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Land change with creativity and a paperclip

Part One – 'How to think creatively' series

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“Creativity is the use of skill and imagination to produce something new or to produce art.”

I was sketching out a new portrait idea when my husband asked me why it is that some people are creative and can create something out of nothing.

I personally think that everyone is born creative. We sit children down at a table with a blank sheet of paper and some crayons, and they start scribbling, limited only by the boundaries of their imagination. Over the years, we begin to worry about what to draw, how to draw it, who we’re drawing it for and if they will like it. When we choose to walk away from drawing the table, some of our creativity seems to dry up.

Then there are some who choose to stay at the table.

So, what is creativity?

Creativity is the ability to produce new ideas or the process of generating novel solutions to problems (OSCRiceUniversity). The concrete definition of creativity is "the use of imagination or original ideas to create something." ( Creativity is both an innate and acquired ability. People are typically born with varying degrees of creativity but can also develop their own natural capacity for creativity by learning how to be more innovative and open-minded.

As a creative person, I have often wondered what it means to be creative. While I understand the term, I have always felt that there was so much more to understanding what creativity is and how it manifests itself.

Creativity is often associated with innovation but is a much broader concept. It is the ability to use skill and imagination to produce something new or to produce art. It can take many forms, from the invention of a new product or service to the creation of music or a painting.

Creativity is what makes our world so beautiful. An artist, writer, or musician can transform raw material into something unique and special. It is the power to develop new ideas, solve complex problems, and express ourselves in unique ways that no one else could articulate in the same way.

In 1968, George Land and Beth Jarman experimented with 1,600 5-year-old children. They repeated the experiment with the same children when they were 10 and 15 and also with a group of adults. The test was elementary. They gave the test subjects a paperclip and asked that they come up with as many ideas for what they could use the paperclip for. The results were fascinating, with scores on the "Genius Level" (so with the most ideas) were as follows:

  • 5-year-olds: 98%

  • 10-year-olds: 30%

  • 15-year-olds: 12%

  • Adults: 2%

Young children have incredible imaginations and haven't yet got the annoying voice in their heads that tells them that an idea is stupid or illogical. They first use divergent thinking, the ability to use imagination to think about all the possibilities. They don't constrain themselves from earlier experiences. Then they start to converge to make a choice and decide the object's purpose. (Bolton)

We lose this ability over time due to conditioning to social norms that reinforce stereotypes which inhibit our ability to think creatively. Our thinking goes from being mainly divergent (ability to come up with novel ideas to solve problems) to convergent (solving problems with general information, also referred to as choice-making). But according to a paper about human creativity, we need a combination of both to be genuinely creative (Zhang, Sjoerds, & Hommel, 2019)

The difference between divergent and convergent thinking

Research shows that convergent and divergent thinking happens in two different places in the brain, and the older we get, we shift from divergent thinking to convergent, as in children, and instead, convergent and divergent thinking try to happen at the same time. The divergent part fires up with ideas that are bursting to come out, but the convergent brain shuts them down as "dumb" before they even have a chance to think through. It is a protective mechanism so that people get the "right" answer as quickly as possible. (Bolton)

Divergent thinking is critical for innovation - and so for organisational success, companies must start making time for it and promote a creative mindset. There are a few things that need to happen:

  • Let go of outcomes! Don't come up with solutions before you've had time to think creatively about the problem.

  • Ask How MIGHT we do something - not how CAN we do it. Open yourself to new possibilities.

  • No idea is stupid. Ask for ALL the ideas, not the "right" ideas and celebrate mistakes and failures the same way you celebrate success - people will be afraid to learn if they're not allowed to make mistakes.

To be creative, you need a certain mindset that can allow you to take risks, be flexible, and think outside the box. You also need to be open-minded and willing to accept different ideas from different people. When it comes to being creative, you can't force it, but there are several things you can do to help cultivate your creative side:

  • Learn about different kinds of creativity: There are many kinds of creativity, so it's essential to learn about them to find what works best for your style. For example, some people are naturally more visual while others prefer kinaesthetic thinking (such as using their hands).

  • Make time for creative pursuits: Your time is valuable, so make sure you're spending enough time on things that will keep your mind stimulated and productive. This could include doing side projects, reading books, or going out for coffee.

Different types of creativity

While many people believe that being creative means you need to be artistic or have a "creative background," this couldn't be further from the truth. In practice, being creative means thinking outside the box and coming up with new and innovative ideas. It also means identifying and appreciating the beauty of something old or traditional. Above all, being creative means being able to express yourself in a way that your audience will understand and appreciate.

Research shows us that four types of creative insights occur in consciousness(Dietrich, 2004). Creativity is not something that a few possess. We are all born creative, and so can all have an innovative mindset. Creativity can be either emotionally or cognitively based, and it can also be spontaneous or deliberate. That gives you the four quadrants.

Figure 1. Four basic types of creative insights result from two processing modes, deliberate and spontaneous, each of which can guide neural computation in structures that contribute emotional content and in systems that provide cognitive analysis. Crossing the two processing modes with the type of information yields the four basic types of creativity.

How to think creatively

We are all creative! Creativity cannot be taught, but you can set up an environment that lends itself to creativity (Ahrens, 2017). Many factors contribute to a person's creativity. As a child, they are taught to develop their creativity and are surrounded by things that encourage creativity. A safe place for the person to explore creativity is in the classroom. If you give the child the freedom to express themselves, they will have more room to create. The child's imagination can then be focused on various things and explore what creativity means to them and their skills. All of this can be applied to an adult.

You can give creativity a boost by implementing a creative exercise. This will encourage the audience to think in new ways and develop the necessary skills to use their imagination to solve complex problems. It is essential to make sure that your workspace is set up and designed to allow creativity to flourish. Allow enough space for creativity within the room. To encourage employees to experiment with their ideas, they must have opportunities to collaborate with each other and to do this, and you need a setting that is not only accessible yet also flexible.

While creativity often requires artistic talent or training, it can be learned and developed by anyone. The key is to understand the right ways to be creative. Creativity is the process of developing new ideas and inventions through imagination. It is usually considered a cornerstone of human creativity that plays a central role in personal expression, society, culture, and technology.

In Part 2, we will delve deeper into how to use creativity to solve problems and how fun collaboration can help spark innovative ideas.

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