An Itty-Bitty BIG Problem

While creative ability in the U.S. declines, the challenges that require creativity are increasing in size, complexity, and quantity. In the past, even a mere half-century ago, problems that we faced on a daily basis had fairly predictable solutions. Most manufacturing jobs could be summed up as the routine execution of a handful of tasks. Today, the challenges we face have far less predictable answers. Software engineers are constantly inventing new solutions to programming challenges. Health care professionals are taking more challenges diseases and an aging population. Teachers are faced with the obstacle of educating their students for jobs that don't exist yet. These challenges, and most others today require Creativity to solve. Bad news: There is less and less creativity going around.

What is creativity?

We often think of creativity as an intangible, sometimes even magical, property. You either have it, or you don't. It can't be quantified, broken down, measured or improved. Some ancient civilizations even believed creativity (or genius) was a spirit that possessed you and helped you to produce creative work. Perhaps we won't ever fully comprehend creativity, but over the last half century, psychologists and other researchers have uncovered incredible insights that reveal a little bit about how that magical property works. Aspects of creativity have been identified, measured, even improved. One of the earlier researchers in the field of creative studies, Ellis Paul Torrance, created an assessment that measures divergent thinking, a critical skill needed to think creatively.

The creativity crisis

In 1958, the first Torrence Tests for Creative Thinking (TTCT) were conducted with Minnesota elementary school students. Since then researchers have followed up with longitudinal studies. The verdict: In the U.S., creativity peaked in 1990. A Newsweek article, titled "The Creativity Crisis," explains the details.

Science isn't alone in concluding that creativity is declining. The most watched TED Talk in the last two years is titled "Schools Kill Creativity."

Creativity may be in decline, but what does it matter?

Faster world, tougher challenges

The world is changing at an accelerating pace, and as things change we must adapt to survive. Adaptation, in essence, is the ability to solve new problems, and the class of problems that we're beginning to face puts 20th-century challenges to shame. The climate crisis, peak pil, and a global water shortage, are some chief challenges highlighted by the Arlington Institute. For a deep dive into the top ten challenges facing humanity, check out a TED Talk by Stephen Petranek titled "10 Ways The World Could End."

Creativity is declining, and our challenges are getting bigger and more complicated. It's like we've leaped off a cliff and the ground is rising up to meet us.

What to do?

The pace of change is so fast that we can't foresee the problems we'll need to solve tomorrow, but that doesn't mean we won't need to solve them. What we need to do is get better at problem solving, and creativity is key!