Ninety-one years have passed since that moment.
By Eastern Establishment standards (to say nothing of European standards),
Reed is still in its adolescence. And so, it is perhaps not surprising
that Reed remains faithful to the rebellious spirit of its founding generation.
For those who believe that history is destiny, that history of iconoclasm
is reason enough for us to continue to place creativity at the center
of our focus.
With due respect for the determinists, I believe that we can
choose our destiny. We should valorize creativity, not because we are
predestined to do so, but because we choose to do so. And we should choose
to do so for both instrumental and intrinsic reasons. Viewed instrumentally,
creativity is the engine of our economy and our culture. Ours, for good
or ill, is a society built on ideas, on discovery, on change. We at Reed
can best repay that society, for its investment in us, by producing people
and ideas that enable society to progress—to solve even its most
intractable problems, and to realize even its most elusive dreams.
me, the pursuit of creativity finds even greater resonance for intrinsic
reasons. The act of creation is, for most people, the highest attainment
of human striving. In Abraham Maslow’s formulation, the act of creation
is the means to, indeed virtually synonymous with, self-actualization.
In religious belief, the act of creation can be seen as an expression
of one’s divine nature. To create is to touch God.
If I am right that Reed College should foster creativity, how should it
carry out that task? That is a difficult question to answer without understanding
the roots of human creativity. Serious study of creativity in the artistic,
intellectual, and scientific realms dates back only about half a century.
Over that time, the subject of creativity has been investigated by cognitive
and behavioral psychologists, historians, sociologists, economists, literary
theorists, and aestheticians. Not surprisingly, the findings of these
researchers are diverse, often divergent, and only with difficulty translatable
into prescriptive terms.
Still, when one reviews the literature, a number
of themes emerge that provide a framework for thinking about the conditions
and traits that correlate with creative achievement. I would like, briefly,
to talk about two conditions—mastery and versatility—and three
traits—passion, curiosity, and playfulness.
| Colin Diver is the fourth Amherst
College alumnus to become president of Reed. The others were
Dexter Keezer, Duncan Ballantine, and Paul Bragdon, the longest-
serving president in the history of Reed. Diver currently serves
on the Amherst board of trustees, and Bragdon is a former member
of the Amherst board. In addition, former Reed president Peter
Odegard was previously a member of the Amherst faculty.
Colin Diver is the third lawyer to be president of Reed. The
two others are Victor Rosenblum, who came from and returned
to the Northwestern law faculty after his presidency, and Paul
Bragdon, who was educated at Yale law school.
Virtually all creative individuals have been masters of at least some
domain. As Louis Pasteur said: “novel ideas come to the prepared
mind.” Economist Herbert Simon argues that creative problem-solving
requires a “skill at searching spaces of possible . . . solutions
in a highly selective manner, [recognizing] familiar patterns . . . that
give access to bodies of knowledge, stored in memory.” Echoing the
findings of other commentators, Simon argues that it takes at least 10
years of sustained effort to acquire sufficient mastery to make major
contributions to a field. Even Mozart had been publicly performing and
composing music for 10 years before he produced his first genuine masterpieces.
Of course, he began at age four! I’m sorry to break the news: but,
all of us—even you undergraduates—are over the hill.