THE MAN who will head a government think-tank on creative thinking said its job was to look at the conditions under which innovative ideas thrive, not to teach them.
Ken Robinson, professor of arts and education at Warwick University, heads a team of experts from education, business and the art world investigating how to reform teaching and lecturing in order to encourage school pupils and students to think creatively.
Professor Robinson said: "We cannot mechanically or routinely teach people to be creative but we can create the conditions in which creativity prospers. This has implications for teaching methods."
Professor Robinson said the committee would look at ways to break down cultural stereotypes that associate creativity with the arts, especially fine art.
The best work in every discipline has long been born out of creative thinking, he said.
"Published scientific research appears a very clinical matter but it is in fact a very diverse process of creativity. This creative process is very similar to that in the arts," he said.
But creativity could not be taught, not least because people's creative processes are highly individual, he said. Identifying the right teaching methods and learning conditions and applying them was a challenge. British art schools, such as Goldsmiths, have produced a clutch of internationally renowned artists since the 1980s. Asking the secret of their success revealed little.
Professor Robinson believes that the key to creativity may lie somewhere between instilling a command of the known facts in a chosen field and awaiting infrequent and wholly unpredictable flashes of inspiration. "We are talking about discipline married to insight. People become creative when in control of their field. We want to see what broad principles can be identified," he said.
In announcing the advisory committee last week, culture minister Chris Smith said that it was not only about what is best for pupils: "It's also about what's best for the modern British economy."
Governments had expanded higher education massively over the past two decades in recognition that education was key to cultural and economic stability in the post-industrial world, said Professor Robinson.
It was easy to imagine why a society based largely on old-style heavy industry required fewer creatively thinking employees.
However, a knowledge-based economy where speed of change is dictated by rapidly evolving computer-based technology presented employees with a range of options best exploited by the application of creative thinking, he said.
"There is a huge structural shift going on and the expansion of higher education recognises that," he said. "But we cannot move from an elite to a mass system without analysing the processes involved. Expanding the system changes the nature of it."
The committee's work is second in educational and economic terms only to improving literacy and numeracy.
The inquiry will start with schools and go on to further and higher education. "In many ways higher education tries to undo many of the things taught at school. We have some way to go to ensure complementarity between the sectors. There must be a unity," he said.
A first report is expected in September to be followed by the second phase on post-16 education.