The independent news organization of Duke University

Duke students need to be creative

When I was placed into the freshman requisite Writing 101: Creativity and Thinking, I was disappointed. Not only was this 8:30 a.m. class not my first choice, it also seemed to focus on a topic that I was out of touch with. I initially did not consider myself to be at all creative. Creativity, as I saw it, was a skill reserved for the naturally artistic, and the study of it sounded difficult and mundane. 

As you may guess, I later found that I had been wrong about creativity and how it applies even to common folk like me. While I am not quite yet able to define creativity (we’ve only had three classes, after all), I can see more and more that creativity has always been a key part of my life and education. 

If there is one truth we can all agree on, it is that kids are creative: When we are young, pencils easily become sea lions’ fangs, just like cardboard boxes become homes and pool noodles become swords. As it turns out, as we grow up, creativity plays a similar role in our lives. 

As I look around me, I notice that creativity is omnipresent on this college campus: I see it in the way students sneak food and drink out of the cafeteria, in the way they cut their picture-day t-shirts into tube tops for the football games, in how they decorated their rooms expressively,and even in those students that sometimes sleep under a desk in Perkins Library, using their backpacks as pillows and their hoodies as blankets, creating a nest in the absence of a bed. 

Ultimately, not only can creativity be used at Duke to maximize nap-length, it can also be used to employ time more efficiently and, in turn, create better study habits. Some techniques that are highly creative are taught to us early on in our academic careers, and unfortunately abandoned by most. One of these is the use of acronyms and phrases to remember spellings (“Run Harriet! Your Teacher Has Measles” spells the word “rhythm”), chemistry processes (OIL RIG reminds me that “Oxidation Is Loss of electrons; Reduction Is Gain of electrons”) or calculus formulae (“HoDHi-HiDHo/HoHo” finds the derivative of a fraction). While reciting “HoDHi” during a Calculus II midterm might seem silly or embarrassing to some, it will be highly beneficial to others. 

Optimization applies similarly to calculus as it does to college life — when on a tight schedule, any time-efficient habit becomes life-saving. That is why some classic yet creative study habits are seen extensively on campus; these include watching lectures while walking on the treadmill, listening to podcasts while brushing one’s teeth and replying to emails while waiting for the bus to West. By creating new ways to optimize their time, Duke students are able to achieve more goals in a shorter time frame, which in turn allows them to enjoy leisure time more fully. 

Needless to say, creativity stimulates the mind in wondrous ways. Just as creating something concrete boosts our mood, implementing new, creative ways to study can boost our motivation. A big aid in this respect has been the one and only Google Calendar. Some students merely use the app to organize upcoming tests and assignments, while others — the truly committed — are especially fond of the color-coding feature (and, in fact, spend more time color-coding their tasks than achieving them). 

This brings up an interesting point: When, if ever, does creativity start becoming counterproductive? One of the first lessons of Writing 101: Creativity and Thinking was that writing is not productive. Brainstorming, if done correctly, is a slow and laborious project which includes the sequential expansion and condensation of ideas. So then, why is “brainstorming” so acclaimed in the workplace? As it turns out, when creativity is worked into brainstorming sessions and let roam free, it can allow us to reach ideas that we would not have thought of otherwise. Being able to generate these ideas is imperative in today’s world. 

With this relatively new culture of highly-efficient dynamos — big names situated in big corporate offices, presenting their big ideas on big screens — every new generation of college graduates is pressured to become one of movers and shakers. Mediocrity is unacceptable in this fast-changing world, and every new recruit on Wall Street better be a high achiever.

According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers' Job Outlook, 61.4% of employers identify “problem-solving skills” as “very important.” I estimate that ninety-nine percent of students throw “problem-solving skills” in their résumés for good measure. Now, imagine a world where all those students really were in touch with their creativity, and were able to solve problems effectively — those students would own the future. 

At the same time, it is true that both industrial and technological innovation are most often a direct product of creativity in the workspace. The same skill, creativity, was used in inventing the wheel in the 4th millennium BC as in ideating the first sketches for the iPhone. Employers know this, and recruit their workers accordingly.

All this is to say that whether we like it or not, employers are going to be looking for creative minds when they review applications for summer internships and business job opportunities, something Duke students are known to be especially fond of. So, if it really is creativity (or lack thereof) that is stopping students from snatching those sweet sweet corporate positions, what is preventing students’ creativity?

While some freshmen at Duke would argue it is the repetitive menu at Marketplace, and others would say that it’s the dull required classes we have to take, the reality is that we are oftenest the culprits in the way we put a “break” on the crazy ideas that our inner child has, and tell him to only have sensible ones from now on. 

Our silly ideas, in that sense, are our most creative. Not only are these the most fun to implement, they are also sometimes the only ones we are willing to see fail. Just last week, I was presented with a burst of creative accomplishment: a student’s take on a Phineas and Ferb episode to explain an economic concept, the Production Possibility Curve. While this student only received three extra-credit points on his final grade after hours of work, he confessed this with a grin — what was obvious was the pride he felt for his creative work, regardless of the external gratification he had failed to achieve.

While I trust most found this personal success story heartwarming, I expect some to still feel a kind of resistance to fully believing in “creativity,” for it is so often sold to us as an abstract, magical thing, and one that is both very easy and impossible to attain. 

So, if nothing else, let creativity be your joy and relaxation. Most hobbies, whether it be crocheting or robotics, entail a certain amount of creativity, thus resulting in a relaxed environment that is both personal and rewarding. Just last week, the Club Fair presented freshmen with a myriad of groups and organizations to join, and while most scanned a lot of QR codes, some only did it to please those behind the booth, and others for free merch.

But, to those of you who really wanted to join a certain club and didn’t yet out of fear or indolence, I urge you to go through with the promise you made yourself in the summer — to join clubs on-campus and make the most of your freshman year. College life is busy at Duke, especially now in the midst of classes, assignments and chores we weren’t used to at home. Nevertheless, Duke students should be cherishing those clubs as opportunities of joy and excitement because those are the ones that connect them with their child-like creative selves.

Just as creativity makes us innovative, it also makes us brave. Just as our child-selves would not have cowered in the face of physical – such as table legs — and developmental — such as picking the right crayons for a drawing — obstacles, we too, as college students must not fear hindrances or unexpected obstacles. Just as our child-selves would have gotten back up and avoided the table leg next time and chosen a purple crayon to draw a zebra, we too must find creative ways to overcome new academic and social challenges, and then thank our inner child for enabling us to be so wonderfully creative.

So now, when you walk outside, try to see that those faraway clouds are actually ducks and elephants, that the rolled-up poster you’ve worked on all week could make a really great baton to bonk your friends’ heads with and that your bed, so high from the floor, is a great start for a cave. All you need is a blanket and some fairy lights.

Anna Garziera is a Trinity first-year. Her column typically runs on alternate Wednesdays.


Share and discuss “Duke students need to be creative” on social media.