When you say you’re not creative, you inadvertently
perpetuate a myth. The myth that a person can be exempt from
having creativity doesn’t even make sense.
When you say you’re not creative, you inadvertently perpetuate
a myth. The myth that a person can be exempt from having
creativity doesn’t even make sense. Go ask your mom what you
were like when you were a little kid.
Did you ever find an alternate use for your bowl of yogurt—a
Did you build something out of Lego or blocks without following
Did you figure out how to evade your parents when you wanted to
get away with something?
Have you tried a new topping on your oatmeal?
Have you made up a pun?
Figured out how to fix your computer?
Designed a code?
Come up with an idea different from someone else’s?
These are all hints at the creativity which you do indeed have,
and in order to prove this I share with you what I like to call
the Creativity Trifecta:
- Everybody is creative.
- Creativity can be practiced and developed.
- People manifest creativity in different degrees.
Let’s take the trifecta point by point.
Everybody is Creative
The first empirical study that definitively showed that
everybody is creative was begun by George Land in 1968. He gave
1,600 four- and five-year-old children a creativity test that
he had developed to find innovators for engineering and design
positions at NASA. He tested the same children again when they
were 10 and again at age 15. Land and his team then compared
these scores with a large sample of adults who also took the
assessment. Take a look at the percentage of test-takers in
each sample that scored in the “genius level” for creative
age 5 98%
age 10 30%
age 15 12%
*avg. age 31
This insightful study shows that while you may not be
exercising your creative genius at the moment, you certainly
have the raw materials. The good news is that it can be
Creativity Can Be Taught and Practiced
Scott, Leritz, and Mumford (2004) found that creativity
training programs, if well-designed, lead to higher creativity.
Earlier, Parnes (1987) used decades of research to prove that
creativity can be improved when it is deliberately cultivated.
Conversely, creativity is likely to flounder when it is not
nurtured. It can seem to disappear, as in the 98% of 280,000
adults who took Land’s creativity assessment. Ken Robinson’s
Schools Kill Creativity?” is the most watched TED talk of
all time and goes into detail about the creativity free-fall in
education. Diminishing creativity is also experienced in
the workplace and in families when the culture does not support
divergent thinkers and their new ideas.
People Manifest Creativity in Different
It just might be that the main reason you think you’re not
creative is because you compare yourself to others who are
famous for their creativity (Steve Jobs, Pablo Picasso, and
Lady Gaga) or to people in your own life who are known for
When you’re in a comparison mindset, you inadvertently diminish
your own creative ability. You envision Picasso and your highly
divergent friends on a pedestal that you cannot possibly
ascend. All you can see is yourself standing in the shadows on
the lowest rung of your tiny ladder. Creativity looks so far
off, so unattainable.
In this mindset, all the negatives creep in. The biggest
culprit is fear, especially fear of judgment. It reinforces the
false belief that you are not creative. To make matters worse,
when you are operating under fear you are using a very small
part of your brain’s capacity.
Society has perpetuated the myth that creativity has to be
comparative, and if comparative, mutually exclusive: “If
Picasso is creative then I am not.” This reasoning is
In 1995, researcher Mark Runco started working to clear this up
by discussing “personal creativity.” Beghetto and Kaufman
talk about the 4C’s of creativity and Ruth Richards has named
“everyday creativity.” These theorists all show that all
humans, no matter how eminent, use creativity in daily life. An
idea or product does not have to be eminent to be creative.
One path to progress is to stop comparing yourself to a
ridiculous ideal and instead zoom in on you. See what
you can do. At its core, all creativity is thinking
differently. How can you practice thinking differently?
My book with designer Jane Harvey,
Creativity for Everybody (just came out in
Spanish!), is a quick-start guide to the basics. If you
rotate the book 90 degrees to the right you can read sideways
prompts that help you exercise your creative thinking. For
“Try thinking like someone else: an alien, a rock, a stray cat,
a high school math teacher” (p. 13). This question is simple
but can help you look at things another way, to gain a new
perspective. Just like any skill, if you practice, you will
If you’ve been in school for several years, creative thinking
might feel uncomfortable at first, especially if you’re a high
achiever. You have been trained to find the right answer.
Divergent answers are not always acceptable. If you find out
exactly what the teacher wants and deliver on it, you will
likely get an A.
Good for you to figure out and master the system, but there is
unfortunately a huge flaw in the way it was set up: life
doesn’t work this way. At this moment the world is changing
faster than it ever has
before. When electricity was introduced in 1873, it took 46
years to be adopted by 25% of the population. When the internet
was introduced in 1991, it only took 7 years. This acceleration
of adoption forces us to change constantly. In order to change
we have to adapt, and this requires creative thinking.
study revealed that 94% of hiring managers say creativity
is important to consider when hiring a candidate for a job;
CEOs place creativity as the top
leadership skill. You need your creativity if you want to
thrive in life. But every time you bash it by saying you don’t
have it, you lose an opportunity to exercise it.
Solution: Take a Risk
The one-right-answer mentality trains us not to take risks. In
order to take risks, you have to be willing to make a mistake.
Once in a while a teacher will come along who encourages you to
think your own thoughts and here you might freeze.
To open your mouth in a classroom and voice a creative idea you
have to take a risk. You’re not used to doing that, because
there is usually one right answer. If you are asked to come up
with a new answer, an untested answer, you might be judged by
your peers or even by your teacher. Maybe your new answer is
not the one she wanted either!
But in the working world you must differentiate yourself and
you must be able to solve problems creatively. So wherever you
are—in school, at work—try taking taking little risks. Author
Peter Sims calls these little
bets, and advises that we take small risks and fail
In other words, don’t let the first risk you ever take be
taking out a second mortgage on your house to try a new
business idea. Start instead by doing something that gives you
slight discomfort, like driving a new route to the grocery
store or sharing an unconventional insight in your next
meeting. As you practice taking small risks you will become
more comfortable sharing the fresh perspectives that you have
gained by practicing your creative thinking.
Now that you are aware of the universal nature of creativity
and you have a resource to practice creative thinking, fear is
the only thing standing in the way of training it back. (Fear
can also come in the form of saying, “I’m not creative” to
protect yourself from risk. You now know that this is false, so
if you keep using this line it is heretofore a cop-out.
Everybody is creative.)
It’s better to build your creative thinking now than after you
get fired from your job for not being able to find solutions to
the problems that arise. The best way to do this is to start
taking little steps to exercise your true creative genius
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for everybody. New York: Sparkitivity.
Haydon, K. P., & Harvey, J. (2016). Creatividad
para todos. New York: Sparkitivity.
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Parnes, S. (1987).The creative studies project. In Isaksen, S.
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Originally published at
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