Starting a fire: how to keep the creative spark alive.

Have you ever started a fire without matches or a firelighters? It’s something that everyone should learn to do, because it teaches you a lot of things about life, starting with patience! First, you have to select your materials: kindling, small dry sticks, larger branches or logs. Then, you have to prepare them. This might mean taking shavings off a stick, to make the lightest, driest material that will catch quickest. You need to lay out your materials so that they are ready to hand, because once you’ve added the first spark, a fire is alive.

You have to feed it, starting small and working up, over time, to larger pieces of fuel. If you put too much on too fast, you will swamp it. If you don’t get the airflow right, it will die. It’s very much like nurturing a living thing and something like an analogy for learning in general. You need to feed the fire slowly, react to how it behaves and, if you get it right, it suddenly takes off.

So we can think about learning like lighting a fire, but there is another ‘fire‘ metaphor that i wanted to explore. The idea of the spark. You can have the best materials you like, but it’s the spark that starts the fire. Let’s just hang on to that thought of the spark and consider the good idea that starts things off. The spark of creativity.

I sometimes feel that the most exciting time in a project is where you have the spark at the start. The great ideas come flowing out, unhindered by the realities of time, budget, resource or practicality. It’s a fun time, more than fun, it’s important. Soon enough, the pressures of ‘reality‘ will come to bear and start to squeeze the spark, starving it of oxygen or fuel, running the risk of putting it out altogether.

This isn’t a metaphor for how big business stifles creativity: it’s more a thought about how to keep the spark alive. Just as it takes practice to light a fire without matches, to nurture it and keep it burning, so we have to tend to the spark of creativity, otherwise it will go out.

It’s easy to produce ‘good enough‘ learning solutions. But is it really good enough to do so? The world is a more discerning place today, consumers judge learning experiences alongside the best commercial experiences. People are discerning consumers of media. The creative spark is not a luxury, it’s the thing that will start the fire. Sure, we need process, conformity and control, but we need to ensure we have the space to grow. We need to create space for experimentation, for growth. We need to practice, to make mistakes, to learn.

So i think i’ve exhausted the metaphors for fire-starting, but it’s an important consideration. Where do you invest your creativity? Are you able to keep the spark alive? Do you need to think about your strategies for feeding and nurturing originality? It’s worth the challenge, because the sense of achievement at the end is all the greater.

About julianstodd

Author, Artist, Researcher, and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the context of the Social Age and the intersection of formal and social systems.
This entry was posted in Achievement, Conformity, Creative, Innovation and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Starting a fire: how to keep the creative spark alive.

  1. Larry N says:

    Nice work. There are definitely ways to keep creativity alive. One way, not often talked about, is sleep. Brain research shows that the part of the brain responsible for creativity gets dulled if the brain isn’t properly rested.

    • julianstodd says:

      Ah yes, good point – and particularly true for a friday afternoon at the end of a long week! Ties into questions around work life balance and building in space and time for reflection. It’s easy to be busy…

  2. Pingback: Creative learning: how do we capture creativity | Julian Stodd's Learning Blog

  3. Pingback: Command and control, share or narrate? Dilemmas of the Social Age | Julian Stodd's Learning Blog

  4. Reblogged this on Caroline+Kühn and commented:
    Lovely analogy: Creativity and lighting a fire with out a fire lighter 🙂

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