Get Those Crayons a Crackin’!

October 4th, 2009

Most youth workers believe they're creative. Most everyone else disagrees. And I think everybody's wrong.

My point? There's nothing very novel about hosting a 48-hour Banana Madness Lock-in Jamboree when 43 other groups have done exactly the same thing. But hey, most youth workers possess more creativity in their little toes than the rest of us will ever have. The problem is that many youth workers don't develop—or, at best, don't have the time to develop—their creativity.

You know you're supposed to “color outside the lines,” but you've misplaced the crayon box somewhere in your office and there are Bible studies to plan and kids to meet for lunch. Once again, the question is how?

Here's How
Corporate America—which follows trends more fanatically than your students, bless its heart—has become a veritable mecca for creativity workshops. Daunted by the magnitude of change it faces, one set of corporate strategists believes that the only way to move forward in these hyperspeed, waning years of the 20th century is by harnessingbreakthrough thinking.

Therefore many business execs are training their staffers to reemploy more creative, free-form approaches to their jobs—methods they may have used before corporate policies squeezed them into cookie cutters. They want their workers to break through. They want to inspire them to attack their assignments in new, exciting ways.

Although much of this new training—and its accompanying philosophy—is ballyhoo and tommyrot, some suggestions are worth acting on.

Creativity Catalysts
Ironically, when it comes to creativity, the aforementioned free-form approach doesn't work as well as a structured one. Here are some proven ideas—

Define the problem. Don't expect clever ideas or answers to pop into your head (it's not that porous). Instead select a problem and then rigorously define it. The creative process works best when sandwiched between periods of careful analysis. In other words, start by defining exactly what you're trying to fix, then brainstorm a basketful of possible solutions. Finally submit your possible answers to careful scrutiny in an effort to find the best one.

Challenge the status quo. Ask “why?” and “what if?” questions at least 10 times each day. Why do we meet on Wednesday nights? Why do we meet at the church? What if we spent a month in Mexico instead of a week? What if we didn't have to worry about money at all? What if we could hold our meetings during lunch break at the high school?

Spend time with people who are successful in fields outside youth ministry. Learn how journalists, scientists, and tugboat captains solve problems. Look for standard solutions in their worlds that are novel in yours. Invite them to your group for a brainstorming session. Because these folks know nothing about the way you typically approach things, they may be the only ones to see the easy solutions.

Rescue success from failure. Desperation is a great creativity catalyst. Case in point: Federal Express was originally established to fly cash around the country for the Federal Reserve Bank. But when the bank turned down the idea, Fred Smith—who was left with two idle jets and a lot of debt—needed Plan B. So he tried delivering packages overnight for anyone who needed the service, and he was successful beyond his wildest hopes. Why? He had no choice. His planes needed work!

Read books on creativity. Please don't read the flaky stuff that promotes navel gazing and fun with Play-Doh. Instead study the serious contributions to the field. Edward deBono, a Rhodes Scholar and international consulting wonder, is the current guru on creativity. His book Six Thinking Hats is probably the best place to start. Roger Von Oech's work—both his books and his Creative Whack Pack—are also good introductions.

Force yourself to figure out multiple solutions. Most of us never get a chance to be creative because we apply the first promising idea that comes along. Instead force yourself to generate a list of 10 or more possible options. Keep looking at a problem until you've got plenty of viable—and novel—solutions from which to choose.

Learn a new skill. A while back I took up oil painting. It's a new world for me, and consequently I'm not only learning about colors, canvasses, and lighting, but also I'm learning about observation. I see lots of things differently now because of the skills I've learned painting.

These words are just a start. The field of creativity really is as wide as the Pacific—and every bit as deep. So clean up your office, find that box of crayons, and start coloring outside the lines. Just a bit today. Then more. Soon you'll be able to scribble with the best of them.

And who knows? When the time comes, you may be the youth worker who envisions just exactly the right kind of new wine skins that are needed to more effectively reach kids for Christ.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.