Horror-filled tales are told of the “terrible threes” in which many a toddler has driven parents nearly insane with their constant questioning, “Why? Why? Why?” However, this fragile curiosity could be the pathway to a lifelong sense of wonder and openness to new experiences. Many theories exist about how children learn and develop greater understanding of the world around them. Educational mass marketing is increasingly directed towards parents eager to nurture every last bit of potential talent. Others fall strongly into the “talent is overrated” camp, believing that creativity is learned rather than being an aspect of personality or intelligence.
Corporations have also promoted the thinking that the drive to succeed and leave a legacy is an important motivator for creativity; simple intelligence is not enough to bring lasting change to the world. On a personal level, the ability to cope with stressful situations is enhanced through maintaining a sense of humor or a functional creativity. The ability to assess differing perspectives allows for problem solving through the use of imagination in order to find innovative solutions.
What is Creativity?
Let’s begin with the idea that creativity is not the same as intelligence. Rather, it is characterized by an attitude of openness to new experiences. Having a sense of wonder is helpful in allowing a child or adult to constantly process the world around them with a wide-ranging attention to details. The final component of creativity is access to relevant knowledge. For example, all of the nurturing and ability in the world won’t help someone to make new discoveries in astrophysics if they have never had any exposure to that field of knowledge.
Why is Curiosity Important?
Curiosity is the fuel of creativity. A sense of playfulness balanced with the discipline necessary to pursue initial flashes of insight to their ultimate conclusion. An initial preparatory phase of knowledge gathering allows a basis to see a problem which provokes curiosity. The momentary questioning is transitioned into a period of incubation as curiosity provokes a continual subconscious gnawing at the problem until a flash of insight occurs.
As Thomas Edison famously noted, “Creativity is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.” This highlights the amount of work needed in order to reach the final solution foreshadowed by insight. The forgotten factor in most discussions of creative success is the difficulty of the achievement. Edison is known for his successes, but the vast majority of his research was spent in failure; finding hundreds of things that didn’t work for each one that did. Persistence is required in order to succeed in this area just as in any other. It isn’t always pretty, but overcoming self-doubt and insecurity is vital to reaching any goal of importance.
Easy Action Steps to Greater Creativity
Shift your frame of reference– looking at the world around you through a fresh pair of eyes is a great starting point for new knowledge and ideas. Answer the “What if…” questions that you haven’t previously considered. What if money was no object? How would my goals change if what I am creating today is the only thing that will be remembered about my lifetime?
Combine the unexpected– corporations and universities are familiar with the idea of unexpected insight coming from the combination of seemingly unrelated products or disciplines.
Learn how to brainstorm– stand up (this signals to your brain that it is time for action rather than passivity), write down all ideas even after you think that you have a good solution. Remember that the first good idea is only the most obvious rather than the best answer. Seek input from no more than 6-8 people with a variety of viewpoints and expertise. Keep track of all ideas, especially the hair-brained suggestions which may offer unexpected insights.
Practice the art of acute observation– the idea that a wider base of knowledge allows for more insights to occur. Be alert to patterns and question the inconsistencies in the world around you. Penicillin, the first antibiotic, was accidentally discovered when famed biologist Sir Alexander Fleming noticed that mold on a forgotten petri dish repelled bacteria. Medicine was revolutionized with the curious statement “That’s funny…”
Follow your passions– encourage children who discover a passion to continue to pursue it, which leads to an increased skill level. Over time mastery is developed. Continued practice is key to this end, but it is rarely reached without being motivated by a sense of enjoyment.
Children are naturally curious about… everything. This engagement with the world around them is important for promoting healthy mental and social development as well as allowing for greater adaptation to the curve balls that life will throw their way. Parents who are uncertain about how to encourage immersion in the tactile world rather than the solitary attraction of electronics might consider their personal valuation of play and imagination. Being a creative household doesn’t have to become a power struggle. It can be a chance for families to develop greater empathy towards each other while fostering healthy bonds. Discover your child’s passion and dive into it with them. You’ll find that such creative pursuits can be very enjoyable.
Conner, Bobbi, and Denise Holmes. The giant book of creativity for kids: 500 activities to encourage creativity in kids ages 2 to 12: play, pretend, draw, dance, sing, write, build, tinker. Roost Books, 2015.
Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. Creativity: the psychology of discovery and invention. Harper Collins Publisher, 2013.
Kaufman, James C., and Robert J. Sternberg. The Cambridge handbook of creativity. Cambridge University Press, 2010.
Seelig, Tina Lynn. InGenius: a crash course on creativity. HarperOne, 2015