Is creativity inherited or learnt?

Nuria Ruiperez | November 24, 2016

I am fortunate to have some pretty successful musicians in my family, and I feel very fortunate (when they are in Melbourne) to be able to sit back, with a glass of lightly sparkling mineral water and listen to them belt out their original tunes. How lucky I am to have such a creative family! So what happened to me? Well, put me and a guitar in the same room and you will see it collect dust, but put me in front of a room full of engineers and you will soon see them step out of their comfort zone, sticking post-it notes all over the walls and coming up with brilliant, creative ideas. My air guitar may be advanced, but I am no musician – I can however evoke creative responses from audiences during my Design Thinking workshops.

If the creative genes fit

So what is the nature of creativity? Is it born or trained? Are we all successful artists waiting to be discovered?

I thought I would share some fascinating research from 1968 Breaking Point and Beyond by George Land and Beth Jarman.

To set the scene: back in the 1960s NASA designed a “creative test” to measure divergent thinking when recruiting engineers and scientists. NASA found that it was easy to find individuals with the right technical competency, but when looking for those with creative skills, it was more difficult. So, any new hires were required to complete this test, which helped to determine their divergent thinking competency. The thinking behind this was so NASA could find engineers and scientist who could also problem solve from a “beginners mindset”, those who could challenge the experts and above all obsess about ideas and the possibilities instead of just the technical solutions. This test was so successful, it is still applied today during NASA’s recruitment process.

Now back to George Land and Beth Jarman. They used the NASA creative test in their study to try to answer the question of whether creativity is “inherited” and/or “learnt”. They undertook the study on 1,600 children, testing them firstly at ages 3-5, then the same children at 8-10 and finally at 13-15 years of age. The results showed that the children tested at 3 to 5 years average score was 98% at the test genius level. When tested at ages 8 to 10 the average score was 32% at the genius level. When tested for the final time at 13 to 15 years old the average score was 10% at the genius level. This same test was also given to over 2,000,000 adults over the age of 25, with an average age of 31. Can you guess the score? 2%!

George and Beth’s research showed that there is evidence to prove that we are born creative and that it is an inherit skill set. Their results also showed that this skill is unlearnt as time passes. Yes unlearnt!

Is unlearning learning?

What I find exciting about the research is that creativity is unlearnt, which means that it can be recaptured and learnt again; we can remember and recall memories of how we did it as children. This is what I do in my workshops.

I recently attended the Melbourne TedX conference where the same theme of “value through creatively” was being discussed. With artificial intelligence, robotics and technology taking center stage, there was an agreed consensus that our human skills, those we are born with, cannot be replicated. These need to be nurtured now and for our future generations.

Imagine if we could bring a creative mindset and competency to our clients, alongside our technical capability, we would surely continue to expand and grow into new areas with gusto!

2017-03-13T22:33:10+00:00 November 24th, 2016|Curious|

About the Author:

Nuria Ruiperez
As the global innovation, design thinking and client experience director for digital enterprise, Nuria's focus is on innovation and technology, and designing a customer-centric culture that adds value to our clients. Nuria manages the innovation pipeline using a portfolio approach and helps to turn ideas into prototypes. She also facilitates design thinking workshops with clients and the internal team, to design real-world solutions that meet clients' needs.

One Comment

  1. Haresh January 11, 2017 at 9:48 am - Reply

    Interesting read. If as a child you unlearn your creativity everyday, whom to blame? Education system? It is thought provoking.

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