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Potential maximisation: Tactics of learned creativity

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Learned Creativity is the use of learned skills to create career and social outcomes. Learned Creativity can be learning from others and purposeful self-learning. Creativity suggests skillfully using learned techniques to by-pass disability-related challenges. Learning music with less-than-ideal hearing is a good example of this.


Music is enjoyed by many people without deafness. Not understanding music can cut you off from conversation. For example, how can you answer a conversation about Coldplay if you don’t know the band? You can’t. Not knowing, there is no point of reference.

Some people are too deaf to hear music. But hearing aids or a cochlear implant should provide sufficient hearing for learning music. That’s why my previous column asked you to watch the Cold Play’s “Fix You” video clip. You can use this to help your child learn the song with the coming exercise.

This requires a music player, a pen, and a clock. Print out this song’s lyrics from the Internet. Now you can get comfortable and play the song. With your pen ready, play the song with a timer. Your cell phone’s stop watch will suffice.

Record the very second when the lead singer Chris Martin begins singing the lyrics. He starts singing “When you try…” 13 seconds after the music begins. He sings the next verse on the 20th second, and so on. It looks like this:

(0.13) When you try your best but you don’t succeed
(0.20) When you get what you want but not what you need
(0.27) When you feel so tired but you can’t sleep 
(0.33) Stuck in reverse

(0.41) And the tears come streaming down your face 
(0.48) When you lose something you can’t replace 
(0.55) When you love someone but it goes to waste 
(1.02) Could it be worse?

(1.12) Lights will guide you home 
(1.19) And ignite your bones
(1.26) And I will try to fix you


The song continues.

Once this timing method is complete, a person without deafness could then sit with you and play “Fix You.” Running a finger along the lyrics in time with the singing will help you ‘get’ the melody. A few listens, or persistence, may be required. When confident, you could then read these lyrics alone by keeping an eye on the time while the song plays. Eventually, the timer won’t be needed. A few listens will help you to learn the timing and rhythm of the song.

Using information creatively

Participants in my Ph.D. research gave numerous examples of practical life skills learned from watching captioned media. Learned skills included understanding different types of humour (e.g., satire, irony, slap stick), learning the subtleties of role play (e.g., romantic clinch, irony), and knowledge of historical, geographical or topical circumstances. All of these conversational skills were used by the participants to maximise their social participation.

Gossip consists of three main topics: newsworthy events, humour, and personalised information. Knowledge of these three key factors helps creativity in conversation. Television, DVDs, newspapers and the Internet are all useful for up-to-date sources of gossip. Below are some examples.

Newsworthy Events 
At the time of writing – February 24, 2010 – the New York Times had these lead stories:

  • The continuation of the Governor David A. Paterson case
  • Costs linked with the Vancouver Winter Olympics
  • Vermont Senate voted to close nuclear plant
  • Population growth in earthquake-prone zones putting more people at risk of danger
  • USA hockey team beat Switzerland 2-0; Canada also beat Russia 7-2

Every one of these stories is a topic of conversation. Some may be boring, but no information is useless. Using the news stories above, the following hypothetical group conversation is an example:

Trent is profoundly deaf and benefits from hearing aids. He heard the word “Haiti” but loses most of a group conversation. He instinctively feels others are talking about the devastating earthquake that recently killed thousands.

He waited for a pause in the conversation. He then uses the New York Times story as a prompt “Did you read the story about population growth in earthquake-prone zones?”

No one had. Trent then explains the story. But people weren’t interested. This was a challenge for Trent. Remember the skill in my Persistence article by persisting with themes until a breakthrough happens? Trent used a similar tactic. He persisted by using another New York Times story: “Hey, did anyone see the hockey last night?”

Two people replied, “Yeah!”
Trent then asked, “What did you think?”

The group then gave their opinions of the game and the conversation flowed from there.

Using the New York Times’ stories in conversation is an example of creatively using learned information. He would have struggled if he had not read the stories. His chances of understanding the conversation are also less. That is why reading the news daily provides not just conversational topics, but also conversational awareness.

Deaf or not, one of the most effective forms of humour is retelling something funny that you have read, seen or heard. Comedy TV shows provide many jokes and funny story lines. Often people will retell a joke and mimic a character’s facial or body language to relive the funny moment. You can do the same. It is important, then, to watch as much comedy as possible.

The Internet and books also provide much funny material. Google “Oscar Wilde’s epigrams” and you’ll find witty quips like “The way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it” and “It is a much cleverer thing to talk nonsense than to listen to it.” Web sites like and are also a laugh to be shared with others.

Personalised information
Personalised information is self-disclosure. This includes revealing who you are as a person: your interests, likes and dislikes. Self-disclosure helps others to work out if they can trust or like you. Honesty is therefore always the best policy. For example, if you know little about basketball and are talking with a New York Knicks fan, try saying “Hey, do forgive my ignorance but tell me more!” This will help the other person to self-disclose as well.

It is good preparation when entering a group conversation to ask yourself: “Which of the three main conversational topics are they talking about?” Picking the correct main topic will help channel your energy into the conversation. You will be better able to provide a topic of interest and increase your chances of correctly speech-reading others.

Knowing music, newsworthy events, humour, and personalised information will assist your creativity in conversation. Thousands of other people share this same information, have their opinions, share the same feelings as you, and laugh at the same jokes. Shared interests can also strengthen friendships, include you in group conversations, and provide a conversational link with a stranger. Learning as much as possible therefore increases your chances of creating bonds with increasingly more people.

Learned Creativity is the seventh of eight themes that create Potential Maximisation. The following exercise will assist your practical application of Learned Creativity.

Try the timing method with this captioned web video of “Imagine” by John Lennon. After you have learnt this song, try having a conversation with someone else about it.

The following question prepares you for the next theme of Social Ecologies.

Question: Has your child got a “buddy” who is not deaf?

“Creativity is exciting. It’s phenomenal what openness and communication can produce. The possibilities of truly significant gain, of significant improvement are so real that it’s worth the risk such openness entails.” The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People – Steven R. Covey

Next: Social Ecologies


The contents of these columns are copyright of Dr. Paul Jacobs (PhD). All rights reserved. Reproduction of all or any substantial part of the contents in any form is prohibited. No part of Dr Paul Jacobs’ material on Potential Maximisation may be distributed or copied for any commercial purpose without expressed approval by the author.




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