Let me tell you a story
Want to be more creative? Think like a kid. Also, 7 other things worth knowing today.
Kids say the darnedest things. They come up with the most creative stories and ideas.
Adults? Well, many of us lose that creative edge. But, now a new theory suggests the adult creative deficit has a simple explanation.
Basically, we forget how to think like kids.
Instead, we're taught to adopt other brain habits that might be easier to explain in schools and business settings, but that aren't as well suited to the task.
It all comes down to the difference between two distinct ways of thinking through solutions to problems:
On the one hand, we have divergent thinking. If you've ever been part of a corporate brainstorming exercise, this is what you were doing, even if nobody called it that.
Divergent thinking is "ideational or visionary in nature," according to Kathryn Haydon, author of, The Non-Obvious Guide to Being More Creative, No Matter Where You Work. "It involves rigorous gymnastics of the mind that lead to unexpected solutions."
Compare this way of thinking to narrative thinking. This is the kind of thinking that you'll watch children do when they're at their creative peak.
It's more about storytelling; each point in the creative exploration sparks a jumping off point for the next one.
Earlier this year, authors Angus Fletcher and Mike Benveniste, who are associated with Project Narrative at The Ohio State University, explained the newer theory in the peer-reviewed journal, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences.
In short, they say that while divergent thinking is widely taught, "for decades, concerns have been raised about [its] adequacy."
But, they point out, while children are "more imaginatively creative than adults," it’s harder for them to use divergent thinking, because they're not as good at two key elements of that mode of thinking: "memory and logical association."
It makes sense; kids just don't have the experience and data to think through problems that way. But, they're still highly creative, because narrative thinking works so much better.
The deficiency in divergent thinking is that it cannot "help prepare people for new challenges that we know little about," Fletcher argued. "It can't come up with truly original actions. But the human brain's narrative machinery can."
It sounds great in theory. But has anyone actually tested it, or come up with a way to teach adults in positions of responsibility how to think narratively in order to become more creative?
In fact, Fletcher and Benveniste have been using exactly this approach to train senior military officers at the U.S. Army's Command and General Staff College, along with executives at Fortune 50 companies.
As examples, they encourage students to use the kind of techniques that writers use in order to create stories—literally to imagine developing new worlds in your mind.
Or else, they try perspective-shifting: "An executive at a company might be asked to answer a problem by thinking like another member of their team."
Accurate predictions aren't really the point, Fletcher said. "It's about making yourself open to imagining radically different possibilities. … We are obsessed with the idea that some people are more creative than others," Fletcher said. "But the reality is that we're just not training creativity in the right way."
7 other things worth knowing today
New York researchers transplanted pig hearts into two brain-dead people over the last month, the latest in a string of developments in the long quest to one day save human lives with animal organs. (AP)
Rents are falling (finally). Here are the 5 cities with the biggest recent drops. (CNBC)
An expert in political violence urgently warns, “The worst is coming.” Note: this is an interview with Rachel Kleinfeld, "a specialist in political conflict who has studied the breakdown of democracy and the rule of law in many countries." I haven't talked with Rachel in years, but I used to be part of a foreign policy group she set up in Washington, and I had a lot of respect for her intellect then. (WashPost Gift Article)
The biggest "super moon" of the year will be visible today—bigger and brighter than at any other time. (Space)
Study: Pulse oximeters, which many people relied on during the pandemic, can be markedly inaccurate for people with darker skin tones. (NPR)
I think it's worth sharing a second link to the images of the James Webb Space Telescope, most of which were shared after I sent this newsletter yesterday. (Scientific American)
Car manufacturers are dropping something that's been standard equipment for nearly 100 years: AM radio receivers. (The Drive)
Thanks for reading. Photo via Unsplash. I wrote about some of this at Inc.com. Want to see all my mistakes? Click here.
I completely agree with the creativity and kids perspective. We actually teach creativity OUT of kids and then later try to stuff it back in. Sort of like the food industry that strips nutrients away during processing and then “fortifies” cereals and other products. It was naturally fortified to begin with!
Storytelling is great. Pixar even has a narrative framework to write a story. A common line in the formula is “because of that _________.”
1. Once upon a time, there was …
2. Every day …
3. One day …
4. Because of that …
5. Because of that …
6. Because of that …
7. Until finally …
8. Ever since then …
Sadly, some people simply are not and never will be creative. That’s OK because those people have things, like execution, relationship building, and influencing talents that other people may not have. And often people simply “want” to be creative like people “want” to be good at sports or music. They can learn to play a piano but never understand how to play a piano musically. That is basically a description of talent diversity: one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. There is more complexity to diversity than how we typically think from a social perspective.
I personally liked to use what I call “conceptual creativity” with work groups, focusing on the concept rather than an idea. For example, you can tell people to design a really good umbrella but the concept is to actually stay dry. The umbrella is just one idea based on something you already know that can lock us into a way of thinking.
From my perspective, part of the concept of today’s column is that kids have less in their brain to draw upon for ideas so they focus more on the concept in fun and unpredictable ways - until we begin eliminating fun time as we teach them to be adults. Tech at least had it partly right: have fun at work!
This is perhaps one of the greatest, most terrible deficiencies in our modern/post-modern age. We think we’ve “evolved” and “progressed” beyond our pre-modern forebears, but in fact, in spite of the technological breakthroughs and innovations we enjoy (I enjoy!), our lack of imagination has led us to the point of thinking we are the end-all, be-all point of life, circumventing both our true purpose and our Creator.
I’m sure some (many?) will disagree with me. I love America. But I think a great many of our personal and cultural problems stem from this turn to the dialectic and absolute logic over-against the story of who we truly are and where we really come from, and it’s not a pool of primordial sludge and a family tree with primates — again, surely a point of contention for some. This gets back to the point of Robert Fulghum’s “Everything I Needed to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten.” There, and along the way, we all both learned and enjoyed the power of story. There’s a true story that makes sense of the world, of life, our own brokenness and that of the world’s, as well as our only hope.
Enjoy, and have a great day!