Creatives versus non creatives : the illusion of the categorization of creative processes


I have always considered myself as someone not really creative. From as long as I can remember, I was a good student, but always drawn to subjects such as languages, ancient history, literature, philosophy… Sure, studying books and thinkers might seem not so practical to you, but those were not considered creative subjects like music or art were to me. Why, and where did this subjective separation line come from ?

It seems that growing up, we develop an analysis grid where everything is categorized either as creative, or not. Drawing, painting, playing an instrument, dancing and so on are treated as inventive activities whereas doing maths, working out, studying history are not. But we are not born with this mental categorization. We learn it subconsciously because of society, norms, our family and friends and so on.

I remember reading an article last week (unfortunately I can’t remember from where nor the name of the guy conducting it, sorry !) about a guy who went into kindergarten classes to ask the pupils if they considered themselves creatives. Everyone raised their hands up. He then went to first grade classes to ask the same question, and a few hands remained down. He continued this until year 6 classes, where only two or three students raised their hands, with doubt, fearful of being judged by others because they considered themselves creative.

Those pupils had raised their hands because they were the drawers or musicians of the class, and as the other ones did not do such activities, they kept their hands down. The person in charge of the study then explained to them that everyone is creative in their own way. They still were some art projects on the wall that were made during art class, and everyone had participated, hence everyone was creative.

This story shows how we can be conditioned to forget our aptitudes, and how education can play a big part in this process. This is notably made explicit in this famous TED Talk, “Do schools kill creativity ?” by  Sir Ken Robinson, and this excerpt of the book The Facilitating University by Piet Van der Zanden :

“Sir Ken Robinson, chair of the UK Government’s report on creativity, education and the economy, described research that showed that young people lost their ability to think in “divergent or non-linear ways”, a key component of creativity. Of 1,600 children aged three to five who were tested, 98% showed they could think in divergent ways. By the time they were aged eight to 10, 32% could think divergently. When the same test was applied to 13 to 15-year-olds, only 10% could think in this way. And when the test was used with 200,000 25-year-olds, only 2% could think divergently. . . . Education is driven by the idea of one answer and this idea of divergent thinking becomes stifled.”

I had to learn to unlearn what I thought I knew about creatives. In fact, there is no need to paint like Vincent Van Gogh or to be the next Leonardo da Vinci to be creative : being creative is about the process, not about the quality of the result. If you write, you sing, you dance, you are engaging in an inventive activity. Hence, you are creative.

But this goes even further. If we refer to the excerpt above, the simple fact of thinking divergently makes you a creative person. Why ? Because you did not settle for the mainstream answer but looked for a different answer by apprehending a problem differently. That explains the curious thing happening today : seeing creativity  encouraged in areas we would considered opposed to it, such as in business because people realized looking for different answer often bring innovation.

It is time to get out of the system of creativity boxes. Creativity actually is a spectrum, and it is at everyone’s reach. It is a muscle that needs exercising, not an inborn gift. Reconnect with your inner child, and do what you like : grab a pen, draw, dance, sing… Chances are it will help you in your present-day life and work. As Picasso once said, all children are born artists. The problem is to remain an artist as we grow up.

To help you, here is a playlist of TED talks about how to kickstart your creativity and here all the data about creativity on their website (I know, I’m kind of a TED geek, forgive me !).


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