Feb 9, 2011
Research shows that the creativity of America's children, specifically those between the ages of 5 and 12, is declining. Just to clarify: this doesn't mean that our kiddos are showing reduced skillz with crayonz, it means their ability to solve problems without pre-defined answers is fading out.
It would be nice to correlate this decline in creativity with a decline in overall intelligence, indicating some nasty flaw in the education system. However, the same kids with decreasing creativity scores are delivering increasing IQ scores - which is considered by many as a fair indicator of schools' health.
Meanwhile, creativity has become the #1 sought after trait in today's executives (that's all executives, not just those in advertising), and our future depends on the ability of tomorrow's leaders to think in ways we've yet to fathom. Is our "fill in the blank" style of education destroying our kids' ability to think outside the - blank?
The debates over education are dirty, political and rightfully complex, but at the end of the day, teachers can seem to find agreement in the following point of angst: today's educational system isn't making it easy to teach creatively, let alone teach creativity.
What the system does seem to be doing (and what those declining creativity scores seem to confirm) is perpetuating the idea that for every problem, there is an answer, and if you don't have that one answer memorized, you won't just be wrong - your future might be at stake.
It smells a lot like fear-based education. And nothing kills creativity like fear.
Teachers are fearful that their kids won't make the cut if they don't fill in the right bubbles. Parents are fearful that their kids' futures will be sabotaged if they don't measure up to the given "standard." Kids, like grownups, are just fearful of failure, and when creativity goes unrewarded - or even punished - that's what it becomes associated with.
Creativity is about taking risks, tenaciously pursuing something undefined, and feeling gratitude for the lessons (ie, the failures) we learn along the path to our answer. Some might even define creativity as the opposite of fear; a sort of open-minded courage to attack real problems without the safety net of pre-defined conclusions. In other words, creativity doesn't mesh well with the rules inherent to today's education system.
There's an interesting challenge flying around the advertising world this week that hopes to directly address this problem. Dubbed No Right Brain Left Behind, the challenge is a sort of open source, pro-bono problem busting event, which you can learn more about here (and if you'd like to get involved, the group I'm part of is still accepting participants - hurry over this way for more info).
The ideas born from this challenge will be interesting to review, but the implementation of those ideas is what's really gonna keep the creative zombies at bay.
This article was written for The Denver Egotist.