Discover the Power of Creativity in Adults: Rediscover Your Inner 5-Year-Old and Ignite Innovation

Are adults truly destined to lose touch with their creative potential as they grow older? In a world that often prioritizes conformity and practicality, the notion of nurturing creativity in adults may seem far-fetched. However, a fascinating study conducted by George Land sheds light on the subject, revealing that creativity is not an innate trait exclusive to a select few. In this article, we delve into the concept of creativity in adults, exploring how societal factors and self-limiting beliefs can stifle our imaginative abilities.

Creativity in adults

Do you remember growing up as a child and having a soft cuddly toy or blanket in your possession that you absolutely loved? Mine was a soft cuddly dog, every night I would go to sleep stroking the extra soft fur under its right leg I called it “Doggie”. I couldn’t fall asleep or sleep over at a family member’s home if “Doggie” wasn’t with me.

I was six years old my dad arrived home one from work one afternoon with a brown cardboard box in his hands. He had my full attention, there was a lot of movement and loud chirps, and I was curious to see what was inside. “This is for you,” he said.

Super-excited I took the box from him and opened it, inside staring up at me was a beautiful newly hatched fluffy yellow chick. I was enthralled and immediately put my hand inside the box wanting to stroke its fluffy yellow feathers. “What are you going to call it?” my dad asked. Thinking about it for a few seconds I piped up and said, “Chickie! I’m going to call it Chickie,” and “Chickie” it was.

Chickie made herself at home in our back garden, and I rushed home from school each afternoon excited to chase her around the yard. She wasn’t with us very long, one morning our neighbour’s Rottweiler managed to get his claws through the fence and grab hold of her. I was absolutely devastated.

A few weeks later whilst chasing my brother around the garden, I spotted a beautiful grey, white and yellow Cockatiel perched proudly on the branch of a tree. I ran inside to call my dad to come and catch it. He ingeniously came up with a plan and soon the bird was perched inside a cage in our dining room whistling contentedly.

“What are you going to call it?” my dad asked. Without a moment’s hesitation out popped, “Polly! Can we keep her?” So, Polly became a member of our family.

Following the naming of our pets, Doggie, Chickie and Polly it comes as no surprise that my naming skills soon became a source of amusement for our entire family.

Without thinking, my mum piped up one day and said, “You don’t have a creative bone in your body.” I believed her. I went through my entire primary and high school career believing this was true, shying away from or totally avoiding any activities that required creativity.

You had to be born creative, and as mom had said, I did not have a creative bone in my body.

Preparing for a talk at a headmaster’s conference in Botswana some time back, I contacted the organiser and asked him what direction he would like the talk to take. Should it be aimed at the classroom? The staff? Or the headmasters? He piped up and said, “Children are extremely creative, its us adults that have the problem!” or perhaps it’s the adults that create the problem?

Creativity in Adults: Results of George Land’s Research

In 1968 George Land conducted a groundbreaking study to assess the creativity of 1600 children aged three to five years old in the Head Start Program. This very same test had previously been used by NASA to identify the most innovative engineers and scientists. Surprisingly the results were so remarkable that Land decided to repeat the test on the same children at 10 and 15 years of age and the results were astonishing.

  • At the age of five the test results showed a creativity score of 98%
  • By the age of 10 the score dropped to 30%
  • By the age of 15 it declined to 12%
  • When the same test was given to 280,000 adults the score was a mere 2%

From this Land concluded that non-creative behavior is acquired through learning!

You can read more about this in George Land and Beth Jarman’s book called The Breaking Point and Beyond.

So, the organiser was right, adults are the ones with the problem.

I spent my whole life believing that I was not creative, a belief that I had acquired from a harmless statement that took root inside my head and started festering like a rotten wound.

George Land’s research on these children and looking at the way the brain works, revealed that there are two kinds of thinking that takes place in different parts of the brain. One is divergent thinking, that is imagination and the generation of new possibilities and ideas, and the other is convergent thinking. That’s the thinking where you make a judgment or a decision, where you test something and evaluate or criticise something.

In George Land’s 2011 TEDx Tucson talk called The Failure of Success, he describes it perfectly, one being the accelerator and the other being the brake.

The problem is that we teach children to do both kinds of thinking at the same time. When they are asked to think up new ideas their brains start working immediately, thinking up thoughts like:

  • We already tried that!
  • That’s a stupid idea!
  • You can’t do that!
  • That’s crazy it will never work!
  • That doesn’t fit our policy!
  • I’ll never be able to do that!
  • This will definitely fail!
  • Someone else’s idea is so much better than mine!
  • I’m sure this has already been done before!
  • My peers are not going to think it’s a good idea!
  • That idea can’t be a good one because I don’t have a creative bone in my body!

So, the reason we become less creative as we grow up boils down to the following thinking:

  • Fear of failure
  • Criticism
  • Ego
  • Habits
  • Lack of self-confidence
  • Lack of practice
  • Pressure to conform
  • Lack of commitment
  • Lack of enthusiasm
  • Impatience
  • A negative attitude

In a nutshell we can summarise the three biggest obstacles to creative thinking as being:

  1. Judgement
  2. Criticism
  3. Censoring

When you look at the brain, you’ll find that neurons are fighting each other and drastically diminishing the power of the brain to think effectively. This kind of thinking will never work when it comes to being creative and coming up with innovative new ideas. The challenge is to simply find your five-year-old self and nurture it. You are creative!

We need to cultivate and develop a society that doesn’t only encourage right answers and the replicating of past behaviours, but allows divergent thinking, that encourages thinkers to dream up new possibilities and create a future that doesn’t yet exist.

It’s time to challenge the notion that creativity is reserved for the chosen few. By understanding the factors that impede creative thinking and nurturing our innate ability to dream and explore, we can unlock a world of endless possibilities. Let us create a society that values curiosity, encourages experimentation, and embraces the unconventional. Embrace your inner five-year-old and embark on a journey of rediscovering your creative potential, contributing to a brighter and more imaginative future for all.

Read more about innovation and creativity in Ideas Like Shoes

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