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A head full of ideas? Is it a blessing, a curse or a conundrum?

A creative mind will be buzzing with ideas, information and innovative possibilities. This has potential to benefit others but how do practitioners do that? I have one of those minds. It sparks with ideas, enthusiasm and curiosity. This has been a blessing, a curse and a conundrum. I wonder how many other social workers, teachers or other professionals have the same issue?

I would like to say that over the decades I have learnt when to ignore my ideas, when to guard them, when to quietly use or test them, or when to share them (and how to do that effectively). That would not be true. I am still working on that!

When I was five my mother took me to see the 'Nutcracker' at the Festival Hall in London. It was an expensive treat and she hoped her little treasure would be enchanted.

Enchanted – no.

Intrigued, curious, excited - yes…by the special effects, the costumes and the sets but not the dancing!

My poor mum was so disappointed because she hoped I was going to be motivated to take up ballet lessons. She had taken me to see this magical show and all I kept saying was “I wonder how they did that?” This set me on a path of exploring how things worked and finding creative solutions. I spent many happy hours throughout my childhood ‘making things’. Cutting up fabric was a particular favourite activity. In my teenaged years I designed and made costumes. I thoroughly enjoyed being ‘backstage’ working out how to let those with performance talents shine.

Decades later and I still respond to novel or complex things with curiosity and I get excited by possibilities. I still enjoy creating things and the cutting up skills came in very handy when I took up patchwork! I also get a real buzz from supporting others to ‘shine’. Whether it’s students, colleagues or service-users I really get a great sense of satisfaction in enabling others. When I see some good or interesting practice, or I read or hear about an innovation, I still wonder “how did they do that?” And, "how could I use that idea?"

I would describe myself as an ‘ideas’ person. Although I am an ideas collector rather than inventor. I store away information, experiences, observations and stuff (craft stuff, play stuff, books, articles, and all kinds of ‘might come in useful’ stuff) and when I am presented with a task, problem or possibility, I pull together ideas (and stuff). My ideas are built on solid foundations of those who have gone before. Academics, researchers, practitioners, service-users, students, therapists, writers and artists who have shared their ideas. People who have been innovative, brave and generous in bringing ideas to fruition so others can benefit. I have been inspired by so many.

In my dual professional roles (social worker and teacher) creative practice is seen as desirable. I agree with that. At the end of this blog I am posting a copy of my views on this which were published in Professional Social Work. Some people seem to find my creativity a really positive thing. They tell me so and give me positive feedback. Without their encouragement my ideas might fizzle out. So a head full of ideas is a blessing then?

Well maybe.

Or maybe not.

Maybe at times it’s a bit of a curse.

Be honest - How do you really feel about the colleagues who have ‘ideas’? Those who might want to try different, or even ‘better’, ways of doing things than the ones you are used to? Or, the managers who have the ‘idea’ of introducing a new practice framework, or policy, just when you got used to the current one? Or, being presented with ‘creative’ activities involving cotton wool and glitter at a training. When. You. Hate. Those. Things? How might you feel towards creative ‘ideas’ people you have worked with (those who have held a position of power over you, or you over them)? Do you encourage or support them? Are you nice to them?  Or, might you give the odd ‘eye roll’, ‘sigh’ or put down? I get really excited and enthused around people who have ideas and I try to encourage them.  But, if I a honest, I am guilty of being irritated, dismissive, or frustrated, sometimes too. 

Now imagine being the person bursting with enthusiasm and ideas. Someone who wants to try new things but are told “we have always done it this way”. Or, the person tasked with generating ideas or practice solutions, that no one has the time, money or motivation to carry through? Or, what about being someone whose creativity trips them up because they find it almost impossible to stick to scripts or rigid practice models?

Confession: My personal nightmare is to be presented with something, like a training Powerpoint or assessment tool, that all I have to do is follow. Easy? Not for me! I am rubbish at that because my efforts at sticking to the script rob me of my ability to attend and respond to whoever is on the receiving end!

I think I’m safe to say that being an ideas person is not universally seen as a positive thing. Frankly my ideas (however well evidenced or intentioned) have not always gone down well! Trust me, I have had worse reactions than an eye roll. Creative people are not always going to win the popularity vote for all sorts of reasons. This can be dis-incentivising, or even painful, for them.

To be fair, uncontained ‘creative’ people can wreak havoc, especially if they hold positions of power and their ideas are imposed on people. We only need look at ‘innovations’ created by successive governments, which have led to policies in health, social work and education, that come and go swiftly, for examples.

I have found having a head full of ideas both a blessing and a curse at different (or even the same times) in my career. The conundrum of how, and when, to share ideas is one I am still struggling with. I’ve lost count of the number or ‘articles’ I planned to write but never found the time to do. In my career I have changed roles or organisations and left behind fledgling projects or innovations, that dwindled once I’d gone, despite my best efforts to hand them over. Such a waste. I might reprieve some and blog about them. I need to get better at finding ways of getting the ideas from my head into something useful for others. If you know someone who is full of ideas maybe this blog will prompt you to encourage them. Maybe you are brimming with creativity but have not found encouragement? If so contact me on caroline.aldridgeSW@yahoo.com because I'm always happy to encourage people. 

This blog is just one way I am using to share my thoughts and experiences with others. I find Twitter has been a great way to bounce ideas with like-minded people and engage in debates. I would welcome your comments, thoughts and ideas. Please give me feedback on my musings on Twitter at @Caroline Aldrid5. If you want to read more of my blogs or the rationale behind my blogging please look at www.learningsocialworker.com

Article published in Professional Social Work, April 2018

               Be creative! By Caroline Aldridge

In the current climate of social work it might feel superfluous to suggest being creative. There is so much pressure on services and practitioners. However, the proverb, ‘necessity is the mother of invention’, holds some truth.  By drawing on our creativity we can find ways of overcoming resource limitations, resolving seemingly intractable situations, and finding solutions to meet individual needs.

Creativity is many things. It might be colour, music, poetry, photography, film, or making something. When we use our creative, artistic, parts of our brains we connect with our emotions. This can be powerful. Just imagine for a moment how music can bring us deep joy or prompt tears.  Thus many therapies use creative methods to help people connect with their emotions, and process their feelings, trauma, or memories. Social work interventions aim to enable people to feel happier and develop coping strategies. So social work can be therapeutic and creativity can support that.

Creative social work is not about artistic ability. Creativity also means anything where we need to design an activity or solution. We strive for ‘analysis’ in social work but, in terms of learning, creativity requires more higher order thinking skills (Bloom cited in Clark, 1999). When we move from formulaic ways of reflection and critical analysis, towards designing, innovating and creating, we think more deeply. When we create collaboratively we set the conditions for even deeper analysis. Hence why it is so important to work collaboratively with people needing services to ‘design’ their own solutions and plans.

Creativity can also be integral to professionals developing their own values, skills and resilience. For example, we might develop empathy by imagining ourselves in others’ shoes and capturing our thoughts. Or, we might find the creative arts help us to self-soothe and emotionally regulate in order to avoid ‘burnout’.

So my top tip is to be creative! It can benefit the people who we work with directly (by helping them to overcome difficulties) and indirectly (by enabling professional analysis and resilience). It can also be fun!

Reference:

Clark, D. (1999) Bloom’s taxonomy of learning domains available at www.nwlink.com

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