When I think of creativity, I am reminded of a childhood full of it. If you knew me today (and only in the present), you might be stunned to know the child version of myself. I was the child that dreamed about alternate worlds of existence and then made up my own stories to tell if I thought my dreams weren’t interesting enough. I created elaborate stories about flying princesses and dragons that walked upside down – often to the point of my parents telling me not to lie about it being a dream and just tell it as a story. At one point, I pretended I had a make-believe friend because I wanted to test out this “trend” existing among my friends. But I was determined to be unlike my friends, so the friend I created was a 6 ft. tall hamster named Harry. In my world, all the toys talked in it, all my house pets were exotic animals, and every walk to the creek was an exciting expedition. I wrote endless stories with the intent of everything becoming more unbelievably not-of-this-world, and I once created a magical place in my mind where an open field near my house would turn into a tropical oasis full of the freshest fruit, the most exotic animals, and the clearest stream – but only when I arrived. Sometimes my imagination was so real that I almost believed at any point those fruit trees would really appear and come to life.
Enter my life now. I am a researcher. I enjoy data analysis, designing research experiments, teaching, and all of the hobbies that lie therein. I am terribly afraid of costume parties, role playing, and anything in which clearly defined social roles are not intact. However, I also love traveling, exotic foods, new experiences in new cultures I know little or nothing about. Surprises are a favorite of mine. My perhaps most woeful regret is that I am not more artistic. Would you call me creative now? Would you call the childhood version of me creative?
In some ways, I think the answer to the former question is “yes,” but that creativity is often hidden if not crushed by the way the “system” works. A recent article in Newsweek entitled The Creativity Crisis gives an interesting and somewhat disheartening spin on the current state of creativity. According to the article, creativity is on the decline (unlike IQ) and our educational system may be to blame for it. We are so obsessed with cramming facts and numbers into students’ heads and teachers are often overloaded with too many students or classes that the students may be suffering from it. By not engaging them in “out-of-the-box” thinking and problem solving, we are doing our children a disservice. By not allowing them to ask endless questions and explore, we may be preventing them from exploring their own creativity. Interestingly enough, childhood creativity as measured by Torrance’s assessment tool (see the Newsweek article) is one of the biggest predictors of future success as measured by patents, software programs, buildings designed, etc.
Another thing I like about this article is that they debunk the myth that the only domain creativity plays out in is the arts. Hello engineers and scientists! As a scientist myself, I comprehend the important role creativity plays in my job. Without innovative thinking, I cannot come up with new theories to test or experiments to run. The most brilliant social psychologists in my field design the kind of experiments that make you go – that’s brilliant! Like using hot sauce allocation (click her for original research article) as a way to measure aggression towards others. Lieberman and his colleagues designed a new measure of aggression as the amount of hot sauce administered to a participant known to dislike spicy foods. Love it. I want to be that creative.
And so I sit here, missing the creative child within. And when I wonder why I often forget the creative component of myself, I am once again reminded of the system. The system tells me I should be in my office 8-5 or 8-6 each day plugging away at my desk. But what if that doesn’t always foster creativity? What if sometimes I need to do other things to stretch my mind and get outside of the box? For fun, I did that yesterday. I just didn’t go to the office but instead engaged my mind in other creative ways – brainstorming, moving around my workspace (home, coffee shop, etc.). The result – I have two more publications to write up now. I’m not saying it’s fool proof, but I have to wonder – where has all my creativity gone and am I allowing the system to drain it out of me? More importantly, how can I as an educator make sure my students’ creativity is fully engaged?