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OPINION: The benefits of creativity

by Devin Houston | April 21, 2021 at 5:25 a.m.

Nothing is more mesmerizing, or satisfying, than seeing a young child make cognitive connections. Learning a new word, figuring out a puzzle, or remembering the names of different plants seems trivial to adults who long ago mastered those seemingly simple tasks. But for young children, it is a source of excitement, a reward for mastering some small part of their environment that strengthens their creativity.

We learn by following rules and customs. We create by testing those boundaries, even crossing them if the heart leads us. Rules and discipline are imposed on us at a young age: don't color outside the lines, don't talk unless you're asked, stand in a straight line. Seems we try to squelch creativity in exchange for order, sacrifice uniqueness for conformity's sake. I admit it bothers me to see my granddaughter color the entire page with a crayon, not even trying to stay within the lines of the figure, or not use the "correct" color to fill the object's spaces on the page. But I praise her effort and admire her work. My job is to encourage, not criticize.

Schools are the bastions of conformity, at least they were when I attended. Learning was often by rote recitation: 1 plus 1 is 2, 2 plus 1 is 3, etc. Order was maintained, no talking out of turn. Learning became mechanical, not creative. Maybe schools have changed over the last few years, though. Some of us were blessed with teachers that nurtured the creative process. A few actually taught problem-solving within groups, the goal being to complete a meaningful task as a team rather than as an individual earning a high grade.

The pandemic, horrible as it was, spawned creativity out of necessity. Businesses were forced to allow employees to work from their homes, something frowned upon by management in normal times. The prevailing thought was that productivity would be less and work would fall off due to lack of supervision. The opposite turned out to be true. Productivity increased because employees felt safer and more comfortable within their homes, not oppressed by the rigid discipline of office culture. Many companies will continue to have employees working from home after the pandemic. Now, businesses are considering other ideas that can help the bottom line. Creativity increased profits.

We were all horrified by the recent shootings across our country. Attention focused on the easy accessibility of guns, which may be appropriate when considering assault rifle ownership, but more attention needs to be placed on understanding why someone takes any gun and kills. If a child is raised without an outlet for creativity, not encouraged to write, sing, act or learn, then it is no wonder he seeks out approval from those who want to destroy. If a child was mentored to learn, praised for his efforts, and given a sense of fulfillment, would his outcome be better? We should think twice before passing judgment on what creativity produces. As much as I don't like rap music, freestyle rap artists taught scientists much about the creative process and how it works in the brain. When measuring brain activity during a rap session, certain area of the brain involved with language, motivation, emotion and action were more active. The same areas are involved with other forms of creativity as well. On a lighter note, no scientist thought to examine the brains of those listening to rap music. There goes my own judgment, creeping in!

At some point in life one may feel that their creativity has lessened or even disappeared. I often think my most creative days are behind me. I wrote scientific papers on important topics that were cited more than the average publication. I created more efficient means of laboratory methodology. I invented products that allowed me to create a successful business. Yet I struggle to stay creative. Popular rock stars are prodigious in putting out songs early in their careers, but with time, new songs become fewer and farther between. Comedians struggle to remain relevant and funny, their careers often cut short. For some of us, creativity may have a shelf life.

Perhaps we are still creative but just need other outlets to express it. Many retirees become proficient in areas very different from their life's work. George W. Bush apparently has a talent for painting. He may be a better artist than he was a president. Others have switched careers, by choice or circumstance, and found themselves more satisfied and successful.

We can argue about the quality of creativeness, and we can be concerned about the direction of creativity, but all would agree that it is worth pursuing. To create is to build. If you are building something, you are less likely to cause destruction. A creation can be a solution, maybe to a problem that does not yet exist. But the process is still justified. While creativity may be a rarity, the spark of it is in everyone. The world's problems persist because the environment for fanning the flame of creativity does not exist equally for all.

Somehow, from all the negativity we feed upon every day, we must find a way to channel the creation of solutions, rather than sinking into despair and hostility. But if you find yourself too far gone to do so, at least allow a child to occasionally color outside the lines.

-- Devin Houston is the president/CEO of Houston Enzymes. Send comments or questions to [email protected] The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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