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A creativity crisis???

Written by Julie Crabtree and Shannon Gostelow

Last year a quiet little paper was published in a psychology research journal which traced the IQ (intelligence quotient) and the creative thinking ability of American children aged 5-17 years since 1990. The researcher found that whilst IQ had increased as expected, alarmingly, creative thinking had decreased (Kim, 2011).

What’s the problem with that you might ask? Colloquially, higher IQ is correlated with greater success in life whilst creative thinking leads to…well…being creative – good for a nice hobby on the side, but not to be valued in serious educational and academic circles….right?

The researcher in the outlined study suggested that the decline in creative thinking followed the introduction of NAPLAN style standardised testing in the USA that valued learnt, memory based literacy and numeracy outcomes over the more fluid process of creative thinking which involves the ability to laterally explore beyond learnt and simple solutions.

This creative or divergent thinking is the ability to think with fluency – to think very fast making unique associations; originality – to have original ideas; elaboration – to explore the original ideas and flexibility to develop the original ideas further.

The thing is…society needs people who are skilled in logical/ linear (convergent) thinking but it also needs people skilled in creative thinking. If our education system and society is only valuing one type of thinking over the other – then it will reduce our ability to solve the complex, rapid problems facing our individual lives and society. Memory based literacy and numeracy are valuable and important for education and employment prospects, but it is creative thinking that futurists indicate may be critical for our changing postmodern world; because creative thinkers are our best lateral “problem solvers”.

In a major study into creative thinkers it was found they are able to define problems differently and uniquely as well as quickly retrieve information from a vast memory bank of previous impressions, memories and experiences in order to creatively solve problems (Ma, 2009). As the world becomes ever more digitally, technologically and socially complex it does seem that creative thinkers will be the ones to make headway and forge new ground

So the questions to reflect on are:

As educators should we equally value creative (divergent) thinking alongside logical                (convergent) thinking?

“As organisations, businesses and governments who do you want to help you solve your complex problems?”

“As cultures and societies who do we want to lead us in our highly complex world?”

“As parents, what skills do we want to equip our children with for the next generation?”

We are all capable of thinking creatively, with some people being “hard wired” to have greater creative potential, and as the demand for creativity increases we should turn our heads to the supply…

Tips for our kids…

One thing that can be done is to allow them plenty of reflective abstraction- which are fancy words for free, uninterrupted time for play. Free play. This allows for problem finding (note- not problem solving but finding) which in turn generates ideas (now we get to problem solving) which kick-starts creative thinking habits and behaviours.

As adults responding to the ‘creativity crisis’….

…well to stir up our creative thinking – lets embrace curiosity and imagination– avoid going for the quick fix, the simple solution… rather sit with and listen to the more complex and…yes, maybe even messier responses to problems…it does seem that there is nothing to lose and only the chance for gain.

So go play…:)

KIM, K. H. 2011. The Creativity Crisis: The Decrease in Creative Thinking Scores on the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking. Creativity Research Journal, 23, 285-295.

MA, H.-H. 2009. The effect size of variables associated With creativity: a meta-analysis. Creativity Research Journal, 21, 30-42.

Shannon Gostelow
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