Suppose you’ve got a great idea, and since it feels OK you start working on it; right? Ideas precede activity, or can it be the other way around? Can activity, i.e., trying hard, lead to great ideas? Lots of brain puzzling thoughts but nevertheless important ones. Imagine a student learning, grabbing a still unfamiliar phenomenon, say designing a toy robot, or writing a poem, for instance. How to proceed? We cannot be all Isaac Newton, laying under a tree. Ideas do not come by themselves; so, do you need genius or is it hard work trying to solve the issue? Creativity research does not help us here much; there is a serious divide between ‘inspirationalist’ and ‘productionalists’ (1). Since we cannot be great minds all the time, it would be helpful when at least, say in school learning, we learn to discover the yet unknowns our ‘own’ way. Therefore the activity-to-ideas notion would seem advantageous whereas the ideas-to-production notion probably is less favorable in grasping new insights (2).
To help teachers to choose an approach in their teaching of new understanding a study on use of metacognition in creativity tasks gives some indications on tracks to follow. Drawing from a cognitive-creative sifting model, which intends to bridge the abovementioned divide by the use of metacognitive skills (reflection, monitoring, planning) the study found that 70% of task success was explained by applying (domain specific) knowledge. So clear support for the knowledgeable, low road approach over the high road of genius. Digging deeper into an issue based on the knowledge resource available; that’s what it takes – one could say a truly teaching embedded approach.
Still, a feeling of uneasiness remains. Why do certain great ideas come suddenly, out of the blue, actually while deliberately not(!) thinking on the task at hand. While doing something completely different (ironing is a good one) unexpectedly you get the greatest ideas on topics you occupied yourself with in vain while trying so hard. There needs to be a spark of genius beyond the inevitable action we put into a problem, apparently.
Jeb S. Puryear (2015) Metacognition as a Moderator of Creative Ideation and Creative Production, Creativity Research Journal, 27:4, 334-341, DOI:10.1080/10400419.2015.1087270