I’ve seen this topic battered around the last few days and it’s been a interesting topic, especially as someone that works in a creative industry. Newsweek posted an article to their website entitled The Creativity Crisis, where they analyze research that claims that creativity in America is declining. Whyfor, you may ask?
Pay No Attention to the Creative Behind the Curtain
A lot of things have been pointed to as the cause of this “crisis” that’s facing America, but I think there’s something more fundamental that is at the root of the problem. Having spent nearly 20 years in the media production world, I’ve seen too many instances where people prefer to be ignorant or simply choose to ignore the people that know what good creativity is. As a designer, the bane of my existence is the client that refuses to listen to the expert that they hired to be creative and push forward with stuff that is, well, not creative. The problem isn’t that there’s something that is dulling the potential of the coming generations. It’s more the people today prefer to promote things that are mediocre. There was a time where people wanted the very best. I’ve found in the creative worlds that I’ve been in that people don’t seem to care a lot of times that things are the best they can be. The Newsweek article states, “The accepted definition of creativity is production of something original and useful… There is never one right answer. To be creative requires divergent thinking (generating many unique ideas) and then convergent thinking (combining those ideas into the best result).” That’s a good definition of creativity, but it’s one of those things that’s easier said than done. In the world today, where there’s so much around us and greater access to everything (thanks Internet!), it’s harder and harder to come up with something “original” today. It’s true, there is never one right answer, but today you’re more prone to be combining a bunch of ideas that have already been created and try to create something “new” from the hodgepodge of stuff we see and experience every day
Television and Video Games? Really?
Gotta love that this is always the starting point. What does the mainstream media have against television and video games? I read the article on this topic by Audrey Watters over at ReadWriteWeb.com and my response is pretty much the same. I probably won’t dwell upon it too long cause it’s a sad, tired argument. Especially, as Audrey points out, the Newsweek article offers no proof that TV and video games are zapping the creativity out of the world. Yeah, anything in the world can eat up people’s time. TV and video games aren’t the cause.
Blame the Educators?
One other statement that was made in the Newsweek article was “Another is the lack of creativity development in our schools. In effect, it’s left to the luck of the draw who becomes creative: there’s no concerted effort to nurture the creativity of all children.” I actually think this is the opposite of what’s happening. When I was in school, back in the 1980s, we had very few things that we did in school. We had the basics: reading, writing, science, and math. We had some art and music classes, maybe some computer-based classes, but beyond that, there wasn’t much else when it came to school. Contrary to what the Newsweek article talks about, I look at schools today and I think what we’re getting is more of a creativity overload. I’m not sure what schools they were looking at, but today, kids in high schools have all these “extracurricular” classes that are taking up their days. My brothers and sister got absorbed into things like Chamber Choirs, A Cappella groups, and Ballroom Dancing. The basics of english, math and science seemed secondary. It seemed, at least around here, that the kids were being pushed to get into all these “creative” classes.
Then there’s the argument that education in the U.S. is all about “standardized curriculum, rote memorization, and nationalized testing.” While I won’t dispute that, you can’t blame all of that for creativity’s decline. I’m all for getting rid of the memorization and all that testing that doesn’t mean much. I know too many intelligent people that can’t take a test to save their life, but they can do whatever they need to in a specific field. Tests prove very little, beyond showing how well you take tests. The concept of “standardized curriculum” doesn’t have to be the same though. Teachers can take the curriculum and can teach it in a way that gets kids thinking. To say that “oh, we have to follow the curriculum” doesn’t mean that you have to keep things boring. My best professors in school are the ones that had the curriculum but made things more relevant and interesting to us as individuals than the one that just follow the stuff on a page. It’s the concept of teaching people, not the lesson.
So, You Think You’re Creative?
Of course, there is another possible answer. I’ve dealt with creatives for almost 20 year and observed college students that are in creative degrees the last three or four years. Contrary to what some people think, I don’t believe that creativity can be taught. You’re either a creative individual or you’re not. One of the things that never is talked about when you look at all these test that psychologists do are the people that weren’t creative. Just looking at all the college students that think they’re going to be artists, it’s almost a delusion. You could take one painting class and you talk to the teachers and student aides and there’s a pretty good consensus that 90% of the kids in these art classes shouldn’t be there. Why? They have a lack of creativity. And no matter how hard you try to teach things, you can teach the principles, but you can’t “teach” creativity. They use a rather flawed argument in the article, looking at playing basketball. A tall person can usually play basketball better than a shorter person. Both can learn to play the game well with practice. But there’s little creativity involved in playing sports.
It’s a sad generational thing. Kids today don’t need to be creative. They live in a world where they don’t want to have to do anything for themselves. From my own observations, a growing trend in the U.S. is that more and more people want something for nothing. They think that they’re owed something. Why be creative when you can try to get someone else to do everything for you? Most people today don’t have the drive to push the envelope and go places where a “normal” person would go. The successful creative people are the brave ones, venturing out into areas where they know that no one would be crazy enough to go, but they went there. Does it come down to fear? Who really knows. It definitely could be a factor as well.
The Newsweek article says that “creativity has always been prized in American society, but it’s never really been understood.” I have to agree. Especially after reading the article. All the psycho-babble in the world won’t ever understand creativity. It’s like all the talk about the iPhone 4 antenna and signal on your cell phone. Either you have it, or you don’t. I do like Audrey’s idea on what we can do to help though. Technology is one of the best ways to foster divergent and convergent thinking. I dare say, the newer generations love their tech. Just look at how much texting, tweeting and Facebooking is going on. We already know they like video games. Tech can help move the creativity forward. Like Audrey noted in her article, tech folks can pass the creativity on, cause they had the creativity to create the things that they have. We can help push the need for creativity to the forefront. We’re the ones that were crazy enough to venture into the unknown. You’d have to ask. If we don’t, who will?