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 Post subject: Encouraging creativity
PostPosted: Thu Oct 17, 2013 1:46 pm 
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For me, creativity in horse training is a fundamental quality, for the human part as well as for the horse. As the topic popped up a few times lately in different places for me, I wanted to discuss it with all of you here.

Last weekend we hosted a clicker meeting and a friend asked if we could play a clicker game. I already knew the classic clicker game where one person is playing the trainer and another the horse, so when I was told to wait outside the room until I was called, I already suspected what it was all about. And like I thought, when I got back inside, I was clicked for certain behaviours I did like in a free shaping process. There was an empty water bottle on the floor, so I grabbed it and was clicked for it. I tried different things and was clicked. I didn't have a clue what the end behaviour was supposed to look like, but I let myself be guided by the clicks and thought that I couldn't do wrong. I let myself float with the clicks in a way. After three minutes (by then, I had already drunken from the bottle, refilled it, handed it over to multiple onlookers, and lots of other stuff), I was told to stop and the exercise was then revealed to me. They were doing the exercise called "101 things you can do with a bottle" with me! ;)
This exercise can be found in a lot of clicker books and is always advertised as something that "teaches creativity". Basically, you have to reward for every new behaviour that is shown.

We also did the exercise with another person that day and we both reported that at a certain point we felt quite frustrated by the fact that we tried to figure out what kind of task we had to perform, but couldn't tell what it was really. All the time we thought it was about a specific behaviour, not about the concept of doing something new all the time.
At one point I decided not to question the reason behind it all, but just to go with the flow, knowing that as long as I still get clicks for what I was doing, I couldn't go wrong.
We speculated afterwards whether a horse would feel similar during that exercise and whether it is possible at all to encourage creativity that way.

I know that some people here on the forum (Romy and Dani for example) are doing something similar with their horses with success, but somehow I think that there's a small, but significant difference. First I don't think that the clicker is the right tool for the job, as it marks a certain behaviour that is usually to be repeated again. With that concept in mind, it is very hard to come up with the concept 'do something different after every click'.
Furthermore, the more a horse is trained for iterated shaping processes, it will over time get trained to follow the human lead and not to invent own paths, as they are usually discouraged by only rewarding 'correct' answers.

Here comes the interesting part in my opinion, as the solution is - like so often - to let go of control and allow for 'wrong' answers ;).
Breaking off an exercise, because the horse lost interest, or changing the direction of the exercise midway, because of some playful idea, has to be rewarded in order to get more creativity. After all, creativity is all about breaking boundaries and bending rules, isn't it?
But rewarding for that kind of 'chaos' is out of the question for most horse people. Even those I talked to, who use mainly positive reinforcement, said yes, BUT! ;) They would only allow for inventing new things to do with a cone for example, only when the one exercise they are currently training for is under stimulus control. But that is, in my opinion, the exact opposite to encouraging creativity.

I would really like to know, if you have certain exercises that are specifically aimed at building creativity, or how you think that might work in general...

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PostPosted: Thu Oct 17, 2013 11:07 pm 
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What a wonderful topic, and I could not agree more! :)

Volker wrote:
We speculated afterwards whether a horse would feel similar during that exercise and whether it is possible at all to encourage creativity that way.

I know that some people here on the forum (Romy and Dani for example) are doing something similar with their horses with success, but somehow I think that there's a small, but significant difference.


Indeed, I also see a difference there. I believe that the number one enemy of creativity is the fear of failure, the possibility of producing a wrong answer. Now you could say that it's the very nature of the clicker that it only says "yes" and not "no". However, due to the dichotomy it creates (presence versus absence of a click) it still poses a high risk of the horse's behaviour resulting in a "not yes". So the horse will be concerned with doing the right thing, and that just calls for retrieving things from memory that he already knows were right in the past, instead of inventing new things that carry a lot of uncertainty. Of course that's not only the case for horses, and for example Dan Ariely shows how high incentives that are contingent on the quality of the behaviour are highly counterproductive in tasks that require problem solving (Video: Irrational economics).

