In an interesting New York Times piece, Adam Grant, author of a new book called “Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World”, suggests that step one in raising a creative child is to back off. Encourage them to persue their passions, rather than those defined for them by someone else.
Grant begins by observing that child prodigies rarely grow up to do things that change the world. One example he offers is that very few of the gifted student stars of the top science competitions ever shine as adults. And he says the reason for that is that these kids never “learn to be original”.
The gifted learn to play magnificent Mozart melodies, but rarely compose their own original scores. They focus their energy on consuming existing scientific knowledge, not producing new insights. They conform to codified rules, rather than inventing their own.
Creativity may be hard to nurture, but it’s easy to thwart. By limiting rules, parents encouraged their children to think for themselves. They tended to “place emphasis on moral values, rather than on specific rules,” the Harvard psychologist Teresa Amabile reports.
Yes, parents encouraged their children to pursue excellence and success — but they also encouraged them to find “joy in work.” Their children had freedom to sort out their own values and discover their own interests. And that set them up to flourish as creative adults.
All of which should give us something to think about the next time someone says we need to “teach” kids to be creative. Instead of a curriculum that tries to prescribe everything about learning for them, maybe we should spend more school time helping children build on their native creativity.