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Critical Self: A Creative To-Do List

Critical Self: A Creative To-Do List

Author: UKy UndergraduateEd

The purpose of this activity is to provide you with opportunity to consider what creative achievements you would like to accomplish in the upcoming year, try out a new activity, and connect lessons learned about that attempt to guidelines for future efforts.

Awareness of potential creative accomplishments is the first step to becoming creative. This activity is designed to encourage learners to use intention and reflection to enhance their creativity.

As we state on the University of Kentucky Landscape Architecture website (, landscape architecture is a profession concerned with creative stewardship of land, the design of sustainable human communities, and the aesthetic quality of places. Landscape architects are engaged in site planning and site design and work closely with environmental scientists, architects, engineers, and regulatory agencies. Our work requires design sensibility, technical skill, environmental awareness, and the ability to work with people.See this video "I want to be a landscape architect..."

Creativity comes from gaining new perspectives and trying new things. The most creative person in the room is not always the person who has mastered one specific craft. Often, it’s the person who has tried many things and can bring the knowledge from all of those experiences together. But you’ll never know until you start trying. And the first step is to write down your creative to-do list. What is on your list?

As the Faculty of the University of Kentucky stated in their curricular design template for the Arts & Creativity area of their general education program (UK Core), creativity is pertinent to all disciplines. In postsecondary general education, a focus on creativity adds to the vitality and relevance of learning and will translate into graduates who are better prepared to face the challenges of a dynamic society. The University of Kentucky faculty require of all their baccalaureate degree graduates a unique experience for those attending Carnegie I research institutions.  UK graduates must take a class that expects them to explore and experience the creative process. The faculty committee for Arts & Creativity wrote: "the human need to experience, comprehend, and utilize processes that transcend the conventions of utility, whether that involves the mastery of rules or the decision to break them, the desire to identify and refine the expressible or to recognize and prize the ineffable." 


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Ryan Hargove, Landscape Architecture, University of KentuckyThis exercise was developed by Dr. Ryan Hargrove, Assistant Professor in the Department of Landscape Architecture, University of Kentucky's College of Agriculture.  It has been used as an opening exercise in his course, LA 111 "Living on the Right Side of the Brain" which has been approved as fulfilling the Arts & Creativity area in the University's general education program, UK Core. Courses in this area are hands-on courses that allow students to engage actively with the creative process. Students will define and distinguish different approaches to creativity, demonstrate the ability to critically analyze work produced by other students, and evaluate results of their own creative endeavors. In general education, a focus on creativity adds to the vitality and relevance of learning and will translate into graduates who are better prepared to face the challenges of a dynamic society.

Step 1: Preparatory Reading and Reflection

Portrait of Leonardo, by Wendy MacNaughton (, read the wonderful blog post, "Leonardo's To-Do List" by Robert Krulwich, science correspondent for National Public Radio (NPR).

Reflect on how you typically record your own to-do lists, and how - now that you've seen a little about how this great thinker and inventor sketched out his ideas - how you might try to capture your ideas differently.  If you are doing this exercise by yourself, take a few minutes to reflect on the following questions - and if you are in a group, start discussing the following questions about the reading:

  • Why does Leonardo da Vinci carry a small notebook with him wherever he goes? Do you have a notepad you regularly carry around with you?
  • What does Leonardo's To-Do look like, and how is it different from or similar to your own kinds of reminders? 
  • Michel Montaigne, the great essayist, seems to be celebrating the very thing your teachers seem always to warn you about: lack of focus. How do you think these contradictions can be reconciled?
  • What are the findings of the study of university undergraduates who were diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)? Was this surprising to you - why or why not? 
  • Why does Krulwich keep repeating the phrase "a very hungry mind" - and what does this mean? 

Source: Krulwich, R. (2011, November 18). [Web log message]. Retrieved from

Step 2: Brainstorm a List of New Activities/Experiences You've Never Done Before

Mind Map of Mind Map Guidelines - from WikipediaNow brainstorm a list of activities you could do in the next two days that you (or someone in your group) have not done before. 

