Can Hamilton Make Your Child a Creative Genius?

Production Image by Joan Marcus

Production Image by Joan Marcus

Artificial Intelligence is here.  Solid, middle-class jobs are gone.

Starting to panic?

Creativity.  That’s what the experts say our kids will need to stay ahead in this new economy.

“Lawyers. Doctors. Accountants. Engineers. That’s what our parents encouraged us to become. They were wrong.  The future belongs to a...different kind of mind: designers, inventors, teachers, storytellers — creative and emphatic “right-brain” thinkers whose abilities mark the fault line between who gets ahead and who doesn’t,” says Daniel Pink in his book: A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future.

Here's the problem.  Creativity is intangible.  Forcing our children to be doctors actually seems easier because there is a set educational path to follow.  How does one become a brilliant “designer” or “inventor”, exactly?  How do you tell someone to be creative?

You can’t.

But what if you taught your child someone's creative process instead?  Could a peak behind the curtain of one of the greatest recent examples of creativity de-mystify it?

Where we get discouraged is when we believe that creative genius is a “light-bulb moment,” an “epiphany” or a “flash of insight.”  We think our kids need to be wicked smart to have any shot at being struck by this divine inspiration. 

The reality is that it's more of a “Hey, you got your chocolate in my peanut butter!…You got your peanut butter on my chocolate!” Reese’s-Peanut-Butter-Cup moment.   

Stephen King, in his book, On Writing, agrees “…two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun.  Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up. "

Lin-Manuel Miranda, the “founding father” of the Broadway smash, Hamilton, did his job.

I had been looking for a good example of the creative process for a while.  I needed something that didn’t require a Ph.D. or a team of engineers to explain how to be prepared to recognize an idea.  Then one day, last fall, my daughter - rapping with a French accent - hopped into the car.

“Oui oui, mon ami, je m’appelle Lafayette!  The Lancelot of the revolutionary set! I came from afar just to say “Bonsoir! Tell the King “Casse toi!” Who’s the best? C’est moi!”

“That’s hilarious!  What is that?” I said.

“You don't know who Lafayette is?!” she said, charmingly misunderstanding me.

Today, Hamilton is an American obsession.   Nominated for a record-breaking 16 Tony nominations, it won 11 last week, along with a Pulitzer Prize earlier this year.  Crazily, its Grammy-winning album is on continuous play in our car, our house, even my own iPod, and we haven't even seen the show.  You practically have to sell an organ to do that.  

Even so, I had a hunch that my children could learn a lot about creativity from Miranda's story and I was right.

Miranda was going on vacation and picked up Ron Chernow's 700 page Alexander Hamilton for some “light reading”.  It turned out to be the chocolate bar that fell right into Miranda’s jar of peanut butter.

In an interview on CBS, he said, "By the end of the second chapter I was on Google saying 'someone's already made this into a musical. How can anyone not have made this into a musical?'”  He saw so much drama and energy in the story that he "felt like a mosquito who had tapped into an artery."

The key to Miranda’s creativity was his cache of life experiences.  Son of Puerto Rican immigrants, Miranda is an actor, composer, freestyle rapper, and playwright. He already had a couple of Tony's under his belt for his first musical, In The Heights

Lots of experiences.

As he began to write Hamilton, this diverse background allowed him to make even more unique connections which he remixed into something incredibly original.  The most exciting of which was his decision to use hip-hop.

Miranda took it for granted that hip-hop would be the musical form because "The hip-hop narrative is writing yourself out of your circumstances." which was exactly how Alexander Hamilton rose in social standing.   Miranda also said that "We need a revolutionary language to describe a revolution." He argued that the American Revolution "was a war of ideas," therefore, "Hip-hop is uniquely suited...because we get more language per measure than any other form."

And, of course, the rap battles are perfect for cabinet debate, not to mention a lot more fun.

Miranda is exceptionally talented in his field. However, Adam Grant, in his book Originals, says it takes the combination of deep study, and broad experiences that allow these flashes of connections which advance science, inspire inventions and change cultures.  Let's not forget that a Puerto Rican, freestyle-rapping, musical-theater thespian chose to pick up a massive biography of an American founding father on his way to the beach, after all.  He's obviously a curious guy.

Miranda's tale enthralled my children almost as much as his Hamilton creation. 

There's a million things we haven't done (pun intended), but we have already learned a few lessons in our experiment to creative thinking. 

  • Give children time to explore things that they choose, not just what looks good on a college resume. This allows them to build up experiences.
  • Celebrate curiosity and nudge them to investigate their questions.
  • Ask them questions like, “How is this connected to other concepts/ideas?”
  • Encourage them to flex their creative muscles by "Mirandizing" their school projects.

My husband and I found that letting our kids do whatever they wanted once their work was done, became their biggest creative inspiration. 

At first, we thought we had made a mistake.  Video games and YouTubes popped on as soon as books closed.  Instead of opening their minds, we feared we were rotting them.

But then good things started to happen. 

My son interviewed a family contact from South Africa and incorporated the audio files into his PowerPoint assignment on American segregation for contrast. Inspired by YouTubers, my daughter decided to forgo the boring book report and, instead, created a movie.  She got into different costumes and had the book’s characters deliver the summary instead. Two weeks later, really channeling Miranda, she rapped her personal story for a unit on autobiographies.

Not only were we heartened by the fact that our children were starting to see flexibility in their school projects but that their teachers embraced and rewarded the fresh approaches.  We are hopeful that they will continue to apply this creative process to even more aspects of their life.

Parents can help their kids practice making connections and with encouragement, knowing the process, they might feel liberated to seek out creative twists. 

The hard work of changing the world with their discoveries - the genius part - well, that’s up to them.

But, "just you wait."

-Laura

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