Fostering Creative Thinking and Problem Solving

By: Glenda Lofton, Ph.D.

Oct 15, 2019

As an educator, I feared that we were developing students who were recorders and reproducers, rather than thinkers and producers.  A story by Helen Buckley entitled “The Little Boy” summarized what I often saw in the classroom.  It tells of a little boy who went to a big school.  One morning when he had been in school for a while, “the teacher said, ‘Today we are going to make a picture.’  ‘Good!’ thought the little boy.  He liked to make pictures. He could make all kinds: lions and tigers, chickens and cows, trains and boats, and he took out his box of crayons and began to draw. But the teacher said, ‘Wait! It is not time to begin!’ And she waited until everyone looked ready.  ‘Now,’ said the teacher, ‘we are going to make flowers.’  ‘Good!’ thought the little boy. He liked to make beautiful ones with his pink and orange and blue crayons.  But the teacher said, ‘Wait! I will show you how.’ And she showed everyone had to make a flower. And it was red with a green stem…The little boy looked at the teacher’s flower; then he looked at his own flower.  He liked his flower better than the teacher’s, but he did not say this.  He just turned his paper over and made a flower like the teacher’s.  It was red with a green stem.”  As might be expected, “Pretty soon the little boy learned to wait, and to watch, and to make things just like the teacher.  And pretty soon he didn’t make things of his own anymore.”  Then the little boy moved to another school, “and the very first day he was there, the teacher said, ‘Today we are going to make a picture.’ ‘Good!’ thought the little boy, and he waited for the teacher to tell him what to do.  But the teacher didn’t say anything; she just walked around the room.  When she came to the little boy, she said, ‘Don’t you want to make a picture?’ ‘Yes,’ said the little boy, ‘What are we going to make?’ ‘I don’t know until you make it,’ said the teacher.”  The little boy seemed amazed when the teacher told him he could make the picture anyway he liked and any color. “If everyone made the same picture, and used the same colors, how would I know who made what, and which was which?’ ‘I don’t know,’ said the little boy, and he began to make a red flower with a green stem.”                

Events like this had such an impact on me that I did my doctoral dissertation on helping students become creative thinkers and problem-solvers.  Since then, I have learned that an individual’s creativity and problem-solving ability is diminished not only in our schools but in the workplace as well.  One of my favorite examples occurred when Bret Lofton was a student working as a temporary for a moving company.  (Yes, his dad started him in the business early.) His coworker, who had been working there for a long time, directed Bret to pick up a huge mattress and put it in a cardboard box.  Bret looked at the mattress, and he looked at the box, and he said, ‘Instead of lifting this heavy mattress, why don’t we just slide the box over the mattress?  The coworker turned red and replied, “This is the way we’ve always done it, and this is the way we’re going to do it!”                

Thankfully, there is a growing awareness in our nation today on the importance of developing creativity in our schools and in the workplace. In February, Educational Leadership, one of the journals I receive monthly, was devoted to the topic of creativity.  As one writer pointed out, “Human societies have always benefited from great innovators…and entrepreneurs, who have brought scientific discoveries, technological advancements, arts, music, literature, wealth and prosperity…Today, human societies have arrived at a point when creativity and entrepreneurship have become a necessity for almost everyone if we are to continue to prosper.” (Zhao, 2013)                

Are you fostering the creativity and problem-solving ability of your coworkers?  Tommy Lofton has always believed, and likes to quote General Patton, “Tell people what to do and not how to do it, and they will amaze you with their ingenuity.”                

About Lofton: Founded in 1979, Lofton Services offers clients the best of all worlds. We provide the responsive, personal service and flexibility of a small local firm while having the technology, resources, and infrastructure to deliver the benefits of the biggest players in our industry. Lofton Staffing can deliver the right people, with the right skills, right when you need them. Celebrating 40 years in staffing excellence! Contact us today

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