Therefore, if I want my horses to be creative, the first thing I have to do is creating a safe environment where there are no wrong answers, or where it simply does not matter whether the horse's attempt is good or not so good. But of course I also don't want my horses to start offering only boring things like leg lifts all the time because my reaction to them is the same as it is to any other and perhaps more difficult and interesting offer. Therefore, I reward effort. I want to show my horses that whatever they try, it's good, as long as they actually keep trying. And if they start only doing the same thing over and over, I react a bit less enthusiastically each time so that they still get rewarded and cannot fail, but it's just more rewarding to try something else for a change. :)

Another thing that is important for my horses if I want them to be creative is that I give continuous feedback. That is, I immediately pick up on what they start doing, I go with that and then we do it together. It's not enough if I just stand there passively and watch, and then after the horse has performed a whole chain of movements I hand out a reward. To me it seems that for my horses this is as hard as it is to speak a monologue on a voicemail, which at least for me is something that I try to get done as quickly and smoothly as possible instead of taking my time to try and experiment. This might be even more of a problem if there was a chance of failure (no reward), but it's even hard for my horses who know perfectly well that they will get a reward. Actually I tried it with Titum today (to make sure that I am not writing nonsense ;)): I simply stood there and rewarded for any offer but without actively taking part in the things he did. Very soon, his attempts got smaller and he offered movements more carefully, and then after a while he stopped experimenting completely and only offered tricks, compound behaviours that are a "real exercise", so to speak, but no movement improvisation anymore. As soon as I started joining in again, the improvisation was back. :f:

So yes, I am completely with you in terms of rewarding chaos, and I think it's even better to let yourself be dragged into that chaos. 8)


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PostPosted: Fri Oct 18, 2013 12:00 pm 
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Romy wrote:
So the horse will be concerned with doing the right thing, and that just calls for retrieving things from memory that he already knows were right in the past, instead of inventing new things that carry a lot of uncertainty.
Exactly! And that is in my opinion exactly what happens when people do the exercises "101 things to do with an object". The animal is using successful patterns that earned rewards in the past, but is not really inventing new things. The more trained behaviours the animal has in its repertoire, the better it gets at that exercise.
Of course one could argue that every new thing we do is an extrapolation from successful things in the past and that in itself is already a creative process. Still I agree with you Romy, that your way of variably reinforcing every try is the best way to encourage 'original thoughts'.

Romy wrote:
Actually I tried it with Titum today (to make sure that I am not writing nonsense ;)): I simply stood there and rewarded for any offer but without actively taking part in the things he did. Very soon, his attempts got smaller and he offered movements more carefully, and then after a while he stopped experimenting completely and only offered tricks, compound behaviours that are a "real exercise", so to speak, but no movement improvisation anymore. As soon as I started joining in again, the improvisation was back. :f:
Great that you tried that with Titum! So interesting!
I was wondering though, what kind of interaction is it when you say that 'you joined in again'. Is it that you react to his improvisations like he had asked you a question, or is it more that you try to synchronise with his movements?

What I find also interesting about your experiment is that Titum seems to be more rewarded by your interaction than the treat. The treat has become a token that can probably pose a double bind situation when combined with the wrong emotional or situational cues. Like a loving word that is spoken with disdain.

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PostPosted: Fri Oct 18, 2013 12:12 pm 
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Volker wrote:
I was wondering though, what kind of interaction is it when you say that 'you joined in again'. Is it that you react to his improvisations like he had asked you a question, or is it more that you try to synchronise with his movements?


More like the latter. For example, he stands in front of me and starts sidepassing, and my reaction is that I walk in the same direction - or the opposite, depending on what we do. The first one, reacting to his offers as in responding to a question, I had done during the "passive period" as well, because giving no response at all is something I could not do to my horses. It would make me feel so bad and sorry for them, and I would never want to be treated like this, either. Actually that's part of the most powerful procedure of inducing stress, developed by someone who works here at my university: making people perform in front of an audience that is just neutral and gives no feedback whatsoever. Not an optimal condition for encouraging creativity, I guess. ;)


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PostPosted: Fri Oct 18, 2013 8:09 pm 

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Thank you very much for the topic, Volker, as it is important for me as well. For me, your and Romys posts support my decision to not use a clicker. Romy describes very well the aspect of "being together", which I also think is at least as important as cookies.

I thing that enthusiasm plays an important role, of the human being enthusiastic of whatever the horse does, of being proud of the horse, of being together with the horse, of being carefree and joyfull.

I think that many humans are very disciplined with themselves and do not allow themselves the creative chaos, and thus they do not allow their horses, either. This can also be unconcious, but still inhibit the horse. So the first step should be to allow yourself creative chaos. If you do that, I am sure that many horses will follow.

I do not know of any exercise, and I think that "exercise" is exactly the wrong way to go there, as it indicates structure and goals. You can not be disciplined undisciplined ;) I think the important thing is to let go of specific goals here, even a goal like "learning creativity". I thing that "just fooling around" will accomplish more.


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PostPosted: Tue Oct 22, 2013 12:13 am 
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jaz wrote:
I do not know of any exercise, and I think that "exercise" is exactly the wrong way to go there, as it indicates structure and goals. You can not be disciplined undisciplined ;) I think the important thing is to let go of specific goals here, even a goal like "learning creativity". I thing that "just fooling around" will accomplish more.


Don't know whether this would count as fooling around or as being disciplined, but especially with Titum I often experience that creativity can emerge from a very calm, focused training. These situations might look like this: I give an ambigous body language cue, almost in slow motion, and Titum slowly responds to it by moving and turning and bending his body in one or the other way. I react to this by gradually changing my movement and this makes him gradually change his movement as well.

In these situations, we are both extremely focused and it does feel like real brain and body work, very disciplined and self-aware in fact and not foolish at all. But at the same time it feels very creative as I often have no idea how he will act, and usually not even how I will act. It's more like two snakes winding around each other in odd ways, with the next move having something to do with the way the other partner is moving but certainly not being completely determined by it. But then I guess that's a slightly different type of creativity than that of selecting actions in a very spontaneous and almost random manner.


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PostPosted: Tue Oct 22, 2013 3:44 pm 
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Oh, I just saw this theme now. Very nice.... :D

Allready so many interesting things said...I can t think of something new to say...

With Zermi getting creative it is very much about feeling confident. He has to know, that there is no possibility of doing something "wrong". Therefor we have invented the I-do-you-do-game. I do something, he does something. It is a bit tricky, because there is only one way to start the game: when we stand opposite to each other, and I move diagonally parallel (well, meaning a bit away from him) towards his bum and even past. No matter, where I go then and to which direction I stand, he will wait until I end my phraze and then start his phraze by ending exactly with his head towards me again.... Then I begin again and this time I can go anywhere...Both of us start to turn and jump and whatever. One will be moving, the other one standing and watching. Very funny. This game always creates a nicely creative and positive athmosphereand it is a real treasure for us. I think we created the game by repeating an accidental chain of actions.

It is more difficult to tell Zermi to offer something completely by himself. If I get inactive, he would start to offer the same all the time. But I started to invent Romys idea of treating new or difficult things more than others. It is funny, because I got the impression, he wants to understand my motivation and starts to experiment with it.

Generally, if Zermi offers his creativitiy, I am very expressively enthusiastic (well, that doesn t mean, I have to be loud or crazy, but really, honestly fond of whats going on). That makes him go on and become more brave. If I don t react like that, he stops being creative. He even won t suggest anything anymore or starts to do things he always does as a fill-in. I think it is because we are still in the beginning of that kind of training...
If I ask him to be creative, I have to take the risk, that "exercises", we have established before start to change. Well, yeah I take a risk of a creative chaos.

And I am just discovering, what Romy described here:
Quote:
These situations might look like this: I give an ambigous body language cue, almost in slow motion, and Titum slowly responds to it by moving and turning and bending his body in one or the other way. I react to this by gradually changing my movement and this makes him gradually change his movement as well.

I love this way of interacting...

Zermi and I have started to try the clicker once, but it was too neutral for me and in a way strange. I have to express my emotions and I am very precise with the timing of my emotions... :D Zermi does like, when I am happy.

Romy wrote:
Quote:
Another thing that is important for my horses if I want them to be creative is that I give continuous feedback. That is, I immediately pick up on what they start doing, I go with that and then we do it together.

I think I do that as well, have to observe myself better the next time, we do it.

And then there are the moments, when we are just wildly together, everything fits, both are creative, no rules necessary, that are the jackpot-moments to me....


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