The Creativity Series #3–Of Dead Cats and New Ideas

“Curiosity about life in all of its aspects, I think, is still the secret of great creative people.” -Leo Burnett

Curiosity represents a paradox of human existence.   Either it kills the cat, or it’s the progenitor of creation itself.  In truth, I’m not a cat lover, nor am I a cat, and for all my love of figurative language, I’ll dismiss the idiomatic usage as less successful than its popularity might suggest.

However, I am curious.  All human beings are curious.  From the time we are born and our senses flash on to the time we die, there is more to wonder and be in awe of in the universe than we’ll ever be able to explore in our minuscule time on this rock.

And so we come to this quotation by Leo Burnett:   “Curiosity about life in all of its aspects, I think, is still the secret of great creative people.”




Indeed .

Ok, I could go on with the allusion to Abbot and Costello, but “Why” is The Question when it comes it comes to curiosity.  Only this shortest of interrogatives (if you abbreviate it thus: “Y?”) opens the door to understanding intent, support, causation, and a host of other foundational notions of human existence and the force behind human action.

And once we understand the “Y”, we have opened another door…the door to the creative.

If you’ve been reading the posts in this creativity series, you came across the two questions that drive all I do in my life and, most especially, in  my classroom.  The first of those questions is “Why are things the way they are?”


This simple question is a question of inquiry.  It empowers students to engage with the world through curiosity.  Too often teachers deny students their innate human power of inquiry because, well, there’s a curriculum to get through or certain questions must be answered.  But these denials and a reliance on preset questions, or teacher generated questions…this flies in the face of so much of the recent research on the importance of student-generated question.  Call it Heautogogy (see Stewart Hase),  Student-Determined Learning, Inquiry-based Learning…what have you.  The key is that when students have agency, their drive to learn is intrinsic.  And as Dan Pink so clearly summarized the research in his book Drive and in presented in this TED talk, intrinsically motivated learners are far more likely to persevere, exhibit grit, and display passion for what they are learning/doing.  In the end, the curiosity that generates the intrinsic motivation also powers the creativity that helps students think differently about why things are the way they are and ultimately to create new and novel solutions to problems they themselves have found.

Thus, while curiosity may have killed the cat, we also know that if we venture nothing, we gain nothing.  Certainly curiosity and the risk it helps to drive, then, must find a more prominent place in our classrooms. Curiosity must be honored as a foundation for all truly meaningful learning.  If we can find it in our selves to put curiosity at the fore of our lesson plans and projects, we just might be the “cat’s meow.”  (It’s cheesy, I know.  I’m working on an alternate ending…I swear.)

Here’s a great article to get you started on creating a Curious Classroom through embracing uncertainty.

(Addendum:  Education researcher and writer Thomas Armstrong writes insightfully about curiosity and its sister, creativity, in his brilliant little tome, Awakening Genius in the Classrooma book I’ll mention many times in these posts for its succinct, direct, and wholistic look at the mind and capability of all human beings.)



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