Opinion Blog

Ask a Psychologist

Helping Students Thrive Now

Angela Duckworth and other behavioral-science experts offer advice to teachers based on scientific research. To submit questions, use this form or #helpstudentsthrive. Read more from this blog.

Teaching Opinion

The Overlooked Way to Think Creatively When Solving Problems

By Leidy Klotz — May 12, 2021 1 min read
How can I think more creatively?

How do I think more creatively when I’m trying to solve a tough problem?
We all know the adage that less can be more, but we have a hard time putting it into action. Here’s something I wrote about the topic recently for Character Lab as a Tip of the Week:
My 6-year-old son has a stubborn palate.
Attempting to diversify his diet, my partner and I have tried it all. We’ve coated veggies in cheese, filled each compartment of his lunchtime bento boxes with intriguing flavors (freeze-dried strawberries!), and involved him in meal prep. We’ve subscribed to kid-friendly meal-delivery services, watched cooking shows together, and pointed out “your little sister’s eating it.” No luck.
Even if you don’t have a picky eater in the house, you’ve encountered this situation before. When you want to improve something—whether it’s a kid’s diet, your teaching skills, or the design of a classroom—you think about how to change things from the way they are to the way you want them to be.
While people can get very creative in their solutions, my colleagues and I have found that one approach is consistently overlooked: subtraction. We think first about adding, whether it’s piling on more options (the bento boxes), more information (the cooking shows), or more motivation (the sister).
But in our eagerness to add, we neglect the other way to create change—by taking things away. For instance, removing bread as the default snack presented to my son led to more improvement than all of the additions combined. Now, bananas, rice, and granola have made their way into the regular rotation. With any luck, he will be eating vegetables by the time he turns 10.
Subtraction neglect is widespread. It happens when designing buildings, writing summaries, solving patterns, and yes, preparing food. In our studies, people didn’t think to subtract even when it was the only way to save time, make money, or get the right answer. Only when encouraged to consider deletion did they brainstorm more creatively.
Don’t succumb to the instinct that more is always better. There’s nothing wrong with adding, but it’s not the only path to improvement.
Do try to change behavior by removing barriers, whether it’s the auto-reminder interrupting homework time or tech distractions standing in the way of getting outside. When you want to add an idea, subtract.

Related Tags:

The opinions expressed in Ask a Psychologist: Helping Students Thrive Now are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Events

Jobs The EdWeek Top School Jobs Virtual Career Fair
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Mathematics Webinar
Engaging Young Students to Accelerate Math Learning
Join learning scientists and inspiring district leaders, for a timely panel discussion addressing a school district’s approach to doubling and tripling Math gains during Covid. What started as a goal to address learning gaps in
Content provided by Age of Learning & Digital Promise, Harlingen CISD
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
How to Power Your Curriculum With Digital Books
Register for this can’t miss session looking at best practices for utilizing digital books to support their curriculum.
Content provided by OverDrive

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Teaching Opinion Using Rubrics for 'Targeted Feedback'
Three educators discuss the why's and how's of rubrics for assessment.
10 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
iStock/Getty
Teaching Opinion Rubric Do’s & Don’ts
Six educators share their thoughts on rubric use in the classroom.
12 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
iStock/Getty
Teaching Opinion The What, Why, and How Of 'Interleaving'
Four educators explain the strategy of "interleaving" and how it applies to classroom practice.
13 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
iStock/Getty
Teaching Opinion 'There’s a Lot of Potential Learning From Teachers Waiting to Happen'
Three educators and researchers share suggestions about how the two groups can better work together.
10 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
iStock/Getty