The Effect of Age on Creativity

| By Editorial Staff

Youth is wasted on the young – you might have heard that statement before. Typically, that adage is used to reference physical prowess and the tendency to lean toward a carefree attitude.

But it could also reference creativity.

A 1968 study by scientist George Land revealed that although humans are naturally creative as children, that creativity seems to wane as we grow older.

So, not only can we place the blame for loss of hair, sight, and hearing on Father Time, but apparently we can blame the loss of creativity, too.

But this begs the question: Why aren’t we as creative when we’re adults?

Some might want to lean toward the notion that a child’s mind is wondrous and limitless. But that can be said of an adult’s mind, as well. True, an adult’s brain is matured and solidified in shape and size, but new neuron connections are constantly being made, up until the day we die.

In reality, we have only ourselves to blame for this lack of creativity as we age. Children are immune to the constructs of the society in which we live. Their biggest concerns tend not to stray any further from the game or toy right in front of them.

As an adult, our world expands – which, you’d think, might make us more creative. However, within that expanded world are rules and regulations that all but dictate how we should think and live.

In fact, we’re taught to conform to these rules from an early age. The entire educational system was designed during the Industrial Revolution and encourages students to be good workers. To be a good worker you need to be able to follow instructions.

But creative-minded folks don’t always have use for those instructions.

The onslaught of rules and regulations – which begins at school – slowly conforms the majority of people, so that by the time they’ve reached adulthood, they’ve figured out the formula for success:

Work hard. Do what you’re told.

Creativity is nowhere in that equation.

Times are a changing?

Land’s study was in 1968, and observed children and adults over a 15-year period (meaning he began his study in the early 1950s).

Suffice to say, the work landscape has changed drastically since then. More and more young workers are opting to pursue jobs for fulfillment purposes rather than for fat pensions. In fact, they’re willing to become independent freelancers – thanks to mobile technology – without skipping a beat.

And companies, as well, are seeing the benefits of creative-minded workers. While skills such as math, data analysis, and technology are still in high demand, companies realize that in order to stand out from the crowd, they need to think outside the box.

Numbers and data are as rigid as they get; thus they turn to creative-minded people to help them reach their goals.

How can you remain creative as you age?

Nowhere in Land’s study does it state that a lack of creativity – correlating with age – has anything to do with cognitive shortcomings. In other words, adults have what it takes to remain as creative as their younger selves. In fact, with a lifetime of experience to work with, they could be even more creative.

But how?

Creativity is a skill, and skills can be developed. While some people are born natural painters, for example, proper training and practice can develop the artistic skills in virtually anyone. It just takes commitment and interest.

Learning to be creative requires ongoing practice in order to develop and strengthen the right muscles. If you never think outside the box, you can’t expect your brain to demonstrate an abundance of creativity at the flip of a switch.

You need to exercise your creative juices.

This includes participating in activities that yield very little tangible (read: adult) benefits. For example, learn the guitar even though you may never get paid to play a gig. Learn pottery despite the fact that you might never sell one of your works.

Removing the reward-based systems we rely on as adults will free our minds to explore for the sake of, well, exploring. Eventually you’ll find satisfaction in the simple act of creating, rather than in what that creation might provide you in terms of money or recognition.

In addition to exercising your creative muscles, it’s important to find a supportive environment in which to flourish. The living room – equipped with your TV and smartphone – is not the place to be! Remove yourself from the distractions of day-to-day life, and, if possible, find other like-minded people or groups from which you can draw inspiration.

Much like many people find it easier to work harder at the gym with a workout buddy, chances are you’ll feel the same in your quest of achieving creative greatness.