In 1968, George Land conducted a research study to test the creativity of 1,600 children ranging in ages from three-to-five years old who were enrolled in a Head Start program. This was the same creativity test he devised for NASA to help select innovative engineers and scientists. The assessment worked so well he decided to try it on children. He re-tested the same children at 10 years of age, and again at 15 years of age. The test scores results were astonishing:
Test results amongst 5 year olds: 98%
Test results amongst 10 year olds: 30%
Test results amongst 15 year olds: 12%
Same test given to 280,000 adults: 2%
“What we have concluded,” wrote Land, “is that non-creative behavior is learned.”
(Source: George Land and Beth Jarman, Breaking Point and Beyond. San Francisco: HarperBusiness, 1993)
For most, creativity has been buried by rules and regulations. Our educational system was designed during the Industrial Revolution over 200 years ago, to train us to be good workers and follow instructions.
Today we measure our childrens’ education simply by the number of exams passed and the grades obtained. Similarly, we grade the effectiveness of educational institutions according to league tables. Not only are we allowing children to become less creative, we are actually helping them to do it.
Later in life, we then tell them they have to be more creative and so we send them on courses or ply them with self-help books.
This is just plain wrong, we need employees with the creativity of 5 year olds. Maybe we should just employ 5 year olds?
The message from myself and many others banging the innovation drum is relatively simple. Embrace innovation and you have a unique competitive advantage. You will be able to fully exploit the skills of your workforce, develop new products, services or processes according to your type of business and most importantly of all you will create a business that is sustainable and which will survive not only the current economic crisis but any that may occur in the future. So why do you not take action, why do you think the risk is too high – or to put it another way, what are you scared of? Why do you avoid innovation?
First of all, let us look at risk. What is it? In its simplest guise it is just circumstances or events about which we know nothing or very little. So the more we know about something, the smaller the risk. Actually the likelihood of something bad happening may not actually change as we acquire knowledge ,but the fear associated with the potential risk may decrease or vanish. So CEOs may in fact be suffering from a fear of failure or looking foolish rather than actually considering the actual risks or benefits to their organisation.
What can be done to help? If we could provide you with the following, would that help?
- An understanding of what is involved in leading an Innovative organisation – let’s remove the surprises
- Support in providing awareness and education for managers and staff – everyone must know where they fit in
- A proven methodology/framework so that you know what you are doing
- A method of measuring innovation directly so you know where your money is being spent
- New techniques to help you predict and plan for the future
- Provision of some ongoing support
Would this help alleviate the risks so that you can harvest the benefits of Innovation? If not then Innovation may not be for you and sadly your long term future does not look too rosy.
Over and out!
During my recent visit to Malawi I had the pleasure of speaking at seminars and workshops to a large number of charming and very interesting people. My aim was to try and provide some of the latest thinking on Creativity and Innovation in an organisational context and to try and encourage the people I met to use alternative modes of thinking, to think creative thoughts.
Keen readers will remember the ‘How do you get a giraffe into a fridge’ test that I used last year (click on the giraffe to the right to revisit it). I used this on my audiences and was pleasantly surprised to find that answers were richer and more numerous than elsewhere. It is not right to say that Managers get the answers wrong but their responses are generally poorer than young children. My African friends did very well indeed so I began to wonder why this was. Was it a coincidence?
One of the central themes of Creativity is play, and education systems are designed to help us pass exams and be less creative. We then have to undergo a degree of ‘unlearning’ to be playful in the workplace. Keen followers of TED (see www.TED.com) may be familiar with the thoughts of Sir Ken Robinson. Click here to view his moving and entertaining talk, but only if you have 20 minutes to spare!
In our so called developed countries we have extensive educational systems, whilst in developing countries the systems are often constrained to keeping young people in school and teaching basic skills well. Yet there has been an explosion in many developing nations within Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. In Cuba, trade embargoes have meant that motor engineers have created substitute brake fluid from shampoo and sugar whilst I have seen young boys in Africa change tractor tyres with only a few levers, a hand pump and some soapy water (no mean feat).
This natural creativity is present in us all when we are born but seems to remain only in countries where there are ‘light touch’ education systems. You may be thinking ‘what about the effect of culture?’ This is where things get a little complicated. In young people the two main drivers of Creativity are:
- An education system that does not stifle or judge
- A culture that allows play and lets ‘children be children’
As we grow up, different factors come into play which are mainly cultural. This often means that:
- In developed countries we are keen to be creative and innovative but we have lost the tools to work this way – our solution is to undertake even more training
- In developing countries, people have the natural tools but social pressures sometimes inhibit the ability to be critical or express radical thoughts openly – some people are just too polite. The solution may just be to overcome these personal barriers
In my view, the developing countries could have the edge but it will be a close run thing. The situation is obviously more complicated but these points should give us all food for thought. Any feedback is always welcome!