Many people don’t think of themselves as creative, and yet we're all born that way.
According to NASA researcher Dr George Land, we're all born creative geniuses. Land originally developed a creativity test for NASA to help select innovative engineers and scientists, but subsequently used it to test school children back in 1968.
His team gave the test, designed to look at the ability to come up with new, different, and innovative solutions to problems, to 1600 children aged 4 and 5 years old. The results were so surprising – 98% fell in the genius category for creativity - that they decided to do a follow-up longitudinal study, giving the same children the identical test at age 10 and 15.
In just 5 years, "highly creative" scores had dropped from 98% to only 30%, and by age 15 the figure was as low as 12%. Sadly, as adults, only 2% of us are still in contact with our creative genius after years of school and work. What Land concluded from his research was that it is actually non-creative behaviour, rather than creativity, that is learned.
In a similar vein, Rob Eastaway in his book Out of the Box: 101 ideas for thinking creatively, describes the ages of 0-4 as the “why not?” stage, ages 5-11 as the “why?” stage, and 12+ as the “because” stage where we start to conform to adulthood and lose the capacity to ask the important “why?” and “why not?” questions.
What is it that causes us to lose our creativity as we grow older?
Land argued that our western education system serves as a catalyst to make us un-learn creative behaviours. Sir Ken Robinson, author of Creative Schools argues that many "brilliant" people think they're not because their area of talent at school wasn't valued, or worse was stigmatised. The system, he says, was set up to serve the industrial revolution, and is totally unsuitable for the different needs of the 21st century. Standardised education is linear and based on compliance. It can crush creativity and innovation, two qualities that are essential for today's economy.
The rapidly changing context in which we're living makes the return to creativity and innovation all the more urgent.
The good news is, Dr Land's research shows that we have the ability to reclaim our 'creative genius'. We need to practice turning off judging, criticising, and censoring thoughts.
Here are a few ways you can boost your creativity:
Ask questions. Remember back to a time when your favourite word was "why?". The average 5 year old asks 120 questions a day, compared to only 4 for the average adult. That's a lot of room for improvement!
Be curious. Seek out novel information, carry a notebook around with you and write down thoughts, and look for unexpected connections.
Embrace boredom. Research has shown that boredom has positive effects, including increased creativity. So, stop and smell the roses. Our focus on being 'busy' means that we often don't make the time to let our minds wander.
Take a walk. Walking has been shown to increase creative output by up to 60%.
Play. It's not just our children we need to give time to play in order to be creative thinkers - it applies equally to adults. Make time to channel your inner 5-year old.
It's a myth that only a 'special' few are creative. Creativity draws from many strengths that we all have as part of being human, and can be cultivated in all areas of our lives.
Creativity is our birthright, and it's ours to reclaim.