The Creativity Crisis

Children have become less creative over the past 20 years according to Hee Kyung Kim (2011).  The study included of over 40 years of data from the Torrence Tests of Creativity, it showed that all but one aspect of creativity are decreasing, including fluency, originality, elaboration, and abstractness.  Only resistence to premature closure of creativity is stable. Children’s strengths are also decreasing over the past 20 years:

children have become less emotionally expressive, less energetic, less talkative and verbally expressive, less humorous, less imaginative, less unconventional, less lively and passionate, less perceptive, less apt to connect seemingly irrelevant things, less synthesizing, and less likely to see things from a different angle. (Kim, 2011, p. 292)

With the decrease in elaboration scores, over the past 30 years

1) people of all ages, kindergartners through adults, have been steadily losing their ability to elaborate upon ideas and detailed and reflective thinking; 2) people are less motivated to be creative; and 3) creativity is less encouraged by home, school, and society overall.

I have been wondering for a while whether our “bubble-wrapped” approach to raising children has resulted in this decline in creativity. If a child is constantly supervised and/or corrected there is no time for free play, or for creativity that is not completely controlled by an adult.

Over the past few years I have noticed this decline in creativity amongst my students. I attributed it to a personal bias – maybe my expectations were too high. I have most consistently noticed this in my entrepreneurship class, where the ideas for businesses were somewhat uninspiring.

This matters in leadership.  Why? To develop strategy, one needs an imagination, to innovate one needs creativity. In order to cultivate creativity, one needs to be able to evaluate creativity.  If we aren’t creative ourselves, then we can’t assess creativity in others. This decline in creativity will have a negative effect on competitiveness and on our society’s affluence.

The question is how do we foster creativity in our culture, when we are training our children to avoid ambiguity, and to look to adults for acceptance? Any tips you can give me would be gratefully received.


UPDATE: May 6, 2014.  Article from the Washington Post Blog – Businesses being destroyed faster than they are being created.  In 1978, just over 14% of all firms were less than one year old, but by 2014, only 8% of firms were less than a year old. Even worse, In 2011, 10% of firms were dissolving, more than were being created. Is this one of the results of the creativity crisis?  Maybe?  Or have we just taught the millennial generation to be too risk averse?  Only time will tell.

Kim, K. H. (2011). The Creativity Crisis: The Decrease in Creative Thinking Scores on the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking. Creativity Research Journal, 23(4), 285–295. doi:10.1080/10400419.2011.627805


Categories: Creativity, Leadership

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4 replies »

  1. “children have become less emotionally expressive, less energetic, less talkative and verbally expressive, less humorous, less imaginative, less unconventional, less lively and passionate, less perceptive, less apt to connect seemingly irrelevant things, less synthesizing, and less likely to see things from a different angle”. These are all the traits that would have made the 40’s and 50’s child the perfect child. Even part of the 60’s would have found these desirable traits in a “Good” child.

    Those that didn’t fit this mold were considered the trouble makers, difficult children, disrespectful, uncooperative, even (G)odless. Actually, if you read reports of children in the days of Ceaser you’ll find the same comments about kids as gets spewed out today and throughout history.
    In society, the act of creativity is an act of rebellion. You have to walk to the beat of a different drummer. When you take that walk you will be met with resistance, you will be ostracized, you can even be institutionalized. We’ll skip the churches reaction to creativity. You are simply rebellious because you don’t toe the line.

    Case in point: After 17 years climbing the ladder in an IT department our “Leaders” decided to give us a personality quiz, one based on our preferences, that would show where in the organization we best belonged. The results would show your strength based on three areas (data gathering/research, doing/worker bee, creativity/new ideas). The results were reasonably accurate as the majority of the IT department was where they enjoyed their work. The one exception, of course, was myself. I ran a 97% creative attitude, 2% doing attitude and a 1% data gatherer. The typical IT professional was rated at 10% creativity, with doing & data gathering averaging out the remaining 90%. Certainly an anomaly. Within a year & a half I was released from the company because I wasn’t fitting in. Only took them 18 1/2 years to figure that out.

    Are our children less creative now? I would have to say that they are even more creative than any generation before them. Why are we unable to see it? Why are we coming up with study results like above? I believe that it is simply because the ones doing the studies are no longer able to be creative themselves in a world that has changed from when they were the creative geniuses. Today’s children are creative in their own way building on what was previously created. They have already accepted what was, what is and are taking a path to what will be according to their own creative minds and their generation is different than the previous one. No surprises there. It is how humans do it.

    , we have leaders who must protect their butts from the creative geniuses, who are climbing the ladder of success, for fear that they lose their job, status and prestige. And, we have those who must look at current youth in a fashion that misinterprets, misunderstands and maligns them in order to keep the researchers’ sense of creative genius firmly entrenched in their own minds.

    Our youth haven’t lost creativity, they have only changed the parameters. Fear of that change is what produces faulty reports, tension between the generations and fodder for endless debates on the state of the human creature. Didn’t you want to do it YOUR way …….once?

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