Creativity and the problem with humans

Creativity and the problem with humans

Creativity is a very human problem

Let’s start with the good news. There is evidence to suggest that there may be a creative gene. Even better, it looks like we all have it!

Dr. George Land, along with his colleague Dr. Beth Jarman, developed a creativity test known as the “Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking” (TTCT). These tests were initially created for NASA in the 1960s to identify potential astronauts who had exceptional creative thinking abilities.

Dr Land was interested to see how the general population might perform on these tests,  so he conducted a longitudinal study on creativity and age.

The study involved testing 1,600 children at different ages and found that creativity significantly declined as they grew older. 

The study found that:

  • Of 1,600  4 and 5-year-olds,  98% scored at “creative genius” level. 
  • Five years later, only 30% of the same group scored at the same level, 
  • and another, five years later, only 12% made the grade. 
  • When the same test was administered to adults, only 2% scored at this genius level.

Does this mean that creative thinking can be ‘unlearned?’.

The problem with humans may be easier to explain.

What makes humans so successful is our ability to recognise patterns – especially successful ones. If our ancestors found an efficient solution to a problem they would quickly learn it and repeat it. This gave  a tremendous evolutionary advantage in saving time and energy. Whenever a similar issue presented itself they could apply the same  proven solution – no need to reinvent the wheel (sorry!).

However, this inherent faculty has a down-side. It limits our ability to generate totally new and novel solutions. Because our memories are packed with solutions learned over our lifetimes it makes sense to apply what we know. But if we are looking for new, novel and innovative solutions we need to swim against that evolutionary tide. We need to ignore or unlearn the old approaches.

As you can imagine, this isn’t easy. We need to get back to thinking like 4 and 5-year-olds, and the first step is to learn how to have fun. 

We need to override our inbuilt approach for a while to free our creative ability. There are techniques we can employ. Here are just a few:

  • Learn to play again
  • Reframe problems – if we ask the question in a different way, we get different answers
  • Take breaks – while you relax, your subconscious keeps working away.
  • Walk about and stand
  • Celebrate small successes
  • Celebrate errors and mistakes
  • Give yourself treats 
  • Look at problems from other people’s perspectives
  • Make problem solving a game
  • Engage with other diverse people
  • Kickstart the right brain
  • Keep going – just because you have one solution, there may be more and better,


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Ian West
dangerous ideas

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