After a few items have been generated, go back and look at what you've got.  Cross off your list anything oriented toward self-improvement, such as “eating healthier” or “be nice to people.” Keep the items in the realm of possibility, and try to make sure the activities or experiences are achievable in the next 48 hours.

Rather than record these ideas in list format, capture the ideas in a conceptual or mind map (or other type of unique) format. You can do this by drawing freehand or using a mind mapping software online. 

To find a good visual tool for you to create this list in a visual or mind map format, look at what the teachers and faculty in the social bookmarking group "Diigo in Education" have found - there are dozens of great resources listed there for you to choose from:

⇔⇔ ♦ ⇔⇔ ♦ ⇔⇔

Time out for Reflection:

  • What did you learn about yourself when trying to record information from this brainstorming session using a technique that was new to you?
  • How could you apply this new awareness about this attempt to any future efforts?

Source: Mind map. In (2001, revised 2012). Wikipedia Retrieved from

Step 3: Choose One New Activity You've Never Done Before

Martina Navratilova's bold signature in orange, the color of creativityChoose one activity from your mind map that you've never done before.  Make sure it is an activity you feel is appropriate and can share out in the open with others.  Is it something you've never done before?  Is it something you can bring back pictures or videos about to help describe what you did?  

As the great tennis star and record-breaker, Martina Navratilova says,

“Just go out there and do what you have to do.”


Source: Lewis, J. J. (2009). Martina navratilova quotes: Martina navratilova (october 18, 1956 - ). Retrieved from

Step 4: Reporting Out - What Did You Learn From Your Experience of Something New?

Now sketch up what happened and what you've learned from this new experience.  Ideally, this should be portrayed in a sort of "cycle" that depicts (1) your experience, (2) lesson learned, (3) connection to a future creative project you may choose to undertake.

Directions for Processing the Creative Experience

  1. describe your new activity/experience
  2. explain what lesson you took from that new experience
  3. discuss how the lesson, which came from the new experience, could influence your future creative project
  4. ask someone else to summarize what they think your report means - encourage questions

Publish your report in an online social media platform that allows for interactivity with your readers.  Include sketches, diagrams, or photographs as either attachments or contained within the writing portion.  Here are some good online publishing platforms for this part of the activity (in no particular order):


How Creativity Works - Knowing You've Really Made It Happen

It's difficult to know or understand how creativity happens. Jonah Lehrer in his book, IMAGINE: How Creativity Works, helps us understand this process. Creativity works the same way as any other kinds of thinking - we just have to understand it as a variety of distinct thought. Lehrer concurs with Steve Jobs, "Creativity is just connecting things." This wonderful animation by Flash Rosenberg shows us how Lehrer's ideas in IMAGINE are tackled, tickled and teased-out.

Source: Lehrer, J. (2012). Imagine: how creativity works. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. - AND - Beahm, G. (2012). I, steve, steve jobs in his own words. Agate Pub Inc.

Step 5: Evaluation of Your Creative To-Do List

As Jonah Lehrer wrote in Imagine: How Creativity Works (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012):

"When we tell stories about creativity, we tend to leave out this phase [feeling of frustration - "the dull ache of not being able to find the answer"]. We neglect to mention those days when we wanted to quit, when we believed that our problem was impossible. Instead, we skip straight to the breakthrough. We tell the happy ending first.

"The danger of this scenario is that the act of feeling frustrated is an essential part of the creative process. Before we can find the answer — before we can even know the question — we must be immersed in disappointment, convinced that a solution is beyond our reach. We need to have wrestled with the problem and lost. Because it’s only after we stop searching that an answer may arrive."

Did you really do describe something creative? Use these question to evaluate your experience/lessons-learned/future-connections cycle:

  • Did your report include the 3 parts of the creative thinking cycle?
  • Did you apply "out of the box" thinking?  Were you frustrated during the process?
  • Did anyone analyze your work and was it valuable in revising, improving it?
  • Did you revise your work after receiving that feedback? Why or why not?

Source: Popova, M. (2012, March 26). [Web log message]. Retrieved from