Creativity Killers

I often am dismayed by the number of people (adults usually) who truly believe that they are not “creative”. They will attest to this belief when asked to participate in any art project, or when invited to write an original essay, or brainstorm some new way for doing a routine activity, or even creatively trouble-shoot some persistent problem.

I am dismayed by that response because I truly believe if we are made in God’s image, then we must surely be made as creative beings. Gordon MacKenzie, in his book Orbiting the Giant Hairball, tells this story about children’s progression from creativity to conformity:

I always begin with the same introduction: “Hi! My name is Gordon MacKenzie and, among other things, I am an artist. I’ll bet there are other artists here, too. There have to be, with all the beautiful pictures and designs you have hanging in your classroom…Beautiful pictures. They made me feel wonderful! I felt more at home when I saw them because they made me realize there are other artists here, besides me. I’m curious. How many artists are there in the room? Would you please raise your hands?”

The pattern of responses never varied. In the 1st grade, en mass, the children leapt from their chairs, arms waving wildly, eager hands trying to reach the ceiling. Every child was an artist. In the 2nd grade, about half the kids raised their hands, shoulder high, no higher. The raised hands were still. In the 3rd grade, at best, 10 out of 30 kids would raise a hand tentatively, self-consciously.

And so on up through the grades. By the time I reached 6th grade, no more than one or two raised their hands and then only ever-so-slightly, guardedly, their eyes glancing from side to side uneasily, betraying a fear of being identified by the group as a closet artist.

So what is it that moves us from creative geniuses to genius conformists? What is it that kills that spark of spontaneity and confidence we were born with, that creativity which comes in the image of God? Killer phrases are a part of the answer.

Creativity killers. We’ve all heard them, most of us have uttered them from time to time. There are several types of killer phrases we direct at ourselves, or at one another. All of them are problematic if what we desire is to grow into that image of God in which we have been created. Here are just a few:

Overgeneralization
Ken Olsen, the president of Digital Equipment Corporation in 1977, famously stated, There is no reason for any individual to have a computer at home.
Talk about an overgeneralization (and obviously one that was not true)! Here are a few other more familiar killer phrases in this category: It will never work…They won’t like it… It will never sell

Put-Downs
Listen to what Napoleon I of France said to Robert Fulton about his steam engine: You would have to make a s hip sail against the wind by lighting a bonfire under her decks? I have no time to listen to such nonsense!
We might respond to someone’s new idea by saying things like You’re kidding, right?… You’ve got to be joking!…Or maybe we like to just roll our eyes indulgently.

Selective Editing
President Grover Cleveland, in 1905, said this in response to the suffragettes: Sensible and responsible women do not want the right to vote. We might say It’s not in the budget… We’re in a bit of a money crunch right now…

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