Terry K Gilliam, Synecticsworld

By Terry K. Gilliam

In the article Five Ways to Make Your Company More Innovative (Working Knowledge, HBS, May 23, 2012) Clay Christensen states:

“I think about 40 percent of people just are not going to be good at innovating regardless of what they do. And 5 percent are born with the instinct. There are things that they do and ways that they think that are intuitive.”

So according to Christensen, about 95% of the population are either hopeless or in the margin.  This is kind of an aggressive paraphrase and it is essentially what I take from this quote.  At Synecticsworld, we’ve got 60 years of research that says everybody is creative.  At this point in the life of Synecticsworld, we’ve trained more than 100,000 people, worked in creative problem solving sessions with hundreds of thousands more, and we’ve yet to find one who isn’t or who can’t get back in touch with their innate creativity.

Everyone is born creative and although there are many who lose touch with their creativity, there are none who can’t get back in touch with it, unless they’ve had a lobotomy.  I say this with authority, because the brain science behind creativity is well established and widely documented.  The right brain/left brain lobes are associated respectively with creative thought and analytical thought.  What happens to us is that education, especially in the Western world, is very much oriented to the left brain, that is, to developing our analytical capabilities.  We all bring considerable creativity to kindergarten and first grade that we then begin to lose for the sake of getting the “right” answers.

Up to that point in our lives, it is all about experimenting.  It’s all about taking risks and making connections from those risks.  That’s the way we learn to be in our world.  But when we get to school, we very quickly learn that no prizes are given for experimenting.  No prizes are given for guessing.  Prizes are given for being right and so the first skill we develop is asking questions.  For example, if my teacher asks me what 5 plus 3 is, before I got to school I would have counted out 5 blocks and then another 3 blocks and guessed that it was maybe 8. Once I’m in school and don’t want to risk embarrassment or some other punishing result, my response is more likely to be a question rather than a guess. “Is it 8?”  I get an answer if I ask a question. I risk being told “wrong!” if I guess. Questions I quickly learn are safe. So with questioning begins the process of training my analytical mind, the Socratic method and all the rest.  I begin to lose touch with the creative skills of my early childhood.

Taking questioning to a higher level, we get to Socrates and throughout school, the emphasis continues to be placed largely upon analytical thought, where I am either right or wrong.  We grow up in its dichotomous world and as a consequence of this particular emphasis in education, we all become highly trained analytics.  Another way of saying it is that our left brains get a lot of exercise and we become very, very good at using them.  And unless we stay in touch through the arts or by taking other intentional measures that call upon creativity, our right brains sort of get orphaned by the educational process.   As I said, since the Renaissance this has been especially true here in the Western Hemisphere but in postindustrial societies, it has become a global phenomenon.

My next article Creativity Found will outline how to uncover and unleash the inherent creativity of your people.


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