How to Be Creative

For a number of reasons, I haven't written a blog entry in a long time. Essentially, if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all. I haven't had much nice to say about education for awhile now, so I've just kept quiet.  Well, I have something good to write about, so here we go!

One of the questions I often get after my shows (and came up once again in my latest podcast recording with Real Teaching 101) is, "How do I become creative?" I never really have a good answer. I do believe creativity can be taught and grown, so I usually suggest just diving into a new idea through YouTube instructional videos. That's how I've learned the things I've learned, but it doesn't really address how to come up with those new ideas to begin with.

So, since I can't answer it, I thought I'd take you through the process of how I come up with a new, creative idea!

Around a year and a half ago, I started putting together a lesson on government intervention in the economy. 

Government and the Economy: Fiscal Vs. Monetary Policy - December 14, 2021, 9:07 AM

That's all it was - a few ideas, a link to a lesson guide and a silly meme I saw. This is how I start nearly all of my projects. Get a vague idea and put it into some kind of form I can come back later when inspiration (or need) arises. In this case, that didn't happen until April 8, 2022 - nearly a full 18 months later.  I resumed my searched for Fiscal policy ideas and found that Mr. Clifford had done an EconMovies episode on it. I found he also did one on monetary policy. That led to this new slide:

Now, understand that I had absolutely thought about this lesson multiple times in that 18 month period. I'd reviewed some other lesson plans and had done quite a few random "I have a free time so help me Google" type searches. Nothing that came up get the creative juices flowing.

This sure did. With these two short videos, I now had something I *wanted* to share with students. That, to me, is step one in the creative process:

The brain does magical things when it is inspired. When I have an idea for a lesson, I can't just sit down and do it. That's just not how creativity works. You can't force it. There are plenty of exercises out there to spark creativity (not surprisingly, Disney Imagineering's Blue Sky process is my favorite,) but I've found that just letting my brain work in the background is the most effective way. 

So, with this inspiration in mind, my searches became much more focused. I searched (again) through the bank of lessons our school purchased last year from the Council for Economic Education (an incredible resource) and re-reviewed their ideas. My hope was that with a newly focused lens, I could find at least some pieces I'd like. Nope, didn't happen. Time to expand my search.

I decided to look through our newly adopted textbook (TCI's Econ Alive) as a last resort. Ding ding ding, we have a winner! They start the topic with a look at economic health indicators. While I've taught about inflation, I rarely mention GDP to students because frankly, who cares? (I'm a Economist, I can say that.) However, in the context of this is a health check up and these are the "vital signs" of the economy - well, now we're getting somewhere.

I took the lesson ideas from TCI and adapted them to fit my classroom format. That original slidedeck went through a huge transformation. 

Government and the Economy: Fiscal Vs. Monetary Policy - April 26, 12:02 PM

I now had what I feel is the most important part of the creative process:

3. Find your story.

Disney Imagineering focuses heavily on story. Story drives every creation. For example, the trashcans on Mainstreet are much different than those in Frontierland. It is much, much easier to be "creative" with your lesson design once you've got a story in mind. My story now would be that of a medical exam (the economic indicators) followed by a prescription (fiscal and monetary policy.) While I will admit that getting to that step required some creativity itself, it still drove the rest. 

So, now I had my story and it was time be creative. My first thought was to go with an Operation board game theme. I already have a lesson with that theme (Operation: AOC) and it works well. I started thinking of the indicators as the various ailments in the game such as Water on the Knee. I didn't even start putting anything into the slide doc itself when I woke up the next day with an idea. Brains love to work on problems as we sleep, and mine was all in on this one.

I woke up to  a visual of the words, "Time for a check-up!"

I wasn't seeing things, I swear. I have a poster in my dining room commemorating an event from last November where I saw a panel of Disney voice actors. The poster has many of their most famous quotes. One of those quotes is, "Time for a check-up!" from Doc McStuffins. 

I've never seen an episode of Doc McStuffins. All I know is from the 3 minutes she appears in Playhouse Live! at Disney California Adventure and from the little bit I heard from her voice actor at the event. Still, that was enough for me. I decided to do some research. So, I searched for "time for a check-up!" and the first video that popped up was from the show. I listened to it and realized, yep, this is going to be cool. In the song, Doc sings about the different parts of the body she is going to check on her patients. 

What if instead she sang about the different economic indicators?

Just last week I'd read an article about AI voice replication, so time to do some research!

4. Be curious about EVERYTHING!

I read about AI because it is cool. At no point did I read about it thinking, "One day I might want to take a Disney song and change the lyrics to be about economic indicators." After some searching, the economic in my kicked in and I realized the amount of time it would take for me to clone Doc's voice would simply not be worth the opportunity cost. I compromised (which I often do) and decided to just you a voice generator for a young woman. I typed in a bunch of econ words, not sure which I'd use. I didn't make enough. The words I'd had "spoken" like unemployment rate didn't fit into the song where I was replacing short words like "knees." Creativity is messy!

I played (and yes, to me it is play, otherwise 2 hours for a 30 second video would be a pretty poor use of time!) with the video and, after a couple hours of time well spent, I had my masterpiece. 

Copy of Time for a Check Up Economy.mp4

With that video complete, I knew this was the direction I'd go. I started working on theming the slide deck, changing out colors, fonts and images to evoke Doc McStuffins. And so, here's the product as it stands now. It's not quite done, but it's getting there and the creativity part is covered. Now it's just a matter of filling in the rest of the learning activities, formatting a few slides and delivering the lesson (which I'm now very excited to do!)

Economic Health Check Up

I fully realize I still haven't answered the, "How do I become creative?" question very well. My hope, however, is that by seeing some of my creative process play out you'll realize that A) It can take a long time (18 months on this one!) and B) there isn't really any magic behind it, just be curious and do it!

And, if you're interested in more info on coming up with the story for your lessons, check out chapters 3 and 7 of my book or any of my recent shows posted on the Live shows page.

Get creating!