Thursday, July 15, 2010

Newsweek: America's creativity crisis

An excerpt of a recent Newsweek article titled "The Creativity Crisis":
Back in 1958, Ted Schwarzrock was an 8-year-old third grader when he became one of the “Torrance kids,” a group of nearly 400 Minneapolis children who completed a series of creativity tasks newly designed by professor E. Paul Torrance. Schwarzrock still vividly remembers the moment when a psychologist handed him a fire truck and asked, “How could you improve this toy to make it better and more fun to play with?” He recalls the psychologist being excited by his answers. In fact, the psychologist’s session notes indicate Schwarzrock rattled off 25 improvements, such as adding a removable ladder and springs to the wheels. That wasn’t the only time he impressed the scholars, who judged Schwarzrock to have “unusual visual perspective” and “an ability to synthesize diverse elements into meaningful products.”

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).

In the 50 years since Schwarzrock and the others took their tests, scholars—first led by Torrance, now his colleague, Garnet Millar—have been tracking the children, recording every patent earned, every business founded, every research paper published, and every grant awarded. They tallied the books, dances, radio shows, art exhibitions, software programs, advertising campaigns, hardware innovations, music compositions, public policies (written or implemented), leadership positions, invited lectures, and buildings designed.

Nobody would argue that Torrance’s tasks, which have become the gold standard in creativity assessment, measure creativity perfectly. What’s shocking is how incredibly well Torrance’s creativity index predicted those kids’ creative accomplishments as adults. Those who came up with more good ideas on Torrance’s tasks grew up to be entrepreneurs, inventors, college presidents, authors, doctors, diplomats, and software developers. Jonathan Plucker of Indiana University recently reanalyzed Torrance’s data. The correlation to lifetime creative accomplishment was more than three times stronger for childhood creativity than childhood IQ.

Like intelligence tests, Torrance’s test—a 90-minute series of discrete tasks, administered by a psychologist—has been taken by millions worldwide in 50 languages. Yet there is one crucial difference between IQ and CQ scores. With intelligence, there is a phenomenon called the Flynn effect—each generation, scores go up about 10 points. Enriched environments are making kids smarter. With creativity, a reverse trend has just been identified and is being reported for the first time here: American creativity scores are falling.
Read the full article


  1. I just heard an interview with an author (can't remember who) in which he argued that the digital age we're living in - with information and emails and calls and news coming at us incessantly - doesn't give us the space, or literally the time, to day dream, to think deeply, or really to have time or the capacity to be creative in the way we might without so much information overload. It makes sense to me; it's hard to even finish a thought sometimes with even the thought of so much flooding in.

  2. More than information overload, I think we need to consider the impact of modern education. We are not presently educating for creativity; we are educating for the ability to follow directions, complete concrete tasks, and recite information. California's state standards talk a great deal about students writing narratives, engaging in inquiry projects, interacting with materials and information first hand and drawing novel conclusions. We have state standards for art and physical education, too, that should ensure students are receiving well-rounded experiences that enable creativity.

    We don't test for these, though. We test through identification tasks. Presently "direct instruction" - teacher led schooling where students responses are constrained - is considered gold-standard education.

    Nor do we provide arts and physical education. We do not adequately fund either (nor train classroom teachers to provide them when specialists are not affordable). Even recess - a key time for imaginative play - has been cut at many schools. Some kindergarten students do not receive much in the way of free play at all, and I think this has a huge impact on children's social and emotional development (including creativity).

  3. Co-author Po Bronson's kids attend Adda Clevenger.

  4. As well they should, it sounds like.

  5. Regarding Adda Cleavanger --
    What I thought was interesting about the article was that 'creativity' was specifically NOT limited to the arts and in fact was emphasized as being creative, strategic thinkers for math, science, business, policy, etc.

    Of course, as one who really supports my own kids in the arts, I think there is a connection between the two.