Sunday, November 12, 2006

On Creativity and Potato Chips in Chinuch

There is much creativity going on at Hirhurim(inspired, naturally by a Mishmar post). From the simple idea of "Shatnez in Potato Chips", a host of ideas are being generated.

Since the very profound subject of potato chips is now receiving a great deal of attention in the blogosphere(blogging can be unpredictable), I thought I would post on a story of Rav Mendel Kaplan and potato chips, which illustrates an important chinuch(educational) principle. I will also comment on creativity techniques.

Rav Mendel Kaplan Zt'l was sitting in his succah with his students, and there was a bowl of potato chips on the table in front of him(I do not know if they were Kettle or regular). Rav Mendel did not take any for himself. He was asked about this, and he told his students that he doesn't like to eat potato chips because they make too much noise. Apparently, Rav Mendel felt that eating this snack himself was undignified.

However, when he saw a talmid who was overly serious also not taking the chips, he then took some. When asked by this student why he now was eating them, he said "because I do enjoy potato chips !"(Artscroll Biography).

The primary lesson I observed from this story is that a rebbe has to be aware of the needs of his different students. People are different and there is no one- size- fits- all approach. Thus, chanoch lenaar al pi darko, gam ki yazkin lo yasur mimenah.

However, I was also amazed that someone could do two contradictory actions in such a short time span. I think that the latter point can be related to the technique of looking at things from different perspectives, which in turn is related to the art of thinking creatively. Michael Gelb, author of How to Think Like Leonardo de Vinci refers to this concept as the DeVincian principle of Sfumato, which is a painting technique, but more broadly, is the willingness to embrace ambiguity, paradox and uncertainty.

And now back to brainstorming and creativity...

Brainstorming was introduced in 1953 by Alex Osborn, an advertising executive. One of the key principles is not to censor any ideas. Mind-Mapping, stream of consciousness writing, and meditation are similar methods which use the free flow of thoughts as a way to generate original ideas.

I remember reading in one of Rav Aryeh Kaplan's books on meditation that sometimes, one needs to stop thinking about a problem, and the solution will come by itself, or "pop into one's head". Evidently, this is the way Hashem created the brain, that one needs to "let go", and let ideas arise to consciousness.

In this vein, Rabbi Kaplan Zt'l relates that he was once trying to visualize a multi-dimensional figure for a physics problem and was having trouble doing so. Some time later, while taking a bath, the figure popped into his head.

I am not sure how many "marketable" ideas will come out of the "Potato Chips and Shatnez" concept, but if it promotes camaraderie in the blogosophere, brotherhood, and collaborative cogitations(whether cacophonous or melodious in nature), then more power to Reb Gil !

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