Even if a person has a clear and uncluttered mind and has a well developed imagination, there are still obstacles ahead his or hers creativity. The most significant is
Fear of the
We all have certain fears of unknown things built into our minds. It is normal. But it can also inhibit creative process severely. There are three basic factors that shape this fear:
- Educational (again)
The fear of the
All that and much more is what we call experience and contributes to the fact that we grow out of creativity, not into it. Because in the core of every creative process there is trying something novel, something that hasn't been tried before. Many times there is no prior experience on which we could predict the outcome of our decision. The most creative people go trough periods of an extreme self-doubt and anxiety simply because they cannot know if their work will actually work and be of any value at all. Only the strongest can overcome this fear and actually win a battle against themselves. If a company or a workshop is to increase creativity among its members, the first priority would be to reduce the factors that contribute to this fear. We'll examine that in a second.
Again I have to spill some ink on the account of our education system which does almost everything it can to scare us even more! Trying out new ideas will by implication mean making a lot of mistakes. Our brain is simply not powerful enough to simulate every aspect of the idea (there are far to many arbitrary factors) so a high level of tolerance is required in order to actualize that small percentage of worthy ideas. But that tolerance is exactly what school lacks. Not just that; mistakes are stigmatized and regarded as something profoundly stupid and worthy of punishment. This is a remain of a pre-inustrial 19th century zeitgeist.
"I am not tying to say that being wrong is the same thing as being creative. What we do know is that if you are not prepared to be wrong, you'll never come up with anything original." (Ken Robinson, source at 5:35)
The fear of being wrong is induced by the system of testing, grading and ridicule of peers and teachers. By the time an average kid reaches the third grade (about 9-10 years old) the fear of being wrong is installed into his brain. As a result kids are under a lot of stress which was already noted in the second part of this series. Research and experience shows that children are extremely enthusiastic when they enter school but within 3-4 years almost all develop strong negative feelings towards going to school every morning. The thought of listening to dull lessons (again see part 2), writing a test or answering an oral exam is stressful enough to give cramps to most kids. Preschool kids are by their nature very curious; they want to know everything! Where does all that curiosity go once they reach school?!
Beside stress, an other side effect of this process is that most students don't focus on gaining knowledge anymore. They focus on staying alive, i.e. passing the next test. There is a huge difference between learning something out of curiosity or just stuffing your brain with data (or a skill) that will be used/needed that day and then quickly forgotten. A lot of what we call 'education' is just an exercise for middle-term memory.
Small minded teachers play a big role in inhibiting creativity and overlooking the talents which kids might have. It is far easier to call a kid weird or just say "Do as others do," than to actually put some effort into it and trying to understand the child. More about that in the last part of this series.
Plus there is a ridicule of the class. IMHO it is far better to organize learning into smaller groups where students bond on a more personal level. The amount of ridicule in smaller groups is negligible comparing to big classes. I am sure you can recall from your own experience that it is far easier to speak out in a group of 8 than 80. "What will people think," which is a strong blockade against new ideas is not that much present anymore. "What will people think" is just a 'social' version of "What if I am wrong." As we have seen from evolutionary and educational examples, being wrong means trouble!
Now the social part (the one which is not embeded into education) is quite complex, but I believe it can again be divided into two basic categories;
- problems with responsibility
- problems with virtues
The problems of responsibility are something that I wasn't aware of until I heard lectures by Aleksander Zadel (psychologist). In a nutshell: being responsible starts by giving people the right feedback on their actions. Your feedback will determine their future motivation and attitude towards life. Especially if you are a parent (or a teacher). If this is too abstract, let me give you his example.
This is a completely normal room for a teenager (by Adam NFK Smith):
But of course, most parents are not happy with that, so they order kid to clean up. The kid does his best, but when parents return to evaluate the work they usually say something like "But you forgot the socks under the bed..." They focus on the negative aspects. We all do in such situations, don't we! It is a wrong thing! Because the next thought the kid will have is "Whatever I do, nothing is good enough - there is no point in doing it, if I am always wrong/bad." This lack of encouragement can in most cases lead to passivity. In broader terms; such parents are raising a professional victim, someone who doesn't take fate into ones own hands and doesn't take any risks. I will repeat once more; taking risks is central to the idea of creativity.
