“Many people think that creativity is an innate ability, but I think it can definitely be cultivated. According to Nietzsche’s description of three types of men, man first begins by wanting to know more, followed by the process of critiquing and discussing, and ultimately reaching the questioning stage. That is, man moves beyond the stage of merely gaining more knowledge and reaches the status at which he or she creates and develops his or her own creative ideas. Let’s take TV programs as an example. In the past, programs that involved answering questions such as Janghak Quiz were the general trend; now a program called Al-Sseul-Shin-Jap (Amazing Dictionary of Useless Trivia) is popular. In other words, now is the era in which we need the ability to make our knowledge into stories and deliver them to other people. To do that, there is a need for new methods other than traditional didactic teaching.”
Professor Jeon’s lectures do not require textbooks. The classes are run by students’ writing down on a piece of A4-size paper what they have learned in the previous class, presenting it, and engaging in inquiries and discussions regarding a new topic of the day. The quantity is limited to one piece of A4-size paper in order to have students practice organizing a massive amount of information efficiently. The three-hour lecture is always full of energy due to students’ active participation.
Professor Jeon’s lectures are open to not only undergraduate students but also graduate students. Since creativity begins by breaking the standard framework and changing perceptions, anyone who needs such change can attend the class.
When asked what topics have particularly intrigued students, Professor Jeon said, “observation.” He said, “I gave an hour of free time to students and asked them to go outside and write down on half of a piece of paper what they see during the hour.” He continued, “Many students commented that they began to truly see things that they had passed by mindlessly.”
“There is a saying that everything in the world is a teacher. However, I would like to add and say that ‘the world is a teacher because of me.’ Things are not teachers merely because they are around me but can either be teachers or not depending on my viewpoint or perspective. The class was intended to teach students the importance of observation, and students commented that it was the most memorable time.”
Become the first penguin to move beyond what you know and consider ways to interweave your knowledge
Professor Jeon tells his students “not to study.” It does not mean that they should not learn but that they should strive to create their own knowledge. Only when one’s own experience is added to already-learned knowledge, one becomes a useful person for the new era. Based on his explanation, anyone can hold the same knowledge nowadays through a smartphone, which is referred to as a “computer in the hand.” In order to move beyond this level, we need to create our own information based on obtained knowledge. Knowing a lot has become the basis, and how to reproduce such knowledge is the new task. Therefore, he often tells students “to become the first penguin.”
“It is said that when penguins need to jump into the ocean to forage for food, they all hesitate at first. When one penguin jumps in, then other penguins begin to follow, one after another. In the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we need to become the first penguin who initiates something that others have not started. Many people worry that artificial intelligence will eliminate a lot of jobs but that does not mean that work per se will disappear. Thus, I tell students that they will need the ability to seek their own work and always emphasize the importance of problem-solving skills and problem-identifying abilities.”
Conducting research to place humanities on a digital platform
Since last October, Professor Jeon has been meeting with the general public via the government-operated ”K-MOOC (Korean Massive Open Online Course).” The title of the lecture is called the “Humanities Bricoleur Project,” which transfers offline courses into an online format.
“Bricoleur is the French word for a carpenter or a craftsman, indicating a person engaging in the whole process on one’s own, and not just completing one thing. Based on the humanities, versatile persons will flourish. I am certain that the best time for humanities will return as the Fifth Industrial Revolution follows the Fourth Industrial Revolution. According to Maslow’s five-tier hierarchy of needs, amusement of the mind becomes more important as the hierarchy climbs higher. It is humanities that is needed at that tier. Thanks to the Fourth Industrial Revolution, technology for enhancing conveniences for humans will develop enormously, but afterwards something for the mind will be necessary. Also, imagination to further expand on the current technology comes from the humanities.”
He added that, “For humanities to reach its prime again, giving special lectures to popularize humanities is not enough. Humanities needs to be available on a digital platform, and to do that, standardization and quantification are needed.” Although he knows that there are opposing views regarding his opinion, he still believes that this is the way to spread humanities. “These days, there are new pessimistic neologisms such as ingooron meaning that 90% of students majoring humanities are out of jobs, and moonsongron short for ‘I am sorry I am in liberal arts.’ But I say moonchakron, which indicates that there will come a time when liberal arts students will walk around with their head held high. The Digital Renaissance age will be more open to those majoring in the humanities. To usher in this age, humanities itself is insufficient, and interdisciplinary studies should expand through multiple majors and double majors.”
Professor Jeon, who was delightful throughout the interview, said, “If I get more opportunities to lecture, I would like to establish three areas, namely art, start-ups, and humanities and social sciences to address different types of creativity.” He added that “Although the field of art and start-ups are different, they are similar in that they both create new things, and they will be interesting topics to deal with,” and continued saying, “creativity, although it takes times, is something that can definitely be learned.”