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Creativity Lost

Category: Andy Marken's blog Published on Monday, 30 August 2010

Creativity, Innovation -- Making the Mind Struggle

    Labor Day in the U.S. is a fading concept.  Less than 40 percent of the working population is actually doing what can be called physical labor. 

Figure 1 -- Innovative Thinking – Often viewed as the center of business and technology innovation, the U.S. has done such a great job of implementing formula education, we’ve damaged our ability to think creatively and develop innovations that have become the mainstay of our industries. 


The rest are doing data manipulation, handling content tasks. So, we guess most of us have to take a break from thinking. Jeez…we know people who do that all the time!!!!   The improbable idea was triggered by an article by a friend, Rob Enderle, on the 4th of July when he suggested taking a freedom break from technology. 

You know, no email, no IMs, no microblogs, no text messages, no social site postings. 

Gawd, that sounds like a stupid idea. But he reflected on his youth. You remember, when we simply laid on the grass, stared at the sky and let our minds create all types of cloud images – a sailboat, a beautiful girl, a horse, a bird, an old man, anything our minds could conger.


Figure 2 -- Relax, Imagine – Folks probably thought you were just goofing off when you were young; but then, staring up at the clouds and conjuring up action, romance, far-away places was a constructive way to exercise your creativity. 

 It may be time to go back to those days.  Kids today don’t have much of a chance to do that.   

Their earbuds are plugged in.  Messages are coming/going on their mobile device. Recently, we came across an article on Digital Natives and Newsweek’s piece on The Creative Crisis.  It made us think that as a country, perhaps we’re doing more and thinking (creatively thinking) less. 

We admit it. 

We’re a digital immigrant. 

Our kids are digital natives because they never knew the days before computers, before smartphones, before broadband internet.   

Our first choice in finding an answer is not Google, Yahoo, Bing or any search engine.  Actually our best answers come simply thinking of how we could do something faster, better, more easily, less expensively…lying in the grass or 60 feet under the ocean’s surface. Seemed a little strange – eerie even – when we read Sarah Perez’s ReadWrite article on a Northwestern University study that kids could search like crazy and that the credibility of their answers was based on search engine ranking. 

In other words, they’re smart…just not street smart. Indirectly, the Newsweek article said maybe we – boomers, GenXers – did it to them – GenYers, iGeners. The article pointed out that preschool children, on average, ask their parents about 100 questions a day.

Man we remember the endless stream of questions…why, why, why. And then…it stopped. It wasn’t because they lost interest, they simply stopped asking questions.   

Of course, the answers may have affected their motivation – go ask your mother or look it up on your computer.

We felt a little better because the article noted that kids who grow up in a family of opposites tend to be more creative.   

If there is one thing the wife and I are, it’s opposites. Turns out, creativity thrives in a changing environment of chaos, boredom, stability, challenge.   Boy…that’s our house! 

Figure 3 -- In Google We Trust – Ask a digital native a question and they use their search engine – Google, Yahoo, Bing, you name it – for the answer. 

 The higher the search engine ranking, the better the solution. 

No thinking, no creativity required. 

 The research Perez referenced found that too many digital natives are perfectly satisfied with the first thing the search engine brings up. 

 It  was the best answer because it was the first. Often called the father of creativity, Dr. E. Paul Torrance started with the premise that there is no one right answer and defined creativity as something original and useful.  

It’s still a popular myth that creatives are right brain people and analytical folks -- scientists/engineers -- are left brainers.  

Actually, Torrance and those who followed him determined creativity requires both sides of the brain – left brain divergent thinking (generating many unique ideas) and right brain convergent thinking (combining those ideas into the best result).

That’s easy enough to understand but K.J. Kim found that up until 1990 there was a steady increase in IQ and creativity scores. 

Since then, IQ has continued to rise but creativity scores declined. So? How does the U.S. continue to innovate and be competitive in the PC, CE, communications, content arena without creativity? 

Where do the patents.. companies…books…ideas…hardware…software…you name it come from? 

Sure, you can blame the TV babysitter, videogames, iPods and other mind diversions; but heck, nearly every kid on the planet has access to this stuff.   

Another easy out is to say that schools lack creativity development programs. 

How about blaming boomers, GenXers, GenYers?   

Kids can go through a multitude of creative phases – role-playing, paracosms, unconventional answers to conventional questions, wandering curiosity. 

Some adults are fortunate enough to never outgrow these phases.    

They’re never really content. They’re active, engaged, motivated, open to the world and ideas around them. 

The U.S. had its famous “No Child Left Behind” and similar dysfunctional education reforms, but no concerted effort to nurture creativity, innovation.

European Union countries have.  And they use Torrance’s test (developed in the U.S.) to track, benchmark their progress.

Even China did away with what has been referred to as drill-and-kill teaching and transitioned to problem-based learning.   

Thinking squarely inside the box educational “experts” say they simply don’t have the time for creative classes – art, music, writing. 

Yeah, like science, engineering, accounting (just ask Bernie) aren’t creative?

The brain goes through the same process regardless of the field. Facts are found, research is done, ideas are generated, filtered, evaluated on the fly, solutions/options are weighed, answers/alternatives are developed, solutions are tried. As Edison said, “I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.”

 hat’s what entrepreneurs, inventors, software developers, scientists, engineers, musicians, authors, doctors, diplomats, even generals do. 

They develop new hardware, software, art, ads, music, programs, policies, cures and entertainment.   They don’t get there by memorizing. 


Figure 4 -- Creativity Starting Point – The industry’s best (and worst) innovations have come from here.  Creativity requires problems, options, solutions to jump back and forth and even bridge the gap. 

Rote memorization, formula education training/testing, rigid management/work rules force creative thinking out of the picture.  

They get there by learning, solving problems using the left and right side of the brain…and everything in between. Researchers note that creativity involves both convergent – examining, diagnosing the problem/issue and divergent – developing possible solutions/answers – thinking. It seems as though we’re developing a generation (or two) of problem identifiers rather than solution creators…innovators.

The Torrance test may not be perfect, but so far it has been pretty accurate.So?Well an IBM survey of CEOs recently identified creativity as the key leadership competence executives would need in developing original ideas and being receptive to them from others.Maybe we’re pushing so hard to have kids pass standardized tests and have adults present/implement standard solutions that we’re killing our creative, innovative advantage. 

IQ has nothing to do with creative accomplishments.

Creativity is the ability for an individual to be flexible in his/her viewing problems/opportunities and thinking through/looking at the alternatives to arrive at an innovative solution. 

Figure 5 -- Deep in Thought – Thinking – especially for yourself – isn’t easy.  It’s work.  Hard work.  But it’s nice to have a choice.   

There’s nothing wrong with good, honest physical labor…as long as you’ve thought about what you want to do! 

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