The Most Valuable Inner Drive
The death of my father, Robert Stringall, in December 2011 gave me the opportunity to reflect on his mentorship at an important developmental stage in my life. Dad and I were closest when I was in my teens; it was here that he was at his most vibrant and dynamic, when he taught creative thinking and problem solving to numerous students at UC Davis and to children in inner city schools. He was one of the first white professors to research the lack of Afro-American students in the UC system in the late 60’s by visiting Birmingham, Alabama which was in the midst of civil rights protests. As a result of his experience there, he developed the M.A.T. program at UC Davis. I was lucky, because he also instructed and included me in his classes. See Robert Stringall
It was the early 70’s and we painted, danced and read everything (no censorship), debating and discussing, playing music, ripping apart (and rebuilding) houses, cars, and electronic equipment and clothes. We worked on math equations for the 4th dimension, and at thirteen a friend and I became the guinea pigs for a new algebra book written by her father, Sherman Stein – a colleague of dads, working through the problems and noting inconstancies. Life was one great creative, joyful endeavour, with problems to solve, questions to ask, theories to prove. Creativity was entertainment as TV was largely banned in Dad’s house at this time.
Life is “trying things to see if they work”. Ray Bradbury
Pondering my ancestry, I come across the fact that I come from a very creative family, from artist aunts to inventor grandfathers and seamstress, diet conscious grandmothers; from DIY farmers, horticulturalists, mechanics and builders, to electronic engineers and University educators and doctors, we are multi-talented. And as one journalist, when reviewing family history for a magazine article on my father recently stated, our ‘diversity is hard to pigeonhole’.
“The man with a new idea is a crank – until the idea succeeds.” Mark Twain
But enough about me…
A creative engagement with life is ongoing, and many of us have tackled, worked in and moved through a variety of organisations and jobs. This is because each job is a learning opportunity, a way to expand our brains and a way to live life dynamically. We become problem solvers and creative thinkers in our communications with others. Creativity is the air we breathe, living an intuitively creative life is our soul’s key note. We endeavour to figure out how things work, or why they don’t. From the mundane website coding to the infinitely variable workings of human mind, body and spirit, we solve problems and ask questions. For us, creativity is the most valuable inner drive.
“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Isaac Newton
At that time many of us read voraciously, watched film, created and listened to music, painted and drew, analysed, researched, experimented, studied and worked, with the understanding that some information cannot be transmitted solely through media but has to be taught, or learned. This is what apprenticeship is about. Certain ways of thinking or ‘being’ are developed solely by personal communication between a teacher and student. This is widely understood for many areas of study and as a result many of us have involved ourselves with creative and interesting individuals, mentors and teachers who personally impart their wisdom. We did not learn a series of ‘facts’ but a way, a path, a type of internal action which our mentors imparted through transference. Many teachers understand this and realise fundamentally that although a child or adult may read or gain information through media, there is a required amount of personal guidance necessary to open up certain paths of development. It is a co-creative transmission of a very hard to define quality; an openness by the teacher to questioning on part of the student and subsequent guidance and transference of information.
“The human mind once stretched by a new idea never goes back to its original dimensions.” Oliver Wendell Holmes
The creative channels must be opened and nurtured and a lack of this type of activity becomes a demoralising problem with people and in organisations. Many times, these channels are not fostered or supported and as a result a stratified manner of thinking is employed, causing blocks when pursing solutions. It is hard to see out of one’s own box, especially if we are not given the necessary tools to do so.
Creative thinking and questioning is an art form as well as a highly developed ability which takes experience.
“Imagination grows by exercise, and contrary to common belief, is more powerful in the mature than in the young.” W. Somerset Maugham
Unfortunately as the older DIY inventors from the past generations, creators, farmers and self-made men and women disappear, they carry with them the understanding of the need to think creatively for survival. We may increasingly come upon a growing class of people who have to be ‘thought for’ or fed information, who can’t solve problems because they are unable to, at the outset, even figure out how to view situations from a variety of vantage points, or, as dad used to say, ‘formulate the right questions’. To whom creative thinking is a downloaded game or application where a finite number of choices drive the player to a set of predetermined but seemingly ‘creative’ goals, a clever channelling into a reward system of carefully chosen Pavlovian, responses. In our world of manufactured ‘creative products and personas’ uniquely developed imagination and problem solving abilities may become highly sought after.
“The best way to get a good idea is to get a lot of ideas.” Linus Pauling
The world is dynamic, not static, making creative thinking and questioning one of the most valuable inner drives we can engender in our youth, and ourselves.
“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For while knowledge defines all we currently know and understand, imagination points to all we might yet discover and create.” Albert Einstein.