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The Plasticine Rabbit – A Story of How Creativity Gets Crumpled

Posted by Joanne on February 10, 2011 Comments (2)

Children don’t have any restrictions when it comes to creativity. They play and create with little effort. What happens to crumple this effortless creativity?  The following story might explain.

When my daughter was in kindergarten, I volunteered to help in the classroom. One day, Mrs. Teacher asked the children to make a rabbit using plasticine. She didn’t provide any other instructions. They went to work and it was wonderful to see little rabbits springing up around the classroom. Everyone made three-dimensional tall rabbits, but my daughter did something different. She built a one-dimensional rabbit with incredible detail layered onto a flat circle for the head, another for the body and little flat ears and legs. Kind of like some art or story books you see where the characters are made out of plasticine flattened onto the page and then photographed. She was focused and working very hard on building her unique rabbit. Mrs. Teacher went around the room making positive comments about the tall rabbits, and then she came up to my daughter. I’m sure you might guess what comes next. My little girl stopped her work and smiled up at her teacher, expecting some kind of encouraging remark.  But instead, with hands on her hips and a frown on her face, Mrs. Teacher said, “You were supposed to make a tall rabbit, not a flat one.” All the pride and joy my daughter felt in creating her rabbit crumpled before my eyes. I gently told her, “I really like your rabbit, especially the little eyes, nose, and whiskers.” But the damage was done. My daughter was already furiously crumpling up her beautiful flat rabbit into a big tall lump of plasticine. I half expected her to toss the lump at her teacher, because I felt like doing that myself. So what happened?

Creativity is crumpled if we are quick to judge.
Creativity is crumpled when constraints get in the way.

How often in the workplace do we crumple creativity by confining problem solving and ideas into restrictive parameters? (Make a rabbit, but it has to be a three-dimensional, tall rabbit). Or worse, do we crumple creativity by expressing an opinion that something won’t work, is a stupid idea, or isn’t the way we do things around here?

What can we do about this? During the HRPA 2011 Conference, several speakers mentioned that the role of a manager when it comes to encouraging creativity is to be quiet and listen, get out of the way, and provide free time.

Many might say it isn’t possible to allow people “free” time to create, but Google has an 80/20 rule where engineers are expected to spend 20% of their week working on anything that interests them … with no parameters and no restrictions. Google believes people work better when they’re passionate about something and Google has benefited by 20% time with results like Gmail and Google News.

So the next time you hear or see someone doing something unique or outside conventional parameters stop and think very carefully about how you’ll approach them. What will you say? Will you crumple creativity or encourage it?  If you are interested in learning how to UN-crumple the plasticine rabbit and encourage creativity in your workplace, contact us!

Joanne Royce, Royce & Associates, Human Resources & Training Solutions ~ Creating Happy, Healthy, Productive Workplaces.


  1. Joanne, thank you for sharing this with me. It is an extraordinary story.

    Comment by Patrick Ogilvie — February 22, 2011 @ 4:16 pm

  2. Hi Patrick: Thanks for taking the time to read my story and for your kind comments.

    Comment by Joanne — February 22, 2011 @ 10:31 pm

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 Joanne Royce

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