Our Definition of Creativity is Killing Creativity

Cancer researcher Beatrice Mintz (b. 1921), via the Smithsonian.
Cancer researcher Beatrice Mintz (b. 1921), via the Smithsonian.

Hands in the air if you’ve been asked whether or not you’re a “creative type” before. Keep them up if you’ve ever wondered what that actually means.

Being considered creative in the conventional sense usually means you paint, practice photography, love to collage in your free time, or are super-skilled at macaroni portraits –– but why restrict “creativity” to only arts-related pursuits?

Unfortunately, children tend fall into two restrictive categories as they develop their interests: creative or science-minded (shorthand for decidedly uncreative). And it’s kids who are deemed uncreative who are more likely to take on technology-based jobs –– which are, ironically, some of the most creative out there.

The problem? There’s a perceived distance or mutual exclusivity between creativity and technology, thanks to our ingrained understanding of the creativity’s very definition.

“We often hear that the U.S. is having a crisis in science, technology, engineering and math education—the so-called STEM subjects,” Blackstone Senior Managing Director and Chief Technology Officer William Murphy writes in Scientific American. “Even in a tough economic climate, we are still seeing projections that over one million STEM-related jobs will go unfilled in this country by 2018. The opportunities here are enormous both for the country and for individuals. One way to help us get there is to close the perception gap as it relates to creativity and technology.”

Computer science and programming are often considered “nerdy,” but they’re actually extremely creative jobs that require huge amounts of problem solving and quick thinking. By deeming the entire field as an inherently uncreative pursuit, Murphy says we’re ultimately damaging our economy, not to mention limiting the talent of our children.

“Who’s more creative, the people making movies, painting, playing music and designing clothes, or those designing software? Difficult to say, but the conventional wisdom is that it isn’t the software guy,” Murphy writes. “Building software not only is creative, it’s also interactive, busting another stereotype…Being in a room with our teams, brainstorming, going in