Faced with the unprecedented challenge of sending people into space in the 1960s, NASA asked researcher George Land to predict which engineers were most adept at thinking outside the box. His simple tool predicted so well, Land tried it on 1,600 four- and five-year-olds, and later the same group as they grew. His results:
Age Percent scoring “creative genius”
We don’t lose creative ability so much as we learn to hold it in check. To prepare for the responsibilities of adulthood, we develop essential skills at judgment and decision-making. The prefrontal cortex isn’t fully formed until age 25. Land says when we try to generate and evaluate ideas at the same time, imagination loses. Adults who show childlike creativity are those who separate generation and evaluation into two separate stages, letting the mind run free before weighing the pros and cons.
Today’s favorite scapegoats for lost creativity are standardized testing and a school system designed to provide compliant industrial workers. I don’t buy it. Land did his research long before standardized tests became prevalent, and I’ve seen no evidence people were more inventive before the Industrial Revolution. If anything, children were pushed into adulthood even younger than today. What may be different now, due to rapid technological change, is an increasing need for creative imagination in meeting the challenges of adult everyday life.
Thanks for a fascinating post. I like how Land reminds us we can re-activate our inner five year old at will, and generate several dozen ideas without winnowing. We have difficult problems in the world that could use all the creativity we can muster! : ) Rebecca
1/17/2020 05:12:54 am
It is when we are kids that we are all very imaginative, and it is probably when we are all very creative. I think that it is when we start using creativity to our advantage that we can make a name for ourselves. Of course, not every kid can remain imaginative, all of us grow at some point. I think that we all just need to remain as kids for a longer time period. I will try to have my kid retain his imaginative ways.
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I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.