Creativity? First Learn to Unlearn

As far back as the 1960’s we were aware that there was a problem with developing levels of adult creativity. Noted creativity guru George Land was asked by NASA back then to develop a way to assess the creativity of its engineers. It worked and, being a creative kind of guy, he used the same assessment to test the imaginative capabilities of children ages 3-5 His astounding finding was that 98-percent of those children scored as top ranking creative, compared to just 2% of adults. He tested the same kids again at five year intervals and found a progressive and dramatic drop in that creativity, down to only about a third of them scoring that high by age 10, and down to just 12% by age 15. Land reported that we don’t learn to be creative; just the opposite, we start out creative and learn to be uncreative!

The 1960’s are history now, so has anything changed? The Bristol University ELLI (Effective Lifelong Learning Inventory) studies suggest not. This instrument measures Learning Power and includes creativity as one of its dimensions. Again the findings indicate that our learning power declines through every year of formal education and only slowly recovers once we enter the workplace at age 22-23.

Put these two studies together and we see that to become creative (again) – and by extension innovative – we need to unlearn the approach to creativity that we have developed: moving away from the mental model that knowledge is cumulative, as we were taught in school, and being willing to revise or even abandon things we believe to be true.

Innovation Excellence, the online home of the global innovation community, suggests a short list of what we need to stop doing to become more creative.

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