive outcomes, than when motivated to avoid failure”. That says it all really.