Stanford Crash Course on Creativity – Week 4 – Connect & Combine and Midcourse Review

This week’s program is brought you to you by these concepts for creativity:

  • steal ideas and improve upon them or in other words…build on existing ideas
  • cross pollination of ideas – collaborate, seek advice, talk to people outside your field – get social and diverse; the more diverse inputs you have, the more interesting and innovative the outputs
  • give space for surprising connections – connect ideas that are not obvious; interact with people outside your normal circles, find new places to do your work, use different objects for imagination stimulation

Again, nothing new here that hasn’t already been written during the past 50+ years of creativity research, and still a good reminder for ways to keep fresh.

This week’s assignment?  Use two household items to come up with a brand new sport.

The references:

Kirby Ferguson: Embrace the Remix 10 mins

Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger from Instagram: Combine and Share Ideas 3 mins

Humans: Why They Triumphed (article from the Wall Street Journal)

Mid-Course Review

Here’s the report letter from a Survey Monkey sent to students of the program.

Hi All,

Thanks to all of you who spent the time responding to the mid-course survey for the Crash Course on Creativity. There are over 1.700 responds and I have read all 800 of the comments. They were very helpful! Here are the high level findings:

We have an incredibly diverse class in terms of age, education, background, and culture. Most participants have a college or graduate degree, experience with online tools, and are between 20 – 40 years old. The vast majority find the assignments to be of the right level of difficulty, and have found the course content and assignments to be valuable or very valuable. A large percentage of people have found the team projects frustrating because of team formation, communication, and collaboration issues. Most participants find the class interesting, educational, enjoyable, and inspiring.

I want to use this opportunity to provide you with my thoughts on the course and to respond to common comments. I hope this is helpful to you.

1) Diversity of class/Level of instruction:

The course has a large number of participants with a huge range of backgrounds. My goal has been to provide an experience for anyone, anywhere in the world. I am pleased that most people find the assignments to be at the right level, and urge those who want more to push the limits on the projects, and to read articles and books (including mine) that dive into the material much more deeply.

I am a huge believer in experiential learning. That is why the class focuses on taking on challenges. You can watch endless videos and read lots of books, but you will never master the skills unless you use them. I tried to design the challenges to be relevant to anyone, of any age, anywhere in the world.

2) Open ended assignments:

I have received lots of questions about the assignments, asking for more detail. The challenges are designed to be open ended and open to interpretation. I spent a lot of time crafting each of the assignments. They might look simple on the surface, but they are really quite complex, inviting you to look at them in endless ways. Use them as a chance to push beyond your immediate interpretation to find opportunities that are less obvious. I encourage you to spend more time thinking about them at the beginning before diving into the execution.

3) Feedback/evaluation on projects:

With a class of 39,000 students it is impossible for me to evaluate each assignment. I wish I had a dozen teaching assistants who could do this, but it is only me. Please keep in mind that these assignments are for you, not me. There are no grades in this class, it will not be on your transcript, and nobody is going to get punished for turning in something that is “wrong”. (I get lots of messages from people who are concerned about punishment.)

The assignments are designed to help you unlock your creativity. Please look at them as gifts, not homework… I hope you will share them with your friends, family, and colleagues, so that you can all talk about how you might tackle these challenges. The more you put into them, the more you will get out of them. Promise!

4) Team Projects:

Teamwork is hard, even under the best circumstances. And, it is even harder when you are working with people you don’t know, in different time zones. However, when it works, it is really worth it. That’s why I decided to try it out in this class. It was a bold experiment… I know that the team formation process has been frustrating for many of you. For others is has been a pleasure, as you get to work with really interesting people around the world.

After we started, I realized that it was a mistake to start with a team project, and to change teams for the next group assignment. There are many people who signed up without any intention of participating, and it was impossible to know who they are until we started the class. If I offer the class again, I will handle this very differently. Keep in mind, when things don’t go smoothly for you, the problem is much bigger for me. 🙂

5) Difference from a Traditional Class:

An online class with 40K students is really different from a traditional class with 40 students. People have vastly different levels of engagement, time, etc… Also, it is impossible to look everyone in the eye to make sure that each person is paying attention and understands what is happening. It also means that things can’t change quickly. In a small class if things aren’t working perfectly, they can be changed quickly. I am doing my best to make modifications to our course as challenges arise… Please understand that it is like building an airplane while you are flying it.

Thank you to all those who have joined in this experiment. I hope you are learning as much as I am.

Creativity Rules!


My personal experience of the program so far, you ask?

  • Content is simple and straightforward.
  • Assignments are intriguing.
  • Reference materials are up-to-date.
  • I like learning what other people feel is important to share about creativity so they feel more comfortable riding their own creativity wagon.
  • I’m appreciative to experience this format for education, online creativity.  Back in the 1970’s who’d have ever thought this possible, to reach close to 40,000 people for an intro to creativity course over the span of 8 weeks, with students who span the globe.
  • I continue to wonder when we will be able to move forward from feeling its important to convince people of their natural orientation to generate new ideas and make new decisions and to synthesize information in different (other than obvious) ways
  • The teaming aspect needs some attention because its confusing. First people are assigned to a team, then the team evaporates, then new people are assigned to the team, then they ask students to create their own team. I wonder how they’ll make it easier to participate and derive value (rather than frustration) for the next go ’round. Or maybe create a follow on course of dealing creatively with discontent. In the old days, my creativity professor Sid Parnes would insist we persist through this awkwardness through practicing a creativity behaviour: tolerance of ambiguity.

Til next time,

Marci Segal, freeing leaders’ thinking so they can create new futures