Is a child more creative than an adult? Most of us would probably answer as ‘yes’ because when we think of this question we relate to a child’s high imaginative power as compared to an adult. But creativity is not directly related to imaginative capability. In fact, it is a function of four factors - attitude, knowledge, evaluation and imagination.
Attitude is the right mindset that enables us to do divergent thinking. Knowledge and evaluation is the understanding of the subject area and to be able to critique. Imagination, simply put, is thinking big - searching for radical novel ideas by deferring premature judgment. A child is strong in the area of imagination and needs help in developing the other three areas. An adult is typically strong in the area of knowledge and evaluation, and needs support with imagination and attitude. As we gain skills in the area of knowledge and evaluation, we ignore our innate capability to imagine. Einstein was very good in all of these four factors. He was a master of his subject area and was highly capable of critiquing. Additionally, he was the epitome of imaginative power. He could imagine things far beyond the comprehension of his peers. Remember his famous quote, “imagination is more important than knowledge”.
What Einstein knew in terms of the knowledge of physics was pretty much the same as what his contemporaries such as Max Planck, Ludwig Boltzmann and others knew. However, he valued his imagination as more important than the knowledge he had as it was his imagination that was serving him well. What is more important for you? If imagination comes naturally to you and you think you may need support with the knowledge, then may be knowledge is more important for you at this time. But ultimately, we should seek to master all four factors so we can be a highly creative person.
Of the aforementioned four factors - attitude, knowledge, evaluation and imagination, one that needs some extra attention and most people are not aware is the attitude. What is the right attitude of creative thinking?
An effective way to generate creative ideas is to do divergent thinking before we do convergent thinking. Divergent and convergent thinking are two opposite ways of thinking. In divergent thinking, we explore every possibility and push our brains to generate as many ideas as possible. It is a horizontal exploration technique where we list out every possibility that comes to our mind. In this process, our mind makes an extended effort to bring new ideas. For example, if you are looking for a title of your book, making an extensive list of about 100-200 titles would be an exercise of a divergent thinking. Then when we start narrowing down the list by self evaluation and seeking feedback from others, we are doing convergent thinking. Many times, we make the mistake of mixing divergent and convergent thinking at the same time. Have you ever thought about an idea and eliminated it right when you came up with it? Or have you ever been in a meeting and someone came up with a novel idea and you start evaluating or critiquing the idea right at the moment? These are examples of mixing divergent and convergent thinking. It stalls the flow of ideas, and dampens our creative mind. Instead, we should free flow our mind to come up with several ideas without any judgment. In other words, we should let our mind diverge first and then converge.
We should make an extended effort exploring numerous possibilities before narrowing down the list to select the most creative ones. Most likely, the ideas that you came up with initially are not so creative because our mind is thinking through the normal path. It is only when you push the boundary, our mind takes a different path and endows us with creative ideas.