I have written often, but until now always separately, on the importance of both empathy and of creativity as skills essential for our students (both do appear prominently in our Essential Goals for St. Gregory students). Today there is a fun piece linking the two, over at miller-mcune.com, an article entitled Empathy Conducive to Creativity. This online article cites research published in the Academy of Management Journal, in a piece called “The Necessity of Others is the Mother of Invention: Intrinsic and Prosocial Motivations, Perspective-Taking, and Creativity.”
The link between inspiration and ingenuity is strengthened by focusing on the needs of others:…“intrinsic motivation is most likely to be associated with higher levels of creativity when employees are also prosocially motivated to take the perspective of others.” At least in a workplace situation, taking others’ needs into account, and seeing things from their point of view, seems to be a catalyst to creativity.
In a study of 111 employees and their direct supervisors at a water treatment plant again found that “intrinsic motivation was positively related to creativity when prosocial motivation was high, but not low.” The implication is that novelty (inspired by an inner drive to explore) plus a focus on usefulness (inspired by understanding the needs of others) is a catalyst for creativity.
Worthwhile considering then is the potential implications for learning in our schools. It certainly connects right into Dan Pink’s ideas in A Whole New Mind, where empathy and design are two of the key six senses for the conceptual age. We want students to become more empathetic, and more creative, and better collaborators: perhaps we should ask teams of students to work separately, but on behalf of each other, as architects do for clients, for instance? I recently heard about a fine school program where an environmental science class researches and identifies an energy producing program for the school, but then “contracts” in a special two week unit with the engineering class, the latter designing and building what the former identified and planned.
I think too that in our literature classrooms, advisory programs, character education initiatives, and service ed curriculum, we need to make empathy an explicit topic, a core component: the ability to imagine ourselves into the minds of others will make us far more successful and productive.