The Importance of Fostering Creativity

March 2018

Data comparisonsSolving today’s business challenges with products and services takes innovative thinking. Letting the world know about your solutions in highly competitive environments takes innovative thinking too.

But are innovative thinkers embedded into your company’s product development and marketing ecosystem? If they are, kudos to you for creating an environment that allows divergent interpretations to problems. Your reward will be increased business. And if imaginative people are not seated at your conference table, you are doomed to stale solutions.

Creative screening

In the 1960s, the deputy director of NASA contacted Dr. George Land, author, speaker, consultant and general systems scientist, and informed Land that NASA had a lot of bright people working for them, but they needed some way to select the people that were the most creative so they could be placed on teams faced with the toughest problems. Land developed the Imaginative Thinking NASA Test, which proved to be an effective assessment tool. The simple test is rooted in the process of divergent thinking–the ability to look at a particular problem and propose multiple solutions.

To further explore the origins of creative ability, Land and his research team later administered the same NASA test to 1,600 children starting when they were about 5 years old. He retested children at age 10, and again at age 15. The surprising results demonstrated that 98% of 5-year-olds possessed a genius category of imagination. By age 10, only 30% of the participants possessed creativity at a genius level, and by age 15, it was reduced to only 12% of the participants. In a TEDxTucson talk, “The Failure of Success,” Land chuckles and recounts, “That study ended because so many people got depressed. Most of the testing was done by teachers, and they just didn’t want to do it again.”

In an additional study, Land administered the same test to more than 1,000,000 adults revealing a piddling 2% creativity score in the participants. “What we have concluded is that non-creative behavior is learned,” Land later wrote.

Where did your creativity go?

Land concluded from his studies with children and from looking at how the brain works that there are two kinds of thinking that use different parts of the brain:

1. Divergent (imagination, generating new possibilities)—like the accelerator of a car
2. Convergent (making a judgement, decision, testing, criticizing and evaluating)—like the brake of a car

Land contends that as we educate children in our school systems, we teach them to do both kinds of thinking at the same time. Fast-forward to adulthood: “So when somebody asks you to come up with new ideas, as you come up with them, what we’ve mostly learned in school is to start looking at them immediately … ‘We’ve done that before,’ ‘That’s crazy,’ ‘It will cost too much.'” In his research, Land found that during this process, neurons are actually fighting each other and diminishing the power of the brain. He states the greatest obstacles to imaginative thinking are judgement, criticism and censoring.

Become a creative person … again

According to Land, it’s time to learn to become a more divergent thinker again. “You need to find the 5-year-old, and you can. That capability never goes away. That part of the brain that produces this wonderful imagination is something you exercise every day when you’re dreaming.”

Land offered brain scan images in the TEDxTucson talk, illustrating that when people are operating under fear, they’re using a smaller part of the brain, and when they’re using logic, there’s more brain activity recorded. “And when there’s creative thinking, the brain lights up … it’s just extraordinary what happens.”

In creative company

Land asked, “Are we going to be in a culture that depends on right answers that are repeatable … that are always predictable? Or are we going to have a culture where there are many possibilities to solve the new problems that we’ve never seen before?”

Companies such as Apple, Coca-Cola, Ford, Herman-Miller, IBM and Intuit have formally leveraged creatives and mainstreamed “design thinking” into their entire enterprise to foster innovation with measurable results.

Move your business forward by including the 2% of creative thinkers in your midst and nurture the remaining 98% for better business outcomes. Tuck away the safety of critical judgements and encourage your staff to let their mind run free while they come up with multiple ideas to business challenges. Afterwards, evaluate the ideas and start collaborating on the ones the team thinks are the best and continue exploring them.