Falling Creativity

I’ve argued “school functions in part to help folks accept workplace domination,” said modern workplaces don’t reward creativity, and cited evidence that schools discourage creativity:

Creativity and mental flexibility are directly penalized in terms of school grades, holding constant test scores, Citizenship, and Drive to Achieve.

So I’m not surprised to learn creativity has been falling for decades:

In the 50 years since Schwarzrock and the others took their tests, scholars … have been tracking the children. … After analyzing almost 300,000 Torrance scores of children and adults. Kim found creativity scores had been steadily rising, just like IQ scores, until 1990. Since then, creativity scores have consistently inched downward.

HT to Alex, who is skeptical:  “I am not at all convinced that creativity is on the decline.” Me, I’m surprised the decline didn’t start earlier.  More tidbits on creativity:

A recent IBM poll of 1,500 CEOs identified creativity as the No. 1 “leadership competency” of the future. … The age-old belief that the arts have a special claim to creativity is unfounded. When scholars gave creativity tasks to both engineering majors and music majors, their scores laid down on an identical spectrum. … Preschool children, on average, ask their parents about 100 questions a day. Why, why, why—sometimes parents just wish it’d stop. Tragically, it does stop. By middle school they’ve pretty much stopped asking. It’s no coincidence that this same time is when student motivation and engagement plummet. … When creative children have a supportive teacher—someone tolerant of unconventional answers, occasional disruptions, or detours of curiosity—they tend to excel. When they don’t, they tend to underperform and drop out of high school or don’t finish college at high rates.

CEOs may give it lip service to creativity, but their actions speak much louder than their words. Most (not all) workplaces punish creativity, and while that situation remains most schools will drill it out of kids as well.

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  • Brandon Reinhart

    Creativity seems to have a lot in common with the “rationality quotient” and reflective mind concept that Keith Stanovich describes in his new book “What Intelligence Tests Miss.” Perhaps if schools were geared to test for and value reflective thinking and rational problem solving in the same way that they are geared to test for and value algorithmic thinking there would be a shift in this trend.

    • Drewfus

      If intelligence tests miss something that isn’t strictly speaking, intelligence, are they really missing something, or do they just not have the preferred emphasis of the speaker?

      Does anyone ever talk about “What Creativity Tests Miss”?

  • Chris T

    Although I have my doubts about the study in particular and attempts to measure and define ‘creativity’. I do think there are some areas that many schools tend to be ridiculously narrow on.

    Take high school English and the abomination known as the five paragraph essay. While it’s useful early on for kids who need it; forcing kids who have become proficient in writing to use is it ridiculous. It’s wholly unnatural, a poor way to communicate, not used in the real world, and completely stifles good writing and creativity.

    • Chris T

      What I wouldn’t give to edit comments.

      to use is it ridiculous
      should be:
      to use it is ridiculous

  • Abelard Lindsey

    You’re late to the party, Robin. This was discussed considerably on Steve Sailor’s blog about a week ago.


  • Bill

    Who, in their right mind, relies on or believes in large organizations promoting, encouraging or supporting creativity.

    Too disruptive.

  • gwern

    > Me, I’m surprised the decline didn’t start earlier

    Hm, doesn’t the Torrance dataseries only start back in 1958? Creativity could easily have begun falling long before that; you can’t notice what you aren’t measuring.

    • gwern

      Er, disregard. Just re-read the article:

      > Kyung Hee Kim at the College of William & Mary discovered this in May, after analyzing almost 300,000 Torrance scores of children and adults. Kim found creativity scores had been steadily rising, just like IQ scores, until 1990. Since then, creativity scores have consistently inched downward.

      That is odd. I can’t think what might’ve happened in the late 80s/early 90s except computers & video games. (Even racial explanations should’ve had an impact well before.)

  • Eric Falkenstein

    Reminds me of all those billboards in socialist countries exhorting productivity. They clearly wanted it to happen at a high level. But, they also didn’t like any of the changes at the lower level consistent with greater productivity. So, they never got any.

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  • Billy Hoyle

    Alex at MR isn’t convinced. I didn’t see where Tyler comments on it.

  • I am pretty skeptical about the idea of a simple definition and measurement of creativity, even more than measurement of IQ. I think the IQ people have piled up enough evidence that I’ve largely overcome my skepticism: they seem to have found a reasonable simplification which is real and useful and persistent. But the creativity people haven’t piled up nearly as much evidence, and it’s not clear ro me that there can be any single creativity measure which is real and useful and persistent. Even if they do pile up such evidence to support the idea that their “creativity” test measures something which is real and useful and persistent, I will strongly suspect that it’s not actually creativity, but some simpler intelligence-related property, e.g., size of short term working memory, or predisposition to memorize generalizations vs. memorizing facts.

    A central theme in the design and application of computer optimization algorithms is the tension between doing well at small routine incremental improvements and doing well at large dramatic improvements. This tension seems likely to be at least part of what we’d want to capture in any actual measurement of “creativity.” I am pessimistic about finding a single number which reliably characterizes what’s good about variants of simulated annealing, and which is also reliably useful for comparing that goodness to the goodness of variants of genetic algorithms.

    • michael vassar

      If ‘some intelligence related variable’ which doesn’t correlate with measured IQ predicts inventions, novels and the like and is measured by tests that purport to measure creativity, that intelligence related variable IS creativity. It’s totally credible that creativity might be the predisposition to memorize generalizations or something similar. It’s not an ontologically basic thing after all. The ultimate question regarding the meaning of the word is this; do tests of creativity predict who will be described as creative by their peers.

  • For a couple of years I worked in an Engineering office which did encourage creativity. Everyone was engaged in Getting The Job Done By Any Means Necessary, and the resources were provided whenever they were needed. The main reason for this, I think, was that our office was located in the Industrial area, far away from the corporate campus, which was a haven of obedience and corporate think. I once tested out the site’s cell phone receptors, and got in trouble for smoking 30 m from the entrance by a garbage can – there was a separate Designated Smoking Area.

    The whole place was awful and creepy.

    • Of course it was one of the security guards who came and informed me that I was smoking in the wrong area.

      The question of why a white-collar office located outside of downtown would need security is absolutely baffling to the sane person’s mind, if they haven’t educated themselves on the sort of matters Hanson covers here.

      Obedience and hierarchy signalling, liability prevention, and behaviour code enforcement. Shame they couldn’t have spent that money on something useful like a team of medics.

  • cournot

    Shouldn’t true creative individuals be those who can thrive in a hostile, routine environment? If they are so easily dissuaded, how creative are they really? And would their creativity be used to produce really lasting innovations?

    Much of the decline in individuality has come during decades in which our elites preached individualism and cultural libertinism while simultaneously making “creative” synonymous with cookie-cutter bohemianism. The great creative peaks of the Western world were also periods of enormous conformity and social pressure to avoid deviance.

    Flaubert talked of the need to live like a calm bourgeois to write about passion, crime, and love.

    I for one, long for more boring meritocratic overlords.

  • John Maxwell IV

    >CEOs may give it lip service to creativity, but their actions speak much louder than their words. Most (not all) workplaces punish creativity, and while that situation remains most schools will drill it out of kids as well.

    Maybe the worst workplaces have lots of creativity but don’t get things done, the average workplace gets things done without much creativity, and the best workplaces get things done creatively. Maybe achieving the goal of getting things done creatively is a rare accomplishment, and the CEOs who talk about creativity are stating their goal of achieving that accomplishment.

  • Can creativity really be taught and tested in the classroom? I’m not sure but I know there is a test for it in the real world. Those who are the most successful at whatever they do (and and pursue excellence ethically) are really the most creative individuals out there.

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