Research Kills Creativity

By |2016-10-29T11:37:20-07:00February 24th, 2011|

I heard a phrase at a conference once which rocked me to my core.

Research kills creativity.

This little sentence has disturbed and delighted me ever since in my education career.  Education is based on research.  We rely on it for data on our students, curricular programs, what methodology we promote and even what we feed to our children.

We are obsessed with research in education.

So does that mean that as a byproduct we are obsessed with killing creativity?

When I think about this phrase really hard, I boil it down to research taking over creativity.  We need data to confirm or deny if something is working – for that, we must have respect.  But our obsessive-compulsive use of data and research has stifled all of that which inspires, questions and compels us to develop.

Research and development is used in marketing all the time.  They research the potential for a product and then go about developing it.  Yet, our research destroys the possibility of development because we are so concerned with twisting and turning the data to what we want it to be.

I think the real reason that this phrase has given me such aggravation as an educator is the implicit knowledge that the research itself doesn’t kill creativity.  It is the process of manipulating the data and using our own biases to defend or defy the research that kills creativity.

I know of an administrator who makes it mandatory for all her teachers to create a data chart on every child in her school and meet twice a week to chart and discuss that data.  If I had to stare at that data for that amount of time, I think I could make it say whatever I wanted in my head.  That doesn’t mean that it’s true.

Instead, why don’t we spend more time on learning creative ways of engaging those students?  Of getting them to be hands-on in their learning?  In using project-based learning, technology, arts integration and multiple intelligences and anything and everything else that would excite that child’s passion for learning?

Respect your data for what it is and use it to CREATE more meaningful, engaging lessons.  What a creative idea that would be.


  1. Ian Chia February 24, 2011 at 5:03 am - Reply

    I think it’s often a mistake to take metrics and define it as “research”. Analytics and data mining can be pushed to an extreme but in a schools setting, as you’ve pointed out – project based learning and a range of other settings provide significant learning that’s better presented by a portfolio demonstrating the process of critical and creative thinking and learning than by metrics.

    There’s a lot of true academic research done in the field of creativity, like the work being done at the Torrance Centre:

    But I suspect that the mis-labeled “research” you’re talking about isn’t about measuring cognitive skills in creativity and divergent thinking and more about fulfilling standardised test scores.

    In that case, those “metrics” and creativity are worlds apart. 🙁

    – Ian

    • admin February 24, 2011 at 6:24 am - Reply

      Ian – you’re right to a degree. What I’m referring to as “research” is both metrics and true research. Schools use metrics all the time and call it “data” and therefore base their student improvement plans on this “data”. But at the same time, I’m also referencing true research in this post because I have seen plenty of school administrators take this research and use their own biases to twist the results to make meaning for their own initiatives. I think we all need to be careful of what we’re using for data and that personal biases don’t creep in when we’re using it for analysis and to drive school improvement.

      On another note – thanks for sharing that link! What a great resource for research in creativity! Do you have any more to share that we could all look at and think about? Thanks!

  2. Elizabeth Peterson February 24, 2011 at 6:09 am - Reply

    Great post! Love the message. Yes! We need to watch how we use and overuse the data we are given.

    • admin February 24, 2011 at 6:25 am - Reply

      So true, Elizabeth. I think we all bring in personal bias when we look at data and we need to be conscious of that before making conclusions based on that data. Thanks for stopping by today!

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