Monday, May 28, 2012

Creative Mindsets for Excellence. And the passing of a dear friend.

These few weeks have been really hectic for me. Physically and emotionally. Am so behind with house works and lab work too. Loads to catch up. Such a mess. And I have loads of stuffs I want to write and yet haven't got the time to put my thoughts together. And my writing mojo has been missing too. I am more tired than tired. More knackered than knackered. Really2 cannot wait for the short island getaway next week. I desperately need the break. In the meantime, I shall b-r-e-a-t-h-e-e-e-e-e-e......... :P

Anyway, I was very2 privileged to get the opportunity to attend Poh Yew's workshop again. I have written about her previous workshop on raising happy & creative kids here. This time, it's about developing creative mindsets for excellence in children.

The session started with an introduction by Wee Kang who shared his experience from his previous job recruiting Malaysian graduates in Jobstreet. He shared with us, from resume, they usually can eliminate 80% of the applicants. The remaining 20% will go through the next stage; a problem solving test. More than half will give up without even trying. The other half will have varying degree of success. Many graduates failed the test. Due to lack of critical thinking & problem solving skill. I am not surprised. Recently, similar issue was reported in The Star. Employers consider fresh graduates liabilities as many require additional training before they can perform. Read more here.

Why is creativity important?
Poh Yew recommended this book by Daniel Pink. Daniel Pink is a strong advocate of right brain. He believes we have now moved from "Information Age" to "Conceptual Age". The age where the ability to synthesize information is the key to success.
U can get the gist of the book from the mindmap below. Taken from here.
Map of A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink
We discussed on the function of left and right brain. How to maximize it. How to compromise for the strength and weaknesses.etc.etc.etc.
A right brainer is usually creative, visual and have the ability to see the big picture. BUT they are most likely to be spontaneous, emotional, not good with punctuality and structured stuffs too. So it comes in a package. It's not all good and nice and pretty. But it helps for a parent to know, coz it makes it easier to figure out the kids' strengths and weaknesses.

How do we develop creativity?
By making connections. Connecting the dot. 

The most famous speech on connecting the dot was probably Steve Job's Stanford Commencement Speech in 2005.

U can't connect the dots looking forward. U can only connect them looking backwards. Steve Job.

The other aspect of connecting the dot is relating knowledge to our own life. One thing I love about Poh Yew's workshop is she has loads of interesting practical examples to deliver her messages.

Like this task of creating the impossible structure. Just by cutting (or tearing) can u replicate the green structure? No pasting or stapling is allowed. If u can figure this out, u have just discovered the basic principle of pop up ;-)
Using the 3 cups (that were separated from each other at a stick length) and 4 sticks, can u arrange the stick on the cup and build a structure that is strong enough to hold a bottle of water at the centre?
Poh Yew demonstrating some magic card tricks.
I am not a Maths person. If kids have problem with Maths, I will always forward them to Mr O. It's not my forte. Truthfully, I am very very lousy. Sucks big time. And I am eternally grateful to the inventor of calculator. So predictably, my success rates with Poh Yew's riddle was not so impressive. Which makes it feel freaking good to show off my knowledge and test it on the kids...hahahaha ;-)
Poh Yew's strength is Mathematics. But the knowledge gained from her workshop goes beyond Maths. As u try to solve the riddles, u learn lots of stuffs. Like thinking out of the box. Sometimes we cannot answer the question bcoz we r stucked with our previous experiences. Or we have socially conditioned our mind there is only one right answer and one right method. Or we tend to look at things the same old way. So through practising our mind with the riddles, we learn few valuable lessons on principle of life. And hopefully, wake up some sleeping neurons and improve our critical thinking skill ;-)

She has published few books. Loads of interesting games to make teaching & learning Maths more interesting. U can check it out.

Creativity also developed through adaptation.
Creative people find ways to adapt. Saying yes to impossibilities. Poh Yew shared with us the amazing story of Ben Underwood. The blind boy who can see.

Ben gauge distances and locate objects by making sounds with his tongue, then listening for the echoes as they bounce off the surfaces around him. Just like bats and dolphins.The technique is called echolocation. While many blind people listen for echoes to some degree, Ben's ability is out of the world. If u watch the kid skateboard, play video games and navigate his way around the neighbourhood, u will never know he's blind. Watch the video and u will know what I mean.

Creativity is also developed through making things better. Better still, make things better for the betterment of the society.

Hippo water roller project in Africa. Ingeniously simple.

We also had the chance to have a session with Robest Yong. The guy who invented a polyclone rubber stamp machine who can make rubber stamps in 5 minutes. And many2 more inventions. U can check out his website for his full list of achievement. But what striked me most was his story. He was a failure in schools. Just didn't fit in. But his childhood upbringing in a kampung allowed him to roam free, explore and learn the natural way. And nurture his creative thinking. And an inventor is born. So inspiring.

We also discussed the 5 Steps to creativity.
Knowledge-->Thinking-->Incubation--> Eureka--->Development. 
Most of the stuffs are from this book. 
One of the great things I learned was the power of incubation. When we r stuck with something, put the issue on hold and pass it over to subconcious mind. Our right brain cannot function under stress. Relax & do something unrelated. Even though we are doing something unrelated, our sub-concious mind is doing the thinking. Before u know it, u will hit your eureka moment.

I have read how Avicenna applied this a lot in his work too. He used to pray a lot when he was stuck with anything. And apparently, praying or meditation is also another way of getting your sub-concious mind to work harder. 

So what are the barriers to creativity?

Robest Yong believes everybody is born with a gift of creativity. But not everybody unwrap their gift. 

