Elementary Creativity

It’s the most wonderful time of the year.  After a glorious summer with the children, it is time to send them back where they belong – School!

This past week, I attended the “Meet The Teacher” event for my son.  I sat at a desk surrounded by parents filling out contact forms and permissions slips with a #2 pencil.  Meanwhile, my son’s new teacher stood at the front of the room explaining her teaching methods, the classroom rules, and discipline policies.  Just as I finished signing my last form, I heard her say:

“And if your child turns in sloppy work, I’ll hand it right back to them.  It’s an immediate ‘Do-Over.’”

The words echoed.  Time stood still.  I looked down at my form.  I had mixed print and cursive.  Some things I wrote in all caps.  My pencil lead was smudged by my sweaty left handedness.  None of the letters touched the line. 

It was enough to give a calligrapher an aneurism.

I felt like I was back in grade school.  My face got hot.  I immediately erased the most offensive entries, making them look nice and neat.   You see, one of the big things we learn in school is the importance of rules.  They are there for a reason, if only to ensure children don’t turn out like their parents.  Rules are useful.

Until they aren’t.

Consider this:  The Torrance Test has been used since the late 1950’s to measure creativity in people of all ages.  This test finds that creative fluency climbs steadily in children until third grade, and then it levels off and steadily declines during our lifetime.1   Researchers hypothesize that this drop occurs during the time when we begin to learn socialization in school (i.e. what’s acceptable).  The problem is, we adults are frequently called upon to be creative, but instead of coming up with innovative solutions, we often come up with something that’s merely acceptable due to our socialized conformity.

So, it’s time to go back to school – grade school!  If you are looking to inject creativity into your operation, here are three practical tips:

  1. Tell Yourself To Think Like a Kindergartener:  To kids, anything is possible.  Constraints don’t exist.  So, this child-like thinking can create a fort out of Styrofoam cups.  Or a magical animal by crossing a unicorn.  Or, dare we say, a video phone you can put in your pocket!   🙂
  2. Defer Judgment:  Shakespeare once wrote “’There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” In your next brainstorming session, capture the “anything goes” attitude of a child by dedicating at least ten minutes for capturing ideas on a whiteboard without judging them.  If you start to talk about why one idea won’t work, or talk about why another one would be good to implement, you will encourage only what is acceptable.
  3. Build and Broaden:   Watch two little girls playing “pretend” and notice how many times one will make a suggestion and the other won’t question it.  She’ll just say “yes, AND…” to build upon the ideas of the first, taking what is wonderful about it and making it better. The next time you feel like dismissing an idea, instead, list three attributes of the idea that you do like (it’s fast, it’s cheap, and it is innovative) and see if you can think of a way to overcome its drawbacks (but how could we make it so it didn’t cost so much?)

At Action Management, we have been helping people ignite the creative spark for over thirty years.  If you would like your own “Do Over” to recapture that child-like sense of wonder that drives innovation, just give us a call at 1-800-386-5611. We would love to help.

1 The Creativity Crisis: The Decrease in Creative Thinking Scores on the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking











Sign Up for Action Insights

Last Name
First Name


Creative Problem Solving | Problem Solving Training | Decision Making | Teaching Critical Thinking Skills | Critical Thinking