Creativity and Perspective- a fish called Ghoti.

There must be many people who are aware that ‘Ghoti’ is another way of spelling ‘fish’. This is achieved by pronouncing the ‘gh’ as in rough, the ‘o’ as in women, and the ‘ti’ as in motion. It takes a particular type of brain to use the idiosyncrasies of the English language in this way. It requires both knowledge (of the English language) analysis (of its peculiarities) and creativity (to produce an alternative word form). To succeed, the writer must have a brain that functions in many different areas all at once. To understand the puzzle thus set, we need to have a similarly functioning brain, so it can recognize that this is a problem to be solved, that requires the use of our knowledge of language, and our previous puzzle solving skills.

Too often in schools, we prevent students from building up the versatility of thinking that is needed both to pose and solve these puzzles. Whilst puzzle-solving in itself might seem a futile diversion, the skills developed and honed are vital to the creative process.

Let us imagine, for a moment, that our ‘fish’ is floating in the air in front of our eyes. It is our task to catch the fish as efficiently as possible. The main thrust of conventional teaching would suggest that reaching out directly in front of us to take hold of the fish would be the most economic process. The fish would be quickly obtained, and it would free us to gather more fish in the future. This is very much how teaching works- we deliver an obvious path to the required outcome and expect immediate success. We then seek to build on that success.

The problem with this approach is that it is not always suitable. There are factors that can interfere with the process of ‘fish-catching’, and these factors can exist in the behaviour of the fish, or in the methods used by the potential catcher. The ‘angler’ must understand the task required of them, and must prepare adequately for the task. Tools must be gathered, a strategy devised, and patience must be exercised in completing the task. If the ‘angler’ lacks the appropriate equipment, or is unable to control their emotional response to the task, or indeed, finds the task futile and unrewarding, the fish will not be caught.

Equally, if the angler has misjudged the task, he may find it a more complex endeavour than he had bargained for. The fish might move quickly away, or become hidden. Then the initial strategy will prove inadequate, leading to frustration and failure.

This is where the value of a versatile mind comes in. The creative thinker can reappraise the situation. New strategies can be devised, new plans made and prepared for, and new approaches used that may lead to success. The versatile thinker will not only create alternatives, but will learn from each failure, refine processes and move ever closer to a satisfactory conclusion. Great thinkers throughout history have taken failure on board and used it to generate steps towards greater outcomes- think Leonardo Da Vinci, William Harvey, Louis Pasteur, Thomas Edison, and more.

The more we face difficult problems, the better we become at dealing with them. With the added bonus that versatile thinking not only provides us with a range of options, but gives us the skills to use past experience to analyse the possible routes, and make selections that have a greater likelihood of success. We learn to be more efficient and independent problem-solvers.

So- to paraphrase a well known adage- “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him when the fishing is good. Allow him to fail as a fisherman, to build up experience and knowledge, and he can always be sure that, with effort and dedication, he will find new and abundant fishing that will sustain him for his lifetime.”