Your Brain on Creativity

“A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.” – Steve Jobs

Let’s briefly explore the topic of creativity, how it might change over time, how we might be influencing it in our lives and culture, and what we can do to enhance creativity as we age.

One question younger people might ask is: How does my creativity change as I age?

There has been a lot in the media lately that younger people these days are more narrow-minded and just not as creative as their parents and grandparents. Could this be so?

It turns out that some researchers say they are finding exactly that. In a 2010 study of about 300,000 creativity tests going back to the 1970s, Kyung Hee Kim, a creativity researcher at the College of William and Mary, found creativity has decreased among American children in recent years. Since 1990, children have become less able to produce unique and unusual ideas. They are also less humorous, less imaginative and less able to elaborate on ideas, Kim said.

Has modern society really extinguished the creative spark among our youth?

In the past, scientific revolutions were often led by the youngest scientists. Isaac Newton was 23 when he developed calculus; Albert Einstein published several of his most important papers at the tender age of 26; Werner Heisenberg pioneered quantum mechanics in his mid-20s.

But how times have changed. In 1980, the largest share of grants from the National Institutes of Health went to scientists in their late 30s. By 2006 the curve had been shifted such that the highest proportion of grants were going to scientists in their late 40s.

So how can you—if you are young healthy person—insure that you maximize your creativity not only today but in the years ahead?

Studies prove that at around about the age of five, we are using about 80% of our creative potential. We invent and imagine daily—We play “make believe.” By the age of twelve, however, our creative output has declined to about 2% of our potential, and it generally stays there for the rest of our lives.

This decline in creativity may be accelerated if young people are spending excessive time with video games, iPads (no offense, Mr. Jobs), and video game devices, since many of these applications are pre-set and do not require that the brain’s creative juices be flowing.

Some researchers believe that declining creativity in our early years is the price we pay for living in the modern world, which is conformity and linear thinking. To live with other people, we must follow their rules and values, which seem to be more about what you cannot do than what you can do. In much of our modern world—especially with a global-based internet woven culture—we are given standards of thought and communication. When someone is being creative, they are also rather unpredictable, which can make living with them an uncertain and perhaps threatening experience.

The secret of life is staying creative. Keep your creative juices flowing and you will stay ahead of the pack. Of course, this starts with good health. Here are some tips:

Take care of your body, mind, and heart

Realize that creativity is the RESULT of a healthy body, mind and heart.  Your brain cells are regenerating at a rapid rate, so they need good nutrients, a healthy environment, low stress, and sleep.

Do different things (and things differently)

The best way to stifle your creativity is to get in a rut. The best way to stimulate it is to try doing different things often. Read different books, take a vacation from your iPhone, meet new people, go to different places—You’ll find that the simple act of doing different things will stimulate creative centers in your brain that may have been disappearing.

Be creative and live longer!

Research shows that creativity even affects how long we live. It has been proven that people who stay mentally active live longer even than those who stay physically active. If you go to the mental gym every day, then your alertness will keep you going longer.

Are you a left-brain or right-brain kind of person? Take the creativity test.