Take the story of Gillian Lynne as an example. She was THE choreographer for Cats & Phantom of the Opera. Her gift for dancing was discovered by a doctor. Lynne had been underperforming at school, so her mother took her to the doctor and explained about her fidgeting and lack of focus. After hearing everything her mother said, the doctor told Lynne that he needed to talk to her mother privately for a moment. He turned on the radio and walked out. He then encouraged her mother to look at Lynne, who was dancing to the radio. The doctor noted that she was a dancer, and encouraged Lynne's mother to take her to dance school. And of course, the rest is history. 
(Ref: wikipedia)
It's easy to be inspired listening to this kind of story. But to have faith in your child and believe she will find her strength is another matter. It ain't easy. At least to me. Emily loves to draw. Make models from papers and clay and Play-Doh. She can do that the whole day.
I get agitated sometimes. Okay. Maybe most of the times. It's my schooling mentality kicking in action. Unless her art works are Picasso standard, it will make me feel a zillion times better if she draw and do some other stuffs too. Like reading and writing and Maths and Science etc etc etc. This is when listening to some stories makes me feel better. It gives me perspective. And hope.

Poh Yew told us how she discovered her "slow learner" son is a born athlete. In his early years, the young man cannot walk. He only run. Most parents will start telling off their kids to behave. But she just obliged to her son. And he was wayyyy behind his peers in school. But she believes in her child. She raised him in her own way. She went against the society's normal expectation. She did not succumbed to the pressures. She sticked to her guns, believing in her child. Today the young man is doing fairly well and aiming to further his studies in Sport Science.

She also told us a story of a Malaysian boy with similar extra ordinary ability like Ben Underwood. But the boy was stopped by his parents much2 earlier. They thought he was just being noisy and annoying. The boy never developed. Unlike Ben. Whose mom empower him. Make him believe he can do anything. She never put limit. Never be over protective of him. She taught him to focus on his abilities. Not his disability. And it's amazing how she transformed him.

Most of the times, all u need to turn failure into success is time.

Michael Jordan didn't make his high school basketball team. But he went on to become the greatest player of all time. He attributes his success to the times he’s come up short.
Famous author J.K. Rowling was living on welfare when she wrote the first Harry Potter book, the start of a series that went on to make her spectacularly rich.
Make yourself believe. Make your kids believe. And be patient for the transformation to happen. 

How to motivate creativity?
This was very interesting to me. She started talking about The Candle Problem. Given the a candle, a box of thumb tacks and matches, how do u fix a lit candle on a wall (or a cork board) in a way so the candle wax won't drip onto the table?
This cognitive test is also known as Duncker's candle problem. It's measuring the influence of functional fixedness on problem solving skill. In other way, it's our inability to look at things beyond it's normal usage.

Then it gets more interesting when she shared the findings of Sam Glucksberg on the puzzle of motivation. Does reward or incentives always = increase in performance?
Apparently, the science says it does not. Incentives only boosts performance when the task is a routine. If it's a task requiring creative thinking, it does just the opposite. It dulls thinking and blocks creativity. Carrot and stick just doesn't work all the time.

And she also spoke about the limitation of computer games. Computer games have been programmed in a certain way by the game designer. There are fix ways how u can earn points. As u play more and more u will discover the tricks and discover all the possible methods and earn more points. But everything is programmed. There are no creativity involved here.  

So here comes my Eureka moment. Much to Luqman's chagrin. Poh Yew's sharing on motivation of creativity reaffirm me I am being sensible. Not emotional senseless nagging mom.One of the things I hate most in the house is this stupid thing. Unfortunately, it's also Luqman's favorite thing.

I have sooooo many reasons to believe this thing do more harm than good to my son. I wish he will drop it one day, and the thing get crushed into pieces. Like tiny minute pieces. The only thing is I don't have the heart to crush it myself. So I will have to wait until it die naturally. While hoping one day, Luqman will come to his sense and abandon that thing. In the mean time, I will just continue brainwashing my dearest young man that thing is EVIL!!! It is dude. U just have to believe me :P

Anyway, I learned so much from the workshop. It's impossible for me to share everything here. If u r interested for future workshop, please check out Poh Yew's website. To be honest, I was quite reluctant to go initially. A dear friend lost her battle with cancer and passed away the day before. I was numb. To be honest, I was beyond numb. So I was not sure whether going to a workshop was a good idea or not. But I am glad I did.

All the knowledge makes me really grateful. I am counting my blessings that I still have my chances to make it right with my kids. I was not really close to my late friend. But we communicated from time to time. She was my senior by a few years. Throughout our friendship, I figured she was a very humble person who just want to learn to be better. From time to time, she would asked me stuffs. And she was one of the few people I feel comfortable enough to tell the truth personally whenever I saw her off track. And every time I did that, I wonder whether she would be offended. But instead, she would thanked me profusely.

She shared her regrets with her 2 older kids. She was busy with work and most of the raising up was done by her mom. She tried her best with her younger kids. Trying to make things right again. It's her 2nd chance. And cancer somehow was a blessing in the sense that she need to stay home. And realign her priorities. So her younger tots were very privileged as their mom discovered her new passion in early childhood education. But Allah has better plan for her. She fought her battle with lots of courage. She left a legacy. Lots and lots of students touched by her love.
Rest in peace my friend. Thank u for the friendship. May Allah bless your soul and put you in jannah. Amin.


  1. Thank you MillyMelly for this wonderful sharing again. I admire your effort in spending time researching on the issue you are reporting, adding more value to your readers. Keep up your good work.

  2. Jazakallah for wholesome report. Felt like we were there with you learning from Mdm Poh Yew. Would love to join her next session :)
    Keep up this wonderful sharing. May Allah bless you and family.

  3. Where can I get the books Has ?