Creativity is for anyone, professor says

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Larry Speck, professor in the School of Architecture, speaks about the importance of universities teaching creative thinking in his talk titled "Teaching Creative Problem Solving," Monday afternoon.

Photo Credit: Victoria Montalvo | Daily Texan Staff

When architecture professor Larry Speck helped design Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, he tried to prevent the crowded feeling he often felt walking through ordinary airports, he said.

“I hated the feeling of being a rat in a small, confined space,” he said. “I thought, ‘How can we make an airport with open spaces, without linear tunnels and crowding?’”

Speck discussed the airport design, and how to approach creative problems in Monday’s lecture on teaching problem-solving, hosted by the Office of the Provost, Discovery Learning and the Center for Teaching and Learning.

He said he used the techniques of addressing a problem creatively to design an innovative airport that was traveler-friendly. Now travelers at the Austin airport walk through open spaces to pick up their bags and catch their flights.

Speck said anyone can become a more creatively inclined person by finding the right inspiration.

“I’m not talking about creativity in a way that it’s used frequently,” Speck said. “The kind of creativity I’m talking about exists everywhere, not just in some fields. It’s the kind of creativity that’s broadly applicable.”

Speck discussed creativity and the ways it applies to society and said we’ve ramped up the need for creativity through the ages, bringing us to today’s current “creative age.”

Creative people can be musicians or painters but can also be engineers and nurses, he said.

These creative people, he said, generally have eight common characteristics: They have the ability to synthesize and to take risks, self-assurance, subversion and sense of rebellion, ordinary abilities at a very high level, a four-step process of how to get an idea, diverse experiences and the drive to work hard.

His four-step process of getting an idea involves preparation, incubation, illumination and verification or revision.

Speck said he employs these strategies in his teaching and moves away from the podium to be more engaging with his students.

“I think you approach teaching creatively just like you approach everything else creatively,” he said. “I’ve realized that it’s all about telling stories — if they can understand the story, then all the material sticks to that pretty easily.”

One of Speck’s classes, Architecture and Society, approaches the concepts of architecture in uncanny ways using storytelling as a way to keep material memorable, said advertising freshman Meagan Vanderhill.

“He tells a lot of stories,” Vanderhill said. “He talked about the ways a room can be used in ways it isn’t normally used for. The stories are what stick with you.”

An important part of his four-step process is involved with fostering creativity, Speck said, and getting an idea is an essential part of that process.

“It’s teaching people to get an idea, of how you get that moment of discovery,” Speck said. “A significant part of that is getting outside of the problem — brushing your teeth, working out at the gym. Creativity happens at odd times.”