“Everyone is creative!” people will tell you.
Sounds nice, but it’s really not true. As with most traits, there is a normal distribution of creativity across the population – a bell curve.
Some people are very creative, some folks are not creative in the slightest, while most people are somewhere in the middle.
Your kid is, in all probability, one of the 'average' ones.
True, we are most creative when we’re young, but kids are still forming. Most people’s creativity will rapidly decline as they mature. For most, that’s fine – they get to avoid the drawbacks and generally live a more stable life. Creative people are the experimenters on the edge of what we know. By definition, they avoid traditional roles and stable routines. They find predictability boring.
Recapturing child-like creativity as an adult is an essay for another day.
The way psychologists measure creativity is a trait called “openness.” People who are very “open to experience” are interested in ideas and aesthetics.
That’s a good thing, right?
There are actually huge drawbacks to being open. In short, extremely open people have a hard time forming a stable identity. They get bored easily: of chores, jobs, relationships.
We all know the artsy folks who could never hold down a paying job.
Stable people are the ones who can stick with something, even if it’s not “interesting.” Stability is correlated with a personality measure called “conscientiousness,” and people who are very conscientious are less creative, what we might call a more “conservative” person. It’s possible to be both, but very rare.
Here's how to make the most of creativity, without sliding toward instability.
Encourage the opposite of what they’re good at
The most creative kids just are creative. They like to explore everything. More conscientious kids – well, they prefer things to be a certain way.
If you happen to have a very creative child, encourage her to develop more structure. Show her the value of sticking to something until she sees it through. Combined with her natural curiosity, this will make her much more powerful in life.
If she tends to jump from hobby to hobby, for example, try gently encouraging her to stick to something until she gets good at it. See if you can gently encourage her, in whatever way works, to develop a more well-rounded approach to pursuits.
If you have a naturally conscientious kid, encourage him to explore. He’s likely already good at sticking to one thing – that’s good. Combine that with just a little divergent thinking – like finding new ways to play with familiar toys, or starting an open-ended project – and you get outsized results.
It doesn’t have to be complicated. You might see if you can get him to read a little more. Get down on the floor with him and play LEGO. Once he's finished assembling the model from the book, ask what else you can build. Make a space colony out of pirate ship parts. Write a chain story where each of you must respond to the other's plot twists.
Neither kind of kid should be punished for their personality. We all have natural tendencies, but if you tend toward one extreme, your best investment is small movements toward its opposite.
The good reason some people aren’t creative
The reason there is a distribution of this trait is probably that there is a time and place for both traits. Both also have drawbacks.
In other words, the world needs both creative and conscientious people. Creative people start companies – conscientious people run them.
To highly creative people, management and operation roles will seem dull, boring, and conformist. To conscientious types (who are typically better managers), highly creative employees might seem eccentric, “out there,” and unreliable.
The solution is not to over-glorify creativity, as we have done in mainstream culture. Yes, highly creative people are the ones who discover new things at the edges of what we know – but what “they” don’t tell you is that most creative ideas fail most of the time. We overestimate how easy it is to be a true creative success (we only see the shining exceptions).
On the other hand, non-creative people get a bad rap. It’s a gift to be a steady person who will reliably show up and do the incremental, unexciting tasks. We don’t give them enough credit. Most people are not wildly creative, and they live happy, fulfilled lives anyway.
Not only do both of these types serve an indispensable purpose (entrepreneurs vs. management), but they also need to interact with one another and balance each other out.
Don’t let your kid get into a bubble of only people with their tendency. Make sure your kid gets plenty of exposure to both creative and conscientious people.
You don’t need to force your kid to be “more creative.” We just need to help kids balance what they’re naturally good at with a little expertise from the other side.
Wherever your kid falls on the creativity bell curve, help them cultivate balance. Openness to new experience must be balanced with perseverance. Strong preferences for order must be balanced with tolerance for change and spontaneity. Imagine your child along the bell curve, then seek out ways to encourage their development.
Thanks for reading,
Taylor + rebelEducator team
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The Military-Industrial History of American Public Education
I'd be curious to actually discuss this post with you. I'm a conservative politically but have spent the last 25 years creating things on behalf of some of the most creative companies in the world (adidas, Coca-Cola, Sony, etc.). My wife is highly conscientious and is geared toward getting things done (we make great partners for this reason) but she swings far more to the left with her politics. Go figure.
This is how I see it:
1) There's a huge problem in our education system today. It doesn't teach our children the skills needed to survive (& thrive) in a future that is being revolutionised by technology (AI, metaverse, web 3.0, unreal digital realities, social media etc.)
2) To survive and thrive in the age of technology, we need MORE creativity. This will set us apart from machines & algorithms - your human, innate creativity. Your story, your reason for being. Unlikely to be replaced by a machine (for now).
3) Because of that, we need to instill a stronger sense of creativity, which, in my opinion, is the most powerful force in the universe.
4) So as a parent, I believe there should be a strong instillment of creativity within my kids - because maybe (just maybe), technology will eventually replace all the operational, managerial, conscientious type of work. As the name suggests, it's the basic and predictable type of tasks that can be done by AI.
5) Hence, creativity could likely be the scarce resource, the new oil, the currency of the future? And the demand for authenticity would increase in time to come?
I agree that we should be balanced when it comes to being creative and conscientious, but I believe the future is gonna require more creativity than conscientiousness.... and as parents and educators, we should help our children understand this reality and give them the skills needed to thrive in that environment....
Just my thoughts :)