Riding a Bike

Although knowledge is helpful in being creative, more knowledge does not necessarily lead to more creativity. You can probably think of some people who are very knowledgeable indeed, but who do not do creative things with the knowledge that they have. This is because having knowledge, and being creative with the knowledge that you have, are two separate entities. Learning to be creative is a bit like learning to ride a bike. You cannot learn to ride a bike by reading a book about it. Even if you knew everything there was to know about bicycles, you would still be no closer to actually being able to ride a bike. You cannot learn to ride a bicycle by watching how other people do it, or by being told how to do it by someone else. These things may help you in your quest to understand bikes, or to develop a good riding technique, but they are not going to get you actually riding one. The only way to learn to ride a bicycle is to do it yourself.

I stand and watch as my daughter flies down the lane on her bicycle, her hair trailing behind her in the wind. “Look, no hands, mummy!” she shouts, lifting her fingers off the handlebars. She is confident, and balanced, and brave. How did she get here? Why, just a handful of years earlier, she was a tiny helpless baby, cradled in my arms! Well, first she had to learn to control her body – to support her head, to roll, to sit up, to stand, to walk. Just shy of a year old, she took her first tentative steps. We clapped with delight. She turned to smile at us and promptly toppled over. After a while she was confident on her feet. Now it was time for ‘my first trike’. To start with we pushed her along, but soon she took over – she was desperate to do it by herself. Her tiny feet on the pedals, pushing hard to create forward momentum. The desire to get somewhere, under her own steam, propelled her to learn. Next came a proper bike, with stabilisers attached. Stabilisers gave her confidence, and helped her practice, but they were also a comfort blanket, protecting her from the moment when she had to take the leap. Leaping is hard and falling is painful. Confidence is slow to build and easy to shatter.

Finally the day came when she was ready for us to take off the stabilisers. I gave her a push and helped her to balance the bike, by running behind her to steady it at the back. Eventually I let go. She wobbled, and then tumbled into a patch of nettles. Nettles sting. Mistakes hurt. But you cannot learn to ride a bicycle without falling off. Days passed – her confidence ebbed and flowed. She asked us to put the stabilisers back on for a while. But barely a month later, she was ready to try again. This time, when I gave her a push, she stayed upright for a time. We kept going. And going. And within a matter of hours, she was riding happily up and down the lane. If we want children to learn to be creative, they must take a series of baby steps first. We must help them feel confident to have a try, even when we are sure that they will fail. Building creativity is not about having as much knowledge as possible. It is not even about having the most brilliant technique. It is about nothing more or less than being willing to fail, and fall, and get up, and fail again, and fall again, and get up again. Until one day, to your surprise, you find yourself flying down the lane. Finally, joyfully, majestically! You are riding a bike.

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10 Responses to Riding a Bike

  1. One could argue that her knowledge of how to ride a bike was growing throughout this process.

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    • suecowley says:

      Yes of course, but it is growing through doing, falling and still doing again. It is the ultimate in ‘learning through discovery’.

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      • You could argue that it was taught, practice, mistakes made, advice given… Guided/coached…? Are you saying discovery learning is creativity? And do you agree with Ken Robinson’s definition as to what creativity (in education) means?

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        • suecowley says:

          Guidance can be useful, but in the end the only person who can *do* creativity is the person him or herself. Yes I do feel that creativity is in many ways a journey of discovery. We won’t all get to the same end results but no one can learn to do it except by doing it. Writing a book is the perfect example – if you don’t do it, you’re not going to be creative in that particular field, no matter how much you know about how it can or should be done.

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  2. Here’s a problem. Riding a bike isn’t being creative (although writing about it is; as you’ve shown in the post). Any attempt to explore the relationship between knowledge and creativity really needs to define what creativity is in the context of the writing. Otherwise, what are we trying to think about here? All tasks that are essentially experiential need to be physically attempted (like riding a bike), or science practicals (where the aim is to learn how to carry out science experiments), or maths tests (where the aim is develop the discipline to effectively do maths tests). If the aim is to write a quintain, you need to start with being shown what one is; but to actually write one, you need to have a go. Horses for courses, I think?

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    • suecowley says:

      The only way to get *better* at being creative is to try to be creative. To put a word after a word after a word. At first you will be rubbish at it, but you won’t get better without doing it. Seeing the end result that other people got to is not going to help you learn how to be creative yourself, because you are only seeing the end product and not the process. In the end you have to fail and fall yourself or you will never be creative. (In other words, it’s a metaphor rather than an analogy.)

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      • I don’t disagree with that. Again, the issue that needs clarification is what ‘creative’ activity we are talking about? For example, when I was young, many moons ago, I did English Language and English Literature. It was clear to me that English Language was about generating novel material (poems, stories…that sort of thing). English Literature, on the other hand, was about analysing other people’s work, writing comparisons and essays. Maybe there was some cross over, but if there was it was not overt. I don’t know what the current situation is in schools. I don’t see how ‘English Literature’ hinders ‘English Language’.

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  3. suecowley says:

    Studying it doesn’t hinder it, but it is not the same thing as doing it. Creativity is about you doing the thing that (eventually, painfully, maybe) gets to the end result. It’s the difference between ‘knowing how’ to write a book, and actually writing one. You won’t ever learn to write a book if you don’t actually write one.

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    • Indeed. I’m just a bit at a loss, in that who says that studying things is the same as doing them, or that you can write a book without having a go?

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      • suecowley says:

        You learn through the *doing* of it, not through the seeing of how other people did it. The idea that ‘more knowledge’ is an answer, separate from the *doing* bit, feels like a red herring to me. Otherwise more knowledge would always = more creativity, and it doesn’t.

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