Brain smart

Why Are We Killing Our Children’s Creativity?

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Unbridled creativity is one of the most extraordinary skills of humans. And yet, when creativity is displayed by children we often kill it on the spot.

Children have this great gift of looking at things, situations and objects in a way that does away with accepted conventions. They are able to look beyond what we see as correct. They are unafraid of being wrong and relish in being imaginative.

But as life progresses children are being taught that there is bliss in being correct and that being correct equals not being wrong. Society conditions children into a fear of being wrong which substantially inhibits risk-taking, exploration and ultimately kills creativity.

Everyone who has ever been in a brainstorm session has heard the words “okay guys, remember nothing is wrong”. The fact that this has to be mentioned virtually every time during one of these sessions shows how easily we assume that creativity can somehow lead to incorrect results.

Our educational systems are effective in transferring knowledge. If each child would have to reinvent the wheel every time they faced a problem it would take a lot of time and society would be very inefficient. In order to survive we learn from each other and use that knowledge to solve everyday problems. But most of what we learn is nothing more than a specific solution to a specific problem. As a result we learn a lot of accepted truths and reiterations of existing ideas.

Showing a child a solution to a problem does not stimulate exploration, creativity and open-mindedness. Instead it stifles autonomous thinking, reinforces the idea that there is only a right way. For creativity however it is much more valuable to let a child find its own solutions. This gives a child the opportunity to find a solution by itself you are allowing it to think freely.

Extraordinary things don’t happen when people do ordinary things, but rather when they take risks that lead to extraordinary things.

When it comes to creativity there is perhaps no greater asset than being open-minded. Open-minded in the sense of not settling for the obvious, but looking beyond conventions and accepted truths. Stretching possibilities and imagining the “what-ifs” without limitations. To drive innovation we need divergence and convergence.

Why did Henri Matisse say that creativity takes courage? Because challenging the status quo takes courage. We have been conditioned to fear being wrong. Diverging from the norm is akin to taking risks.

The ulterior message we unconsciously send out to children when we teach them, supervise them and praise them is to conform and limit risks. We do this in several ways:

Priming:  By teaching children only one solution to a problem their brains are conditioned to solve problems that they recognize in ways that they know. Although it makes everyday life a lot less complex and easier to navigate it also takes away an extremely important activity: exploration. By exploring children learn by doing, by interacting and by communicating. Children are more resourceful than we tend to think and by allowing them to explore we allow them to think autonomously, possibly making mistakes in the process, but gaining valuable problem-solving skills. As a matter of fact problem-solving strongly depends on unconventional thinking, especially when considering innovation. To be truly innovative you need the skills to look at things from a myriad of  perspectives and be prepared to explore.

Rewards: In society rewards are often used to challenge and motivate people to reach one or more specific goals. Using rewards to motivate children’s creativity does not work, because it alters the child’s perception of what is important. Instead of the intrinsic enjoyment of creative exploration being the goal, the focus shifts to obtaining the reward. A child will no longer focus on his creativity, but use his resources to achieve the reward. When introducing rewards scientific research has demonstrated that they inhibit children’s exploration and imagination. Creativity does not require rewards, because the journey of creativity IS the reward.

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