When the idea that "nothing is good enough" is enforced trough parenting, education and other social mechanisms, the sick version of perfectionism might develop. Perfectionism has two sides and I suspect they can be divided in the terms of time (I am sure they exist, but not sure about classification... I'll be glad to discuss it within the comments). Being perfectionist in the terms of your expectations (i.e. future) is IMHO a positive thing. You want to do your best, so you study hard to complete the project the best you possibly can, or you practice piano for many extra hours before a concert, or you go on a trip and you make sure nothing slips you mind; tickets, insurance, medications, an extra pair of underwear...That is a good thing!
But what about being a perfectionist in the terms of your past? I believe that is pathological. Being pedantic about things that are already done or things you can do nothing about and giving yourself a hard time about it is just bad. People have perfectionist expectations about weather. After 30 days of sun and 1 day of rain many of them will be depressed and will go on nagging about it. Sometimes you meet a person which is having really bad time because of a headache. And that headache is the first after months of a healthy life. Is it that hard to accept the fact that everything in nature has a rhythm and it can't always be as one expects? Just embrace the flaws and imperfections? These people have such high expectations that they can't live a happy life. And they fear experimenting (=being creative) because they think it is a battle that is already lost. So what if it rains! So what if you happen to have a bad day! Isn't it natural? So what if the majority of the ideas turns out to be crap?! It is so much easier to live if one accepts the concept of the imperfect world.
The second problem is about our virtues. It is about how we value and reward creativity and good ideas. In western countries this might not be such a big deal, but in post-communist countries such as Slovenia, ex-Soviet countries, Czech Republic, Slovakia (etc) this is very problematic. A tourist who wonders this countries might not even notice that; people are nice, roads are well made (mostly), people have computers, internet, companies are doing great (mostly)... Everything appears the same as in Germany or France. But that is just the surface.
To explain, I will use another metaphor which I will borrow from a professor of social science whom I was listening on college. Suppose you turn on your TV and there is an athletic event on; 10 km run and you begin watching in the middle of the race. You have no idea what was happening before and the camera shows the leading runner. Beside him there is an other one which appears to run beside him. What you don't know is, that the leader was so fast that he caught up with the last runner who is actually one lap behind.
One lap behind! That is what post-communist countries are. At first glance they appear to run side by side with the leaders, but actually they lack one phase of development. Most developed countries went from feudal to industrial phase somewhere in 19th century. Then they had a century and a half of development to reach today's point. Most of the 'our' countries skipped that and went directly from feudal to social-communist regime, which is mildly put, just another version of feudal system. What I mean to say is; it has similar propaganda. Similar virtues are promoted and valued. One such is physical labor. There is no need to think too much, physical work is what defines a man. Artists are just lazy assholes who avoid work and live on others' expense. Just see this. Decades of this kind of brainwashing will leave a mark in nation's mentality. Even today it is hard to persuade people that creative work is stil 'work' and that artists, writers, musicians, photographers (...) deserve to be payed just as well. And not just artists; creative ideas in other fields of work are undervalued as well. Being creative is simply not recognized as a virtue. Developed societies, which are at least one lap ahead of us, already went trough this and other stages of moral evolution. They know creative thinking is a torch that enlightens a way towards a better future. Artists and scientists are people of avantgarde who will use their minds to find better ways for others' hands to work. In Germany it is (more or less) perfectly clear that Andreas Gursky's photo is worth a million euros, while in Slovenia people will tend to say: "But he did it in only two hours1. How can he earn so much in two hours?" Or when somebody finds a more effective way of doing something and uses the extra time to read books or go on trips, that individual risks of being labeled as lazy. I could go on with this, but I believe you see my point. There are simply no social incentives to be creative if creativity is not regarded as a virtue.
In this part we talked a lot about ideas and why we don't have more of them. Even though ideas are important for creativity, they are not creativity per se. Why is that so is the subject of the last part of this series.
1 That is actually not true at all. Gursky spends quite a lot of time working.