An important benefit of Odyssey of the Mind is that students learn to work with others. Oftentimes, to encourage creativity, talented individuals are given free reign to “do their own thing.” They may be accustomed to having their own ideas recognized, but now they have the ideas of their team members to consider as well. It is natural for new teams to take time developing into a cohesive group. You may have to help that process along. Ultimately, you’ll find that team members will form life-long friendships and develop a deep respect for one another’s talents.
See teambuilding for a full description on how to overcome initial awkwardness or hesitation within groups and for a list of teambuilding activities.
It is the coach’s responsibility to provide stability and to ensure that each team member has equal input to the problem solution. Everyone’s opinion counts, so avoid allowing one or two team members to “overpower” a meeting. If this happens, you may have to be the one to draw out the ideas of the quieter students in the group. You may find that team members will not agree on one solution and will work against each other at first. You may have to be the one to initiate the process of reaching a consensus. In time, the lessons you provide will become natural behavior. Here are suggestions to help ensure fairness and equal input for all team members:
Coaches must prepare teams for three phases of competition: long-term, style, and spontaneous. Many teams will work on their own to develop their long-term problem solution but may need guidance in building creative-thinking skills or practicing solving spontaneous problems.
To prepare team members for the mental rigors of competition, training should include exercises based on basic creativity principles. The coach can help improve a team’s divergent thinking ability through brainstorming sessions and exercises that involve the restatement of a problem, functional fixedness, removing mind-sets, and role-playing. These will help build self confidence and divergent thinking ability.
In addition to these types of exercises, the coach should teach discipline, and management and organizational skills to the team members. Oftentimes, generating ideas to solve a problem is easy, but selecting and executing a solution is much more difficult. Following are exercises to help build creative-thinking skills.
Teams must generate many different ideas to find solutions to different aspects to the long term problem. For a fuller description and suggested methods, see brainstorming.
How a problem is stated often influences how a problem is solved. Essentially, there are two types of problems: analytic and divergent. An analytic problem is convergent in nature; that is, it has a single correct answer. Divergent problems allow for many possible solutions.
Many problems can be stated in a way to either encourage or discourage creative responses. A common trait among creative individuals is their ability to redefine a problem without changing its objective. For example, consider the problem, “Design a new toothbrush.” To most people an obvious solution would be an adaptation of a utensil with a handle and fibers at one end. If you restate the problem to “find a better way to clean teeth,” the more creative individuals would go beyond the preconceived idea of the typical toothbrush. A brainstorming session could help in coming up with many different solutions. Coaches should train team members to redefine the problems presented to them, and stimulate and nurture this thinking approach.
Be careful, however, when restating problems and make sure the objective is not changed or reinterpreted. For example, if you ask a team to “Design a baseball glove,” an image, concept or solution that will most often come to mind is a typical fielder’s glove, catcher’s mitt, or two- or threefingered glove with a large web. The problem could be restated as, “Think of different ways to catch a baseball,” which encourages creativity and allows for an array of usable solutions. However, stating the problem as, “Design a new glove,” will result in solutions that do not serve the intended purpose of catching a baseball.
Functional fixedness is a mind-set, or the tendency to perceive an object as being able to carry out only the function for which it was designed. The tendency to apply only one function to an object limits the number of possible resources an individual can use when faced with certain tasks. Although not designed for these functions, a toothbrush can be used to clean golf clubs, a coin can be a screwdriver, an old sock can be a rag, or a rubber band can be used as a hair band. Similar to redefining a problem, redefining an item’s function allows individuals to go beyond preconceived notions.
Having students assume different roles or the personae of other characters allows them to go “outside of themselves.” It helps to get them to look at things from different points of view and opens their minds to possibilities other than what they are used to. Having team members act out fictional experiences in a make-believe setting will help them to think more imaginatively. It will also help hone their acting skills and get them to feel more comfortable performing in front of others.
You can set the parameters for what the students will do in their assumed roles, or you can encourage them to improvise. Provide feedback on how they could improve their performance to be more convincing, humorous, dramatic, and so on.
It’s not enough to be creative for creativity’s sake. Creative processes should be productive, too. One way to “channel” a team member’s creativity is to pose limitations to the problem. This will stimulate ideas while focusing on the task at hand.
Asking someone to invent “something” is too broad, and may cause an individual to feel overwhelmed. On the other hand, asking someone to design a red ride-on toy fire truck is too restrictive. Taking a middle ground and asking someone to design a pull-toy leaves a great deal of latitude for creative thinking. Including limitations for cost, size and safety will offer further direction and help to keep the ideas practical.
Consider the problem, “Design a boat.” This statement inhibits creativity because of preconceived ideas of the characteristics of a common boat. To encourage creativity, you could restate the problem as, “Build a device to transport one person across a pond.” To further encourage creativity, impose certain limitations.
This problem and the following limitations were presented to students at Rowan University in New Jersey in the 1970’s. Below is the solution developed by one group of students. The solution was not successful in that it did not get the individuals across the pond without getting wet, but it certainly was creative. In fact, it was the inspiration for the Odyssey of the Mind Ranatra Fusca Creativity Award. Ranatra Fusca is the Latin term for “water strider” and, in Odyssey of the Mind, is synonymous with exceptional creativity.