The Creativity Crisis

I just read this article in Newsweek the other day about the so called "Creativity Crisis" in America and think it's a real must read for a lot of reasons.

The article talks about how since the 1950's psychologists have been giving people a standard test to measure creativity. And this isn't only artistic creativity we're talking about here. Rather, they define creativity as the ability to come up with many unique solutions to a problem (divergent thinking) married with the ability to examine and judge those solutions to determine which one is the most useful (convergent thinking). Beyond writing and the arts you can see how this definition could apply to engineering, or business, or the sciences, or the military, to pretty much anything really. It's about creative problem solving in the widest possible sense.

Now here's the interesting, and troubling, thing.

From 1958 to 1990 the average American CQ (creativity quotient) score rose steadily. After 1990 though the score began to fall each year. And it's falling still. Not only that, but the group that's seeing the biggest drop in creative problem solving are kids from kindergarten through the 6th grade.

No one knows exactly why this is. People blame TV and movies. They blame the internet. They blame schools that focus on rote memorization and standardized testing. Whatever the case, you can see some ugly places this could be heading. I'm no scientist or anything but it seems to me that one of the reasons humans got to where they are is this capacity for creative problem solving. Would we have harnessed fire without it? Started agriculture? What about the car and airplanes and the internet and modern medicine? Would any of it have come to be without creativity?

I mean, geez, talk about a dystopia. What happens to a society that forgets how to be creative? (Wow. Does that sounds like the tagline to the mot boring teen novel ever, or what?)

So take a look at the article and let me know what you guys think of all this. Is there a creativity crisis in America and if so why is it happening and what do you think we can do about it?

Also what do you think of their definition of creativity as it relates to writing? Does it seem right to you? Is it useful?


Christine Fonseca said...

Interesting - though as a developmental psych who spends many of her days doing psychometric testing, I can say I am not convinced that type of reasoning (creative thinking) is actually dropping.

I do know that organizations like Odyssey of the Mind are fabulous resources to teach and build creativity in young people. Having coached teams for several years, I know first hand the value in proactivly teaching kids to "think outside the box"~!

Great post as always!

Mandy P.S. said...

My mother is a teacher, and from hearing her talk, I can definitely see how overly emphasizing standardized tests can lead to lack of creativity. You're not allowed to be creative on standardized tests. In fact, I remember my 10th grade English teacher lecturing us before we took FCAT Writes (this was eight years ago): "Don't write the essay like I taught you. Don't write a good essay. Write the essay they want. Otherwise, you will fail."

I also think its incredibly funny the the article brings up comparing engineers to musicians, as if musicians embody creativity and engineers are its antithesis. Being an engineer is about creativity. Do people think Werner von Braun created so many rockets with rote learning? People who aren't creative drop out of engineering faster than you can say engineering.

But maybe this is why there is a decline in engineering in our nation as well. We're not encouraging the type of thinking that leads to it.

Angie said...

Thanks for the article, Jeff. I'm with Bittersweet on this. Engineering and science is hardly the antithesis of creativity. And I do think standardized testing--FCATs, SOLs, etc.--is choking some of the creativity out of schools, at least in writing. I tutor it on the side. Granted I see the kids (and adults) who need the help, but sometimes I wonder what they're learning in school. I'm not talking about grammar. That's the easy part. Some of the students can't think inside the box, let alone outside it.

April (BooksandWine) said...

As someone who studied education (did my student teaching and all) I feel like the reason there is such a drop in creativity is standardized testing. So many teachers are forced to teach to the test, which doesn't allow room for critical thinking, which unfortunately leads to students not being taught to critical think and problem solve.

Jeff Hirsch said...

Hi all! Yeah, my suspicion was the prevalence of standardized testing as the culprit as well. One of the most interesting bits of the article for me was the educators in China being so shocked that we're running towards standardized testing and memorization at the same time they're running away from it!

Thanks for the ray of hope Christine! I'm curious, where are you on this standardized testing question. Do you think it's had an impact?

Marcia said...

I don't know...back in my parents' and grandparents' day, American schools were pretty rote (memorization, recitation, standardized tests from educational testing companies), with the real trend away from that not beginning till the late 60s. Yet creativity was still high then. I'm wondering if it's that (1) we're only just beginning to find out the effects of so much technology on people, and (2) "busy, busy, busy" is part of the answer. I'm reading The Way We're Working isn't Working by Tony Schwartz, and he talks about how we don't allow ourselves enough cycling between periods of work and renewal. Instead, we're all nose to the grindstone and multitasking. In myself, I have noticed more and more a feeling that I "can't afford" to let go of the world long enough to REALLY think, dream, focus, concentrate. That the sure results will be both falling behind and being interrupted anyway. That's scary for anybody, not only for a writer. And children's brains are more susceptible to whatever technology is doing, plus they're watching how we live.

Jazz said...

I think if I couldn't engage in divergent and convergent thinking, I'd never have become a(n aspiring) writer. When a scene isn't working, I make lists of the things I can do to fix that. Then I think about how the items on my list work in relation to what has already happened and how I have developed my characters. I come up with what I think works best and try it out. If that doesn't work I'll try again or go with something I wouldn't have considered a solution just to see how it fits.

So I'm behind their definition of creativity as it relates to writing. -thumbs up-

Elana Johnson said...

Hmm...I'm not sure if we're getting less creative or not. I do think there are some contributors that would contribute to this decline, though.

We're so busy. We go here, there, everywhere all the time. When we're home, we're not spending time with our kids, but they're playing games and we're vegging from our busy lives. Usually in front of the TV.

I think with the advancement of technology, the quiet moments where we're people -- mothers and fathers and sons and daughters -- falls to the side. And that may be why...

Unknown said...

From my teacher perspective, I do see a lack of creativity in traditional thinking. I think testing has some to do with this (know the answer for the test, not for applicability) and I think parents have some to do with this (here, child, let me do that for you).

But I think kids are also creative in different ways. Think of how often older people tend to read the directions to new products, particularly technology, and how often kids don't and just jump right in and explore the product.

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