Do We Get Less Creative As We Age?
In an earlier blog post, I included a quote from Voltaire. He once said, “Man can only have a certain number of teeth, hairs, and ideas. There comes a time when he necessarily loses his teeth, his hair, and his ideas.” This quote sparked a small debate between 2 blog readers.
Dr.YKK chimed in with, “I don’t agree with Voltaire on the ideas part. As Einstein says, ideas are unlimited. I would like to add, ‘at whatever age.’ We don’t lose ideas, we gain ideas and wisdom with age.”
Gareth Garvey responded with, “Maybe the number of ideas we can have is unlimited. Our problem can be that as we get older we can find it harder to accept new ideas and end up rejecting our own ideas before we have voiced them. We need to remind ourselves to think young, at least some of the time.”
This is an interesting debate. In some respects, both perspectives are correct.
I have found that there are two factors that inhibit our ability to think creatively as adults: 1) knowledge/expertise, and 2) the need to look good.
Expertise is the Enemy of Creativity
I often say that expertise is the enemy of creativity. The more we know, the harder it is to see things differently because we get locked into old ways of thinking. To quote Einstein once again, he said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
Unfortunately, society and our educational systems have put a premium on knowledge rather than imagination. Schools teach the regurgitation of facts rather than thinking and creativity.
Studies show that 98% of 5 year olds test as highly creative, yet only 2% of adults do. We don’t lose our creativity, but we learn habits which stop it from emerging.
Looking Good is the Enemy of Creativity
Although I read the studies about age and creativity, I had never truly experienced the difference between adult thinking and child-like thinking until a couple of years ago. I was speaking about creativity on a cruise ship to about 20 adult passengers with ages ranging from 40 to 90. I decided to start with some improv comedy routines to get the creative juices flowing.
Just as we were getting underway, a dozen 12 year olds walked in the room. We decided to have a competition: the adults versus the pre-teens.
The result was astonishing. With the adults, this creative endeavor seemed like work. They were stiff, unfunny, and they were clearly thinking way too much about their responses. With the kids, everything flowed. They were funny, flamboyant, and outrageous. They did not censor their thoughts. They had no concern about looking silly.
This last point is so important. As adults, although we have creative ideas rolling around in our heads, we self-censor. We don’t want to look silly. We don’t want to say something that might have us look bad in the eyes of our peers or boss. This need to “look good” stops us from playing.
Fortunately, there is no reason why adults can not recapture their creative juices – and prove Voltaire wrong. It just takes a shift in mindset and a bit of practice. And it requires us to relearn how to play like children.
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