A few years ago psychologists walked into classrooms of 6-year-olds around America.
They asked the children in each classroom to raise their hands if they thought they were creative – if they believed they were good at drawing and singing and dancing.
Every child in the room raised his or her hand.
The psychologists asked the same question of 7-year-olds.
Most kids raised their hands. But not all.
They asked groups of 8-year-olds. About 90% raised their hands.
By the time the psychologists asked 14-year-olds, only a third raised their hands.
In a period of 8 years, children had gone from believing in their creative ability to mostly doubting it.
What happens when we start doubting our ability? We stop trying.
We no longer go to dance classes. We no longer take piano lessons. Whatever skill we possessed slowly withers. If as a child we doubted our creative ability, as an adult we are certain.
“I can’t sing.”
“I don’t dance.”
We stick to practicing the skills we still believe we possess – the ones our teachers or parents or peers or employers approved of and encouraged.
The shame of this is that today more than at any time, creativity is valued by business. 6,500 CEOs in 2 studies have ranked creativity and innovation as critical to business success – and critical skills for CEOs to possess.
So two-thirds of us have lost the very thing that business needs.
We have lost the chance to get more enjoyment from our work.
We have lost the chance to be more highly sought by the best companies in our field.
We have lost the chance to be healthier and happier.
We have lost the chance to climb higher and earn more in our organisation.
We have lost the chance to be more productive.
These are all documented benefits of staff whose creativity is fostered.
So what happened?
Firstly, schools are better equipped to measure literacy and numeracy than creativity. A school’s student performance (and therefore a school’s standing) is measured by achievements in maths, science, language and history. The emphasis is on memory – of formulae, syntax, dates. So it’s natural for schools to encourage excellence in these areas. Creative arts are an asterisk, an optional nicety.
We’re encouraged to participate in team events – mostly sports. Creativity at school is rarely a team activity. If we display prowess in a sport, it’s encouraged because it gives the school sporting success – another measure of a school’s standing.
There’s a pecking order amongst university degrees. Top dogs have traditionally been Law and Medicine, followed by degrees deemed commercially useful – Science, Economics and Engineering, for example. At the bottom is Arts, the degree you do when you don’t know what else to do.
Recruiters rarely advertise for creative directors. Businesses want scientists, engineers, analysts and managers. And yet, CEOs want creativity and innovation.
The big question then is, “Is it too late?” Can we regain the creativity we surrendered as kids?
Yes we can.
Creative thinking is a skill. Like bike riding, it can be learnt. We can quickly learn creative thinking techniques that allow us to generate ideas on demand – hundreds of them in a single short session.
If every business equipped its staff with these creative thinking skills, they’d enjoy the benefits described above. Their staff would be happier, healthier, take less sick leave, be more loyal and more productive.
These businesses would find it easier to attract the most talented staff. They would become innovation leaders in their field.
It’s never too late to undo the damage done in childhood.
Every child is an artist until he’s told he’s not an artist. – John Lennon