Are We Taught To Be Non-Creative?

George Land knows about creativity.  He has studied it for almost 50 years.  What did he learn?

In his book, “Breaking Point and Beyond,” he states, “What we have  concluded is that non-creative behavior is learned”  Say what?  I thought learning was supposed to make us better.  Perhaps we should examine that.

Creativity is the ability to produce new works, procedures or other other ideas.  It is not restricted to business, science or the arts.  It could be anything.  It is the ability to ask, “Why not?” in situations where no one else as done that yet.

Land started his study in 1968 with 1600 children aged 3 to 5.  He tested then for creativity and retested them at age 10 and age 15.  Creativity at the “genius level” shows up as a percentage of the group.

For 5-year-olds 98%.  For 10-year-olds 30% and for 15-year-olds 12%. For 280,000 adults he has tested, creativity at the genius level appears in 2%.  Clearly something happens and because it so pervasive we might assume that it is systemic.

Edward DeBono has done similar research.  He describes three ages of reason.  To age 4 the age of “Why,”  From 5 to about 12, the age of “Why not?” and beyond age 12 the age of “Because”

Now we know why it happens.  Children are taught to be non-creative by having them learn “The Way Things Work.”  The way we do things.  Right and Wrong, where each is an opinion.  Pursuing perfect.  No one learns anything by being right.  In general, “Because”

What should we do about it?  It is very difficult to teach creativity once it is lost.  You can permit people to try things and sometimes they will be creative.  That is not too spontaneous and supervision harms the process.

Dealing with children and creativity is like the government dealing with business.  The best incentive is the absence of disincentives.  Encourage them to try new things and to fail often.  Have them reflect on the failures to learn new lessons.  Ask why not a lot.  Mistakes are how you discover new things.  Like why you don’t understand fractions.

Many inventions were discovered by accident.  They don’t call it luck, rather serendipity.  Penicillin, vulcanized rubber, post-it notes glue, Kevlar, Viagra, and many more.  Mistakes are your friends.

Most creative things evolve.  Someone sticks to a direction and lets the mistakes and successes guide them.  Michelangelo, carving the Pieta, likely found flaws in the marble that he worked around and ended up with a masterpiece.  Novelists throw away far more work than they publish.

Einstein had an interesting thought on creativity.  “Creativity is just intelligence having fun.”

Thinking outside the box is hard once you learn there is a box.  Children do not have that limitation.  Try to help them avoid its construction.


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Don Shaughnessy is a retired partner in an international public accounting firm and is presently with The Protectors Group, a large personal insurance, employee benefits and investment agency in Peterborough Ontario. Contact:  

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