SUMMARY: Being creative may be something some of us are born to do.
(About a 2 minute read)
Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties. ~Erich Fromm
It’s a curious thing about we humans that not all that many of us are greatly creative. In fact, as a species, we’re rather conservative.
Until the last few centuries, the human world was mostly unchanging. People tended to live as their grandparents lived with very few innovations in either their thinking or their doing. It’s only been relatively recently that change has become the norm.
Over the past thirty years, scientists have studied creativity. Among their discoveries is that the neural paths in the brain that give rise to it are largely separate from the neural paths that give rise to intelligence. In other words, creativity does not depend on intelligence.
Another finding has been that some people have brains wired for creativity while others do not. I think that has serious implications for the self-help section of the bookstore, as well as the countless magazine articles advising people on how to be more creative.
It’s probably a good thing more people are not creative — at least not super-creative. Societies today are already swamped by the pace of change. Imagine how destructive it would be if that were multiplied thousands of times! You’d never have the stability needed to raise a family, start a business, stay employed, etc.
It seems to me that most of us, when we think about things, do not think very creatively about them. We don’t think much outside the boxes, as they say. Instead, it seems we focus on trying to make sense of the boxes.
For instance, if you were to ask a class of 30 or so students to write an essay on capitalism, you might at most get only a handful of students whose essays included a section on ways to improve it. The rest would simply submit papers describing it. That is, they would be focused on understanding the box.
Most of us profess to think creativity is a good thing, but in practice we are not only suspicious of new and creative ideas — unless they are quite practical or crafty — but we also tend to reject them out of hand, without fully considering them. That reaction might be understandable in terms of how upsetting changes can be.
If creativity is indeed hardwired into the brain, then that would explain why creative people often feel compelled to create. That is, they can feel like they have no real choice in the matter. If so, then Fromm might be over-estimating the courage it takes to think outside the box, to “let go of certainties”. People born to do something do not necessarily need a great deal of courage to do it under normal circumstances.