"You're More Creative Than You Think You Are" by Director of Academic Support Gia Batty
Sara Masucci and I recently recorded an episode for our Studies Show podcast about some interesting new research on creativity. The bottom line is that we’ve got it all wrong.
We tend to think about creativity as something bestowed on a chosen few at birth, that creative thinking is this innate characteristic that we either have or don’t. We think that those who are creative can draw and paint and post things on Pinterest. Those who deem themselves “not creative” steer clear of creative activities, and see creativity as something they can live without. Students, especially, live in this binary and also tend to see creativity as something that belongs solely in the arts.
Well, the studies show that we are way off in our thinking about creativity. Creativity is more of a process than an event. In other words, (or in the famed psychologist Carol Dweck’s words), we need to think of creativity in a growth mindset rather than with a fixed one. In her book, Dweck identified a growth mindset as the belief that our abilities can be improved with sustained effort and practice, while in a fixed mindset we see our abilities as invariable and, well, fixed. Creative thinking is actually a skill that can be improved through practice, and there a lots of easy ways we can all hone our creativity.
Here are three things you should know about creativity:
Creativity should not be seen as existing only in the Arts Center
Instead of thinking about creativity as something separate, we need to realize that creative thinking is an essential aspect of learning that does not only pertain to the arts. Creativity happens during class discussions as students make connections between texts or ideas. Students need to be creative to solve problems in math and science. In the humanities, it takes creativity to come up with an original thesis for an essay or research paper. We are being creative in the classrooms of the Shattuck Schoolhouse and the Baker Science building, onstage in Lawrence and on the athletic fields and the courts in the MAC. Creativity is a necessary skill for learning, for studying, for writing and for leading.
We were all creative when we were young
George Land, who developed a creativity test for NASA to use with its engineers and scientists, tested 1,600 preschool aged children to determine their level of creative thinking. After the initial test, he re-tested the group five years later and then again 10 years later. The results showed that when the group was at its youngest, 98% were considered “highly creative.” Five years later that number dropped to 30% and at the last test only 12% of the original group were considered “highly creative.” So, unfortunately, we learn to be less creative as we get older, which is not good (see below for some tips to reverse this). As well, this research tells us that most of us are way more creative than we think we are. We need to stop saying things like “Oh, I’m just not a creative person,” and start focusing more on how to tap into and train our inner creativity.
Tips for being more creative
Let your mind wander. There has been lots of buzz in brain research about mind wandering. Mind wandering is when we allow our brains to sort of go “out of focus” like right before we fall asleep or when we’re exercising. When we let our minds wander, our thoughts are loosely connected, we’re not totally in control of them, and it’s actually our most creative state of thinking. Taking walks outside, looking at art, listening to music are all easy ways to let your mind wander and, in turn, boost your creative thinking.
Try something new (and be okay with embarrassing yourself in the process). Being creative is about taking risks, and this process isn’t always pretty or smooth. Be prepared to make mistakes as you engage in activities outside of your comfort zone--an important way to jumpstart your creativity. Some ideas: learn a new language, try ceramics, start keeping a journal, write a poem, tell a story onstage.
Limit yourself. We are more creative and resourceful when we have less to work with. Try writing a short story in six words like Hemingway did. Give yourself only five minutes to solve a difficult math problem. Use just two colors in your painting. Use a timer when brainstorming an idea for a paper or a project.
Don’t give up. Researchers at Harvard found that “giving up is the enemy of creativity.” When engaged in creative thinking, we tend to underestimate how many new ideas we can generate. Creative thinking is difficult and we are quick to say we’re “stuck,” but some of the best ideas will come if we are persistent. According to the study, we need to remember that the “stuck feeling” is part of the creative process and we need to embrace it. Also, we must ignore our first instinct to give up and attempt to generate just a few more ideas--they will likely be your best ones.
Carol Dweck’s excellent book
Mindset: The New Psychology of Success
George Land’s research and TED Talk
Hemingway’s six-word story
Harvard research on persistence