Fostering Your Creativity

At a conference this week, I attended a fabulous talk on creativity by Kelsey Ruger. He argues that everything we think about creativity is wrong. It isn’t a gift—it’s a habit. And all too often, it’s a habit we try to break in our kids.

Here’s a cute video illustrating his point:

The little boy’s comment at the end shows even at this early age, he’s learned there’s a time for play and a time for business. But when that divide becomes too great, we crush our ability to innovate.

According to Ruger, our habits are a way of filtering sensory information, to prevent overload. Creative types filter information differently. One of the most frustrating questions authors receive is “Where do you get your ideas?” The fact is, everyone gets ideas—novelists aren’t unique in that way. But stories don’t come from ideas. They come from nurturing ideas.

If fiction writers waited for great ideas to strike like lightning bolts, we’d never  publish anything. Instead, we take a kernel of an idea and ask “what if?” questions until it grows into something amazing. We don’t listen to that adult voice telling us our idea is flimsy and trite. We listen to the childlike voice saying, “Oh boy, I can’t wait to see how this turns out!”

But art isn’t the only arena where we need creativity. Businesses need to innovate now more than ever. It’s a global economy. They’re competing against the best in the world.

So how can you channel your child’s natural imagination into a creative habit? This TED talk on The Marshmallow Challenge explains how a kindergartener’s approach to problem-solving is better than a business school graduate’s. Children aren’t afraid to try, fail, and try again. Like fiction writers, they understand the importance of revision.

As kids progress through school, they learn they’re expected to do things “right.” When it comes to creativity, there is no right or wrong. Just different ways of trying—some better than others. An educational environment that doesn’t allow for trial and error may teach children book smarts. But how valuable are book smarts in a world of Google and Wikipedia? We’ve all got instant access to facts. That kind of knowledge is no longer a differentiator.

Ruger offers several tips for cultivating a creative habit, including:

  • Tell stories
  • Get used to breaking things
  • Embrace periods of play
  • Balance exploration with execution

What do you do to keep your creativity alive? How do you encourage it in your children?

About AndreaJWenger

Andrea J. Wenger is an award-winning writer and editor in Raleigh, North Carolina. She specializes in the fields of creative, technical, and freelance writing.

Posted on May 22, 2014, in Blog Posts. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Very interesting links, Andrea. I love this statement, “But how valuable are book smarts in a world of Google and Wikipedia? We’ve all got instant access to facts.” So true!

  2. “Children aren’t afraid to try, fail, and try again.” And that’s exactly what we have to do as writers. Thanks for this inspiring morning wake-up post!

  3. Janna Qualman

    Brilliant. Thanks for the insights! I need to take some of them to heart…

  4. Encouragement…it’s so important for parents to encourage their children to try different things, to support them when they fail, and to always be in the background cheering them on!

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