The Creativity Crisis, or Where Have All the Grown Ups Gone?

Newsweek magazine has a great piece out right now on The Creativity Crisis.  It makes many excellent observations that go beyond the scope of this post, but one particular concept keeps hovering in my mind, and I wonder if anyone else ever thinks about this kind of thing: Is it possible we aren’t really growing up at the same rate we used to?  Could it be that even as technical adults we are parenting with an adolescent mentality that is smothering our kids’ capacity to develop their creativity?  Children model what we do, not what we say.

Getting older doesn't always mean getting wiser.

“The accepted definition of creativity is production of something original and useful, and that’s what’s reflected in the tests. 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).”

The article talks about how children today are scoring lower on creativity tests, and ponders if too much TV time is to blame.  Surely our lock-step consumer culture that feeds conformity and insecurity to children must play a role, but I think who’s spoon feeding that culture might, uncomfortably, be a bit closer to home.  A lot closer.

“Kim found creativity scores had been steadily rising, just like IQ scores, until 1990. Since then, creativity scores have consistently inched downward. ‘It’s very clear, and the decrease is very significant,’ Kim says. It is the scores of younger children in America—from kindergarten through sixth grade—for whom the decline is ‘most serious.'”

I am very frustrated by my own experience with a negative environment around divergent thinking in some of my adult peer groups.  These are not necessarily my friends, but sometimes they are.  And oddly I think I could also track the beginning of the end of comfortable disagreements between social friends and colleagues back to about 1990, the year the creativity tests started showing significant declines in our children’s abilities to think like innovators, inventers, and problem-solvers.

We used to be able to hash things out, have a drink and move on.  But there is an edge to many conversations now that feels a lot less open and trusting and confident.  I’ve come to identify what I call simply “The Look.”  It’s what I get every now and then when I express too many thoughts or ideas on a subject I thought was open for discussion, and apparently is not.  It could be mountaintop removal, or marriage, or art, or even whether or not this french toast is as good as it used to be.  The Look says you’ve crossed a line.  I am now suspicious of you.  You are saying things that open cans of worms and you really should stop now.  But it’s too late.

Things are never really the same after The Look.

I have an unprovable theory that since as a species we are living longer, we effectively have extended our developmental adolescence.  Growing up takes longer.  Taking on responsibility is delayed.  And in this murky man-child world, we are more insecure than generations before us about openly exploring divergent thinking well into our adult years.  As a group, we are more susceptible to bringing an adolescent mindset to disagreements, and therefore more easily pressured into squashing down the divergent thinking process as soon as it hits a peer pressure wall.  If this is true, it’s wreaking havoc on multiple up and coming generations in ways new and unpleasant, with consequences we have yet to discover fully.

Clearly, there are other dynamics at play.  International anxieties, the economy, the rise of the political far right, and the counter energies of the far left — all come together, then apart, then reconnect over and over again as they have around the world for centuries.  Except this time it’s us.  The good ole U.S. of A.  And it’s a really bad time to be inadvertently raising a generation of conformists who are afraid of the shadows of their own thoughts. 

Let’s have that drink and move on.  I’m buying.

2 out of 3 Can Be Bad

I especially like her head.

Today we break from our regularly scheduled seriousness to capture a slice of life at the Kroger store.

“I want you.  I need you.  But there ain’t now way I’m ever gonna love you.  Don’t be sad….2 out of 3 ain’t bad.”

Well, it can be bad.  Say, when the missing #3 is, oh, I don’t know……LOVE!  I actually heard this on the radio as I was parking my car to go grocery shopping this week, and I was reminded how even as a little kid I thought, hmmmm…. this guy doesn’t seem to get it.

This was, much like a Seinfeld episode, the perfect set up for what happened next.

While chatting up a friendly fellow who was willing to take the time to talk about his motorcycle with my two year old, I learned that he and I both had daughters who were more interested in vehicles than dolls.  His daughters are now grown, he said, but he still kept all of their old Barbies in the attic.

“Oh yeah, we have some classics.  Some classics.  We even have the Princess Grace Barbie from 1959.”

Really?  Wow.  I never even knew there was one.  That must be really valuable.

“Sure is.  Very rare.  Just wish I could find the head………”

There are just some things you’re gonna need to make it all work. 

Like love.  And Princess Grace’s head.  I’m just sayin’.

C’mon. Don’t Be a Hater.

Do you ever find yourself on the verge of a back and forth public comment exchange, and then decide to just drop it?  Well I did that yesterday. Except now I can’t drop it.

Stilletos are good.

I am amazed by the animosity people who claim to love West Virginia can muster for anyone who sees the world differently than they do.  There is a vibrant young woman who had her first op-ed in The Charleston Gazette Monday, and her topic was social media in politics.  Now here comes a fresh voice — a bit of an attitude, I’ll warrant, but that’s part of the freshness — and what kind of response does she get?  A very snarky put-down and dismissal as having nothing to offer.

Now, you can like it or not like it, but you have to be in some deep denial if you don’t understand that the first African-American to be elected leader of the free world did it with the brilliant use of social media.  That fact alone should wake you way, way up.

Flops are good, too.

Monday’s commentary, like it or not, has a great deal to offer.  It’s not about what you like, or what you wish were true.  It’s about what is, and from where the writer sits her job is to connect politicians with what is.

It’s also what was.  The writer was not comparing Carte Goodwin to JFK as a change agent.  She was saying that they both bask in the glow of a similar perception of savoir faire.  Yes, it’s shallow and goofy to think elected officials are “hot.”  As a friend of mine put it, “Whoa.  That’s a low bar, the U.S. Congress.”  I still crack up that JFK was considered yummy.  Maybe, maybe, next to a sweating Nixon.  But really?  Folks need to get out more.  The bar goes much lower when you limbo at the state level.  But I digress………….(and a little of my breakfast just came up).

The point is that public perception is a valid and important element of elected office, and social media is driving a great deal of public perception.  We can argue all day and all night about whether or not that ought to be true, but while we argue there are people who know how to take advantage of solid strategy who are getting elected, and re-elected, via their socially networked connections to a large proportion of their constituencies.

My hat’s off to this young lady.  True wisdom is not the hallmark of the young, but it’s not rare to have strong opinions and the courage to try to change the world, and to be crazy enough to think you can do it.  West Virginia is chock full of a bunch of old people.  How about we get clue and listen to the very few young people we have left who are still willing to participate in making a difference?

Wonderland: Be Imperfect

Be imperfect.  Take it on.  Stop waiting for the right.

Be imperfect.  Push closed the heavy door on when you should.  On if you should.  On why you shouldn’t.

Be imperfect.

Be imperfect and scratch words on your skin.  Say no.  Say yes.  Don’t say maybe.

Be the voice of the spirit loving the imperfect.

Little House on the Big Hill

Yesterday afternoon I experienced something I never thought I would.  It’s one of those things that you read about or see in movies and pretty much accept as someone’s romanticized interpretation of a far off and unlikely ideal.  And being perfectly honest, if you had asked me to pinpoint where it might happen if it ever could, I would not have said Charleston, West Virginia.

Word building in cursive at Charleston Montessori

My family was invited to attend an open house for a new school, Charleston Montessori.  I have some good friends who developed a vision of a diverse community school where they could actively participate with other adults in not only delivering but modeling an approach to life committed to natural self-direction, peace, and managing the environment for learning, not managing individuals themselves.  The Montessori Method is open to various interpretations and consequently lends itself to new schools and new communities of adults who want to do the very best by their children.

I am no expert in Montessori education, but I am an expert in honoring children.  I can identify in the beat of a butterfly’s wing if a person loves and honors children.  The adults who are coming together to build this new Creative Communities school on the West Side of Charleston do that, but there is something more.  This crowd is very interested in the school being part of an organic whole that is the community.  I pick it up in everything from the written communication, the transparent process of building the school, the willingness to let anyone engage, and sheer joy exuded while seeing this dream come to life.

There is an energy here that is magic.  My daughter walked right into the 3-6 year old classroom and went straight to “work” with the organized materials.  There was such lack of anxiety and stress from the teacher, just a patient fascination with my child and an eagerness to provide her the opportunity to learn in a natural way.  The confidence in her ability to direct herself was wonderful.

I’ve grown beyond weary with the complaints about education in West Virginia.  I know I am not alone when I say it may be wasted energy to try to “fix” our public schools.  Maybe someone can.  But the clock is ticking for my child, and like these parents who are building a new school I am not in a position to wait for the quarreling unions and politicians and school boards to put children first.  I’m with the philosophy of the new crowd that is saying enoughWe will do it ourselves, and we will do it for our children.

You’re welcome aboard, but don’t even think about trying to stop us.

The Wisdom of Other Places

I love the take on life lessons and philosophies expressed by cultures other than my own.  I always end up seeing things in a richer and often more entertaining way.

"The lion while hunting does not roar."

Case in point:  A fortune cookie last week asked me to remember that “the lion while hunting doesn’t roar.”  I have never lived around lions, so this was not part of my wisdom bank until Iopened that cookie.  It makes perfect, beautiful sense, and now I know how to express an old idea in a new way.  Another favorite that was posted on my refrigerator for months was this saying from Bulgaria: “It is permissable to walk with the devil until you have crossed over the bridge.”  Well said.

From words we simply don’t have in English (deja vu) to metaphors North American culture can’t concoct, there are many wonderful ways to express life and its stories.  We are lucky to have access to global experiences when it comes to trying to figure it all out.

Update on WV Childhood essay project

Last night I received the most amazing proposal for an essay — what it was like growing up thinking certain things that are very real were actually urban legends, and what it was like to negotiate growing up with that confusion.  I am inspired by the creativity and courage people have!

For anyone still wishing to joining the Essays on a West Virginia Childhood project, here is our timeline (flexible):

September 1, 2010 or sooner — share with me your proposed essay title and basic subject matter, as well as your estimated number of pages.

September 30, 2010 — share a draft of your essay (or final if you do not request any feedback).

October 15 — I’ll have feedback to anyone who requests it.

November 1 — We will make our work public.

Some ideas to consider are:

  • How was your childhood different from what you see in WV today?
  • Who were some incredible characters from your growing up?
  • How did you spend your free time as a child?
  • What role did your family members play in your life?
  • What kinds of friends did you have? Any special animals or pets?
  • What was your school experience?
  • Was there an especially difficult event or dynamic in your childhood you want to explore in writing?
  • Do you have what you might consider a uniquely WV element to your childhood, such as growing up in a coal community?
  • What about social divides — were you a have in a world of have nots, or vice versa? How did that shape who you are today?
  • How did you feel about WV growing up, and why do you think you felt that way?
  • Were there any special areas of the state you visited as a child that made a lasting impression on you?
  • What were your dreams or assumptions about the future when you were very young? Did those turn out to be on target, or different from life now?
  • What observations do you have about the children in your life now, and what they are experiencing?