The Good Life #5
How School Killed Your Creativity
10 strategies to rekindle your inner Picasso.
“Every child is an artist. The problem is to remain an artist once they grow up.” Pablo Picasso
Children are curious, creative and playful: adults, not so much. How did our creativity disappear? Our education system defines intelligence in terms of verbal and mathematical reasoning where there’s only one right answer. It’s designed to produce university professors. Schools kill creativity by stigmatizing unconventional answers as mistakes, yet we can’t be creative if we aren’t ready to accept nonconformist ideas.
“You will never amount to anything!” A Prussian teacher at the Luitpold secondary school yelled at young Albert Einstein when he resisted the school’s rote learning approach.
Tom Wujec gave four teams — kindergartners, lawyers, business school students and CEO’s, twenty sticks of uncooked spaghetti noodles, a yard of string, a yard of masking tape and one marshmallow. Each team must build the tallest possible free-standing structure to hold up the marshmallow in 18 minutes. Guess who won?
“Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.” Albert Einstein.
The kindergartner’s structures averaged 27” tall, CEO’s 21”, lawyers 15” and business school students 10”. Why? The marshmallow is deceptively heavy. The adults treat this challenge like a meeting. They plan, strategize, struggle for dominance and talk for several minutes. The children just do it. They build as a team and learn from one another. The kids average 5 attempts to place the marshmallow in 18 minutes. The business school students average one. Adults think before acting, children think by acting.
“It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.” Pablo Picasso
Do you want to write a book, build a guitar, create the next Instagram, start a band, photograph wildlife, design posters, grow your own food or become a comedian? What’s holding you back? The most common answer I get from my clients is, “I’m not that creative.” Genetic factors influence your ability to be creative, just as genes influence your ability to swim, but everyone can learn to swim and everyone can be creative.
“There is no evidence any one person is inherently more creative than another.” Robert Epstein PhD. (The Big Book of Creativity Games.)
Creativity is not something that you stumble across, like a hundred-dollar bill on the sidewalk. It’s something you build into your life. You build it out of your curiosity and interests. Creativity erupts when you collide with new people, books and ideas. This collision sparks innovation and experimentation. Innovation has been the driving force of human evolution and we are all born with the capacity to create in different aspects of our lives.
“My wife says I create a mess in the kitchen when I cook. Does that count?” Gary Gilberg
Creativity is literally wired into our brains to be rewarding. In a 2020 study, neural scientists discovered that when we have a creative inspiration, an “Aha!” moment, the brain region associated with pleasurable experiences such as food, sex and drugs is activated. (Your Rock and Roll pleasure center is lodged in a nearby region of the brain:-). People have different levels of sensitivity to this creative reward loop, but due to neural plasticity, we can all develop it.
How do you cultivate your creativity? Here are 10 ways:
1) Broaden your knowledge base. Read books, listen to podcasts, watch movies and travel to countries outside your normal area of interest. It promotes cross fertilization.
2) Keep track of new ideas. Write them down whenever they pop up. I keep a notebook by my bed and write notes on my phone using Google Keep.
3) Seek out challenging tasks. This stimulates your brain to consistently develop novel solutions to difficult problems.
4) Surround yourself with interesting people and novel ideas. You can stimulate innovative thinking by interacting with other creative people.
5) Give yourself a quota of 5 ideas for each project. Research has consistently found that the strongest correlation for the quality of ideas is not intelligence nor past success, but the quantity of ideas generated.
6) Think like a 7-year-old. In this study students asked to think like a kid developed more original ideas.
7) Take breaks. In another study, it was demonstrated that breaks improve productivity and reduce decision fatigue.
8) Reframe projects from a new perspective. Instead of building a more powerful engine to achieve manned flight, the Wright brothers focused on developing a glider with wings that they could control. Their 3-axis control system of pitch, yaw and roll is the basis of all modern aviation.
9) Go for a walk. In a study of divergent thinking, (generating multiple solutions) walking boosted creative ideas 60% compared to sitting. Steve Jobs often went on long walks in Palo Alto with his business coach, Bill Campbell.
10) Get a full 7–8 hours a night sleep. This study showed REM sleep stimulates creative problem solving by creating associations between existing ideas and promoting cognitive flexibility.
In 1965, Keith Richards woke up in the middle off the night, recorded a short riff on the guitar he kept by his bed and fell back to sleep. He woke up to find his cassette recorder still running. He had no memory of what he had recorded: the opening guitar solo to the second biggest Rolling Stone song of all time — “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction.”