Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Is There a Creativity Crisis?

An article recently appeared in Newsweek called "The Creativity Crisis" that reported on some really disturbing new research. A test was developed back in 1957, the Torrance test, that is designed to measure creativity in a quantitative way as we also measure IQ. The Torrance test has shown a remarkable correlation between children demonstrating creativity and creative accomplishments in life - the high performers on the Torrance test go on to become inventors, college presidents, authors, diplomats, entrepreneurs, etc. The correlation to lifetime creativity is three times higher for childhood creativity than childhood IQ.

And now - as anyone who reads this blog or follows the news knows - creativity is more highly valued than ever. It is seen as the leading edge of innovation and increasingly critical to global business success. A recent IBM poll of 1500 CEOs found creativity to be the #1 "leadership competency" of the future.

Here is the rub - the data shows that "intelligence" as measured by IQ scores has consistently risen every year, as enriched environments have led to higher scores. In contrast, these new findings show that since 1990 creativity scores have consistently edged DOWNWARDS. And the decline among the youngest - K-6 - has been the steepest. A likely culprit identified is the hours spent in front of the TV and playing video games rather than being engaged in creative activities. Another possible cause is the almost complete lack of creative development in our schools.Nurturing creativity has become a global focus, with countries such as Britain making it a key national agenda for their school system. Even China, notoriously focused on rote learning, has done a 180, and is now trying to infuse their educational system with a focus on creativity. So what are we doing? Focusing on standardized testing and curriculum more than ever!

Another interesting twist to this research is debunking the idea that creativity is exclusive domain of the arts. While there is certainly a connection between creativity and the arts, creativity can be infused into math, science, virtually all academic areas. And the arts can be taught in such a deadly manner that it kills rather than nurtures creativity.

There is also some interesting exploration of the "right brain-left brain" phenomenon that debunks the idea that creativity is somehow handled only by the right brain. Creativity requires BOTH divergent and convergent thinking, dual activation of right and left brain.

The consensus is that creativity CAN be taught - not overnight - but that techniques do exist that if consistently applied, real improvement can be achieved in work and school.

The decline in creativity scores is alarming, but what do we do? What we need are coalitions that bring together the advocates for arts education with similar groups looking to foster science learning, math, engineering and entrepreneurship. Creativity is not an arts issue - it is an education issue and ultimately about creativity economic opportunity for our young people. A few years ago I sat at a table at a gala dinner with someone from the National Inventor's Hall of Fame, and we realized how much our missions and constituencies had in common - he noted that virtually all of their board members were creative people - musicians, writers, sculptors, who were also applying their creativity to inventions. Ironically, this Newsweek article profiles the new National Inventors Hall of Fame public middle school in Akron. With a fifth grad curriculum focused on creativity and experiential learning, in its first year the school has the third best scores in the city, despite an enrollment that has 42% of its students living in poverty.

But not all the news is bad. The recent Americans for the Arts National Arts Index study showed a modest rise in personal creation, one of the few bright spots in what was a mostly gloomy report. And NAAM, the international association of music merchants seems to be seeing steady increases in sales of musical instruments. The low cost of entry for personal creation and distribution has led to an explosion in development of iPhone apps, YouTube videos, DIY indy music production, self-published books, blogs, etc. How do reconcile these trends?  Is the Torrance test perhaps no longer measuring the right things? Or is it the "canary in the coal mine," pointing out a nascent trend that will only become more serious as those K-6 kids grow into adults?


  1. I am curious as to what China is doing to instill creative learning in their school system. Do you have a reference?

  2. There are some specifics in the Newsweek article. There was also a major cover story in 2007 in Fast Company about the "creativity revolution" in China: http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/116/features-the-next-cultural-revolution.html. Here is an article from the New York Times in 2003: http://www.nytimes.com/2003/10/21/news/21iht-rchina_ed3_.html. This is something that Dan Pink often talks about as well, and I think Ken Robinson may have written about it too.

  3. Hard to emphasize creativity when teachers teach to take tests. Creativity requires dream time, questioning of assumptions, reasoning, sharing of ideas, little of which happens in public schools today. We stripped the schools of the arts and now we reap the fruits of our ignorance.

  4. "...And the arts can be taught in such a deadly manner that it kills rather than nurtures creativity."

    What a great statement. It's worthy of a much larger discussion, but even advocates must save room for criticism.