Space to Be Creative

Creativity requires space. Space free of obligations, space free of distractions. Maybe that’s part of why childhood is such a fertile time for creative thinking. Children create with abandon, given the space and a few tools. (And without the tools, they improvise!)

There are two factors in recent years that undermine this creative space for both children and adults.

First, a focus on individual productivity – a word which here means, “doing things that can be measured.” We celebrate increasing productivity in working adults, but we’ve also mistakenly started applying the same criteria to children – measurable output, rather than creative output.

In both cases, the increased productivity comes with a clear cost of decreased creativity – as we focus more on efficiency, we lose the space to be creative.

Second, a constant access to our devices and the internet. Adults bemoan their nonstop connectedness, because it feels out of their control. But they perhaps aren’t bemoaning enough the fact that large organizations are hijacking the free space in their brains – for one more post, one more tweet, one more episode on Netflix. Again, each “one more” draws space away from creativity.

And of course, the connection comes younger and younger – phones in middle school, devices in backpacks in kindergarten. All with noble goals of education and connection, but all drawing our children away from the space to be creative.

I watched three children yesterday return devices to their parents; after a minute or two of bellyaching, they found paper, pencils, crayons, and got to work creating. They went outside and built forts. It’s natural for kids to create. And given the space, they are boundlessly creative.

But without that space, they will quickly unlearn natural creativity and become more consumers of others’ creativity.