10 Myths You May Believe About Creativity

By Shlomo  Maital


   I have been writing a book, with a co-author, on creativity.  The current chapter I am writing focuses on “research findings that ordinary people can use, in order to come up with more, and better, creative ideas”.  

   Here are 10 myths that many people believe about creativity, along with a few sources debunking them.

  1. Creativity is hereditary, in our genes.  David Shenk, The Genius In All of Us, shows overwhelming evidence this is not true.  The true formula is GxE, genes x environment, and our environment helps turn on or off genes; build a stimulating environment and then, turn your creativity genes loose. See also Ethan Watters, “DNA is not Destiny”, Discover Web Site, Nov 22 2006.
  2. When you lose your creativity, it is gone forever.    Neuroscientists have shown the brain possesses  “neuroplasticity”, the ability to change and improve its capabilities.  At the famous Arrowsmith School in Toronto, Barbara Arrowsmith teaches learning disabled kids to do strenuous mental activities that enhance their mental functioning.  There are creativity exercises that will immensely improve your creativity. (To be given in our book).   See Sharon Begley’s book, Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain.
  3. Creativity thrives best in open, free, chaotic unstructured environments.  Over 50 years of research on CPS, Creative Problem Solving,  provide structured processes for creativity. The need for an explicit structured process was known as early as 1942. See Isaksen and Treffinger, J. of Creative Behavior, 2004.  Many of the structured formulas or processes are very similar.
  4. Creativity is always thinking “out of the box”.  Often, it is the boxes that stimulate creativity – lack of money, lack of people, lack of time.  Tight constraints lead to creative thinking.  The point is, there are always boxes – reject the useless ones, keep the necessary or binding ones. 
  5. Creativity defines steeply with age.  I just turned 70. I feel I am more creative than ever, because I know more, know myself better, and am more stubborn in persisting to work on hard problems.  Older people are not less creative, they are simply warehoused and marginalized so that they have fewer opportunities to USE their creativity. 
  6. Creativity is about inspired “eureka” moments. “Eureka” is Greek, and is said to have been uttered by Archimedes, “I have found it!”.   We all have moments of inspired insight. But in general, they are generated by deep persistent focused thought about a problem, mostly by our unconscious, and emerge after days weeks or months of work on a problem.  Without that long incubation, there would be no ‘eureka’ moments. 
  7. Creativity is a team sport, not an individual one.  Actually, ideas are born in single brains. (True, sometimes, the same idea occurs to several individual brains at the same time).    They become innovations in teams.  Find ways to listen carefully to individual ideas, before they drown in the pressure and noise of teamwork.
  8. Creative ideas emerge from brainstorming.  “Experimental research indicates that people in face-to-face brainstorming meetings are less efficient at generating ideas than when working alone”.  Sutton & Hargadon, “Brainstorming Groups in Context”, Administrative Science Quarterly, 41 (1996).
  9. Creativity cannot be effectively managed.  False.  There are proven systems for ‘harvesting’ ideas and implementing them.  For example: Find creative people, give them very very difficult problems, leave them alone, return in a set defined period of time and harvest the solutions.  Often, they are amazing.
  10.   Creativity flourishes under pressure.  In Tom Wujec’s ‘marshmallow’ exercise, teams build structures out of string, tape, spaghetti sticks and a marshmallow that sits on top, in 18 minutes.  When he offered teams $10,000 in software as a first prize, not one single team succeeded in designing a standing structure!  An atmosphere of fun, laughter and trial-and-error experimenting is far more productive and conducive to creativity than an obsessive tyrannical goal-driven manager.