Making Up The Creativity Gap

Whether it’s in the science laboratory, the corporate boardroom or  the political arena what we need now is more creativity. Our increasingly complex world and its multifaceted problems demands unconventional approaches and innovative solutions, but that’s where the problem lies. Research is showing that instead of becoming  more creative to meet these demands, we are actually losing creativity. America, the nation that boasted of Yankee ingenuity, and gave the world some of the greatest scientists in history, is becoming less and less creative.

 Dr.Kyung Hee Kim (http://cfge.wm.edu/contact.htm) studies creativity at the College of William & Mary. Like other researchers in the field, she uses something known as the Torrance Test (http://www.indiana.edu/~bobweb/Handout/d3.ttct.htm) to assess an individual’s creative potential. Developed in the 1950’s by professor E. Paul Torrance, it’s a standardized assessment, administered to children, that focuses on divergent thinking and problem solving. The test has been used for decades, all over the world in over 50 languages, and been shown to have three times the predictive power of traditional IQ tests for lifetime creative accomplishment.

 Dr. Kim looked at the results of over 300,000 Torrance test results, and noticed a disturbing trend. For a number of years, Torrance test scores, like IQ scores, had been showing a fairly consistent increase. That is, until around 1990. Kim noticed that from that point on, the creativity scores of American children began to drop. The trend has been continuing over the last 20 years. According to Kim, “It’s very clear, and the decrease is very significant.” She went on to point out that the decline is most serious in children from kindergarten through sixth grade.

 It may be too early to assign a cause for the drop in creativity, but the usual suspects are frequently blamed, too much TV and computer time, not enough exercise and unstructured play. Another aspect of the decline in U.S. creativity may be attributed to our educational system. America’s current mania for high stakes standardized testing may be boosting test scores at the expense of creativity. School systems are under tremendous pressure to encourage students to give the “correct” answer, not the creative one.

 Compare that with the education systems of other countries. Jonathan Plucker of Indiana University recently went to China to look  at how children are being educated in one of our country’s biggest competitors.  A July, 2010 Newsweek article (http://www.newsweek.com/2010/07/10/the-creativity-crisis.print.html) reported what he found:

“Plucker recently toured a number of such schools in Shanghai and Beijing. He was amazed by a boy who, for a class science project, rigged a tracking device for his moped with parts from a cell phone. When faculty of a major Chinese university asked Plucker to identify trends in American education, he described our focus on standardized curriculum, rote memorization, and nationalized testing. “After my answer was translated, they just started laughing out loud,” Plucker says. “They said, ‘You’re racing toward our old model. But we’re racing toward your model, as fast as we can.’ ‘”

That backward rush toward standardization instead of innovation has enormous consequences. As our world and the problems we face become ever more complex, the need for “outside the box” thinking has never been greater. What we need is less of the dutiful bubbling in of the proper answer, and more of the questioning of the conventional. If America is going to retain what’s left of our technological leadership we need a willingness to take chances, to foster independent thinking. What we need is more creativity, and the only way to get that is to make a concerted effort to nurture it.

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