As my regular readers will know, self-learning and the disciplined development of creative mental skills are the two key aspects of the hyperlearning dimension of HyperThinking. However, developing a concept is one thing, putting it into practice is another. Although over the years I have had some experience with online learning, I recently decided that it was time to try again, but with more focus and intensity than I had previously applied. After casting around, I finally chose ‘A Crash Course in Creativity’ by Tina Seeling from Stanford University.

When I registered on this course (which is free, incidentally) I really didn’t know what to expect, but I felt thoroughly engaged and am happy that my mind has been stretched in new and interesting directions. I also realised more clearly than ever before just how useful online courses such as these can be in providing a ready-made structure for hyperlearning. And even more important, for me at least, was seeing how the intriguing nature of this particular community of online learners was revealed almost by accident.

‘Crash Course’ is a great introduction to learning creativity rather than just thinking of it as a gift given to the select few. Tina has written a book which follows the course, and I like this touch as it helps the student to understand some of her background thinking. Each week Tina focuses on a different aspect of creativity, and she uses a variety of teaching materials (ranging from TED talks to Stanford lectures – the latter being a new resource to me) to keep things fresh. This variety provides a great reminder of some of the ideas I was already aware of, but it also challenges you to explore the new techniques she introduces.

We started simply enough by creating the cover of an online autobiography, and were then asked to go on an observational walk through a familiar area during which we recorded our experiences in a mind map. But it was during week two that things started to get more interesting. We were instructed to create teams; you could create a team, join a team or work in a team of one. I was very curious to see how this would work given that the course is free and accessible to anyone anywhere in the world. I decided to experiment with team formation and set about creating my own team: the HyperThinkers (yes I know …). I wrote in the team description that I was hoping to meet people who were interested in the HyperThinking concept and would be interested in collaborating on developing the idea. I was immediately surprised by the amount of interest: people wanted to join the team, but they didn’t just ask – they told me at length about their interest in the idea and their desire to be part of what looked like a great team in the making.

Team formation was a process that lasted a week, with interesting exchanges all round, but then came the first task: brainstorming on creative uses of … chewing gum. I became uncomfortably aware that I had a team of 23 people waiting for my word, and yet I had no idea how to conduct such a project (and in time-honoured managerial fashion I was also due to go on holiday). So I wrote an email outlining what I thought were the key steps and asked two people to volunteer for each step. Then I stepped back and watched what happened. It was – and is – an extraordinary process to witness. People came forward and started taking on roles: the organisers (Team 1) created shared documents on Google; then the brainstorming team (Team 2) began to form; and then a critical group (Team 3) emerged. There is a kind of magic seeing complete strangers form bonds in a genuinely self-organising and inherently creative system. In fact, more than the substance of the course itself, it is this process that I am finding most instructive; this and the realisation that so many people are attracted to learning and collaborating is inspiring (the lead organiser in Team 1 worked until 4 a.m. on the first day getting the process underway!).

The result of the first exercise, which was a task to ‘reframe’ chewing gum and find ways to add value with a new idea was very impressive, especially if you take into account the fact that the team working together was doing so for the first time, with no formal structure, no financial incentive and was self-organising and self-structuring the process as it moved forward.

Here is the result: Sweeet:

So all of that was fascinating enough, but things then took a rather remarkable turn (one of my Black Swans has just flown in): the first crowd-sourced revolution had erupted! Let me explain: for various reasons Tina decided that the groups were becoming too big, and so she asked the leaders to reduce the size of the groups to 12 people. This was obviously going to prove a headache for many team leaders – including myself – who had no idea how you start ‘firing people’ or restructuring an organisation that you have barely started to create. Discontent spread and some team leaders started to form their own group to lobby Tina to change her mind. There followed lengthy exchanges and things seemed to have reached a stalemate, but she finally relented and allowed the larger groups to continue. The depth of feeling among the community after only being together virtually for less than three weeks was incredible.

This truly was a learning experience in crowd collaboration, team building and, of course, creativity. Watch this space for news of more developments.