An off-the-cuff math question, “How much do you suppose they’re making off this ridiculous spectacle?” turned an excruciatingly dull evening into a creative endeavor. Yep, a math question.
The other chaperones and I were hostages to a truly ghastly theatrical performance. Developing estimation methods to provide a reasonable answer to this question was far more entertaining than the entertainment in front of us.
- I counted the lanterns glowing around the auditorium and multiplied that quantity by the number of 8-person tables surrounding each one.
- The person next to me used an aisle/row matrix.
- Yet another began with the numbered seating areas.
Then we brainstormed other methods, ticket prices, food costs, actor and supporting staff salaries, etc. Creativity unleashed!
Most people don’t think of math as a creative outlet, but it should be. “How can you describe the world with numbers? What questions can be answered?” are routes to innovation. Check out math questions such as, “Each time the UW Madison football team scores, mascot Bucky the Badger performs pushups equal to their total score. How many total pushups did Bucky do when Madison scored 83 points in a single game?” If you aren’t just given information, what do you need to investigate to get an answer?
AND, how are you encouraging such creativity? Try this to celebrate World Creativity and Innovation Week, April 14-21. Ask your employees, team members, students—whosever work you influence—to generate questions. Not ones that can be answered yes or no, but ones that require thinking, innovation, creativity. What might you and they discover if they followed curiosity with questions such as,
- Would “hard stop” times on meetings and conference calls increase our productivity?
- What is the carbon footprint impact of the students who drive/are driven to school rather than riding school buses?
- How many more teachers could our city have if each NFL star on our team donated a million dollars toward their salaries?
- What evidence would tip our company toward measuring productivity by goals reached rather than time in the office?
Come up with your own. And have everyone else come up with one. Don’t move from your chair until you’ve devised a question that requires creativity to determine a plausible answer. As Einstein put it
To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science.
 Albert Einstein and L. Infield, The Evolution of Physics (New York, Simon and Schuster, 1938), p. 95.