The biggest misconception people have about creativity is the idea that only some people are gifted with it.
Whether it’s about figuring out how to fit luggage into the trunk of your car or solving the world energy crisis we need creative thinking. Today the world is moving forward in every aspect — technology, business, education, healthcare — but what about creativity? Tests (such as Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking) have shown that over the decades our IQ scores have kept growing, but has shown a steady decline in creative thinking. In other words, we are smarter, yet less equipped to find novel approaches to solving problems.
Most people associate creativity with art, but in truth it’s something which extends far beyond the realm of the art room, and is an issue of concern which needs to be addressed as it can be a fundamental stepping stone to innovation and evolution.
The simplest definition of creativity would be — the use of imagination or original ideas to create something, or for the sake of clarity — the generation of many unique ideas and then combining those ideas into the best result. This in its essence is the connection between the rational study of tangible facts and phenomena; making up the sciences, with creativity on the other end of the spectrum which is more transcendent.
The cause behind the decline of creative thinkers isn’t quite clear, some blame it on excessive TV watching and education systems which focuses on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) literacy, while others point their fingers at the fast flowing access to knowledge brought about by today’s digital world, which I agree does takes its toll on our interactions with nature. It’s something I’ve personally observed changing over time.
Laptops and tablets expose kids to a digital world so early in their life that they miss out on the opportunity to experience nature and human interactions. They’re quickly sucked into the competition and fast paced lives we have today and are so quick to lose touch with that essential creative touch which made the first humans strike a flint stone against a hard rock to start a fire or what made the Wright brothers want to build the first flying machine!
Some might argue that today’s digital world has brought about a large influx in artistic personalities than ever before — going from digital artists to internet personalities, which I agree is true. But that’s a very limited domain. What we need to see are engineers, scientists and politicians engaging in creative thinking to drive their fields forward. Innovation in each of these fields is extremely important to our quality of life, and each innovation starts with identifying problems which need to be solved. This is a fundamental aspect of every issue we can come across in life and work — and thereby is the reason creative thinking needs to be promoted more avidly throughout the world.
The first person to break the scientific stereotype was Albert Einstein, who in an interview in 1929 stated “I’m enough of an artist to draw freely on my imagination, which I think is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”. Every step of his life from his unconventional style of clothes, playing the violin, the fact that he was a romantic and somewhat of a rebel in his youth pointed towards the stereotypical characteristic of an artist more than a scientist and some researchers believe this was the main reason as to why he was able to think as he did and make ground-breaking strides in his scientific career.
A study by IBM in 2010 involving over 1500 CEOs from over 60 countries selected creativity as the most crucial factor for future success. It came on top of the list; above skills such as rigor, management discipline, integrity or even vision. Statistics aside, recent findings in the field of neuroscience are against the conventional, oversimplified idea of the left-brain-analytical, right-brain-creative theory. Creative processing if far more complex, the entire process from preparation to incubation to illumination to verification involves different brain regions across both sides. The point being creativity is not the result of some magic brain region, and it is something far more essential to us than we think.
IQ scores go up by about 10 points with each generation, and the reason behind this is the increasing access and exposure to information along the timeline. So what can we do to reverse the decline in creative thinking? Or the so called creative scores calculated by the Torrance Tests?
Creativity is innate, so it can’t really be lost. But it needs to be nurtured. When a six year old boy asked Neil DeGrasse Tyson about the meaning of life; part of his reply was “ — To learn is to become closer to nature.”, and that can only be achieved by experiencing nature first-hand. Kids should hit pans and pots with sticks to learn the different frequencies of sounds they produce and jump in puddles to see the water splash and ripple. If children are given the freedom to explore by themselves (in a safe environment) they automatically develop the instinct to explore, understand and then create — which nurtures creativity.
Changes could be made in classrooms by introducing imaginative tasks for students, the notions of right and wrong answers stunt creativity. It needs to be understood that introducing tasks which allow for imaginative answers can lead to interesting conversations and learning opportunities which promotes creative growth. A big part of being creative is looking for new ways of doing things in whichever field you’re involved in. In more advanced levels, creativity could in fact be introduced to the lives of students and adults through creative studies programs in universities.
The biggest misconception people have about creativity is the idea that only some people are gifted with it. But in truth everybody has tremendous creative capacities just waiting to escape and make its way into their work!
We’ve reached a defining era in human history. The world’s population has doubled in the past 30 years. We’re straining our natural resources. Technological and scientific advancements make massive strides every single day. Our cultural values are shifting and so is the way we think. We need every ounce of creativity and ingenuity from our current and future generations to confront these challenges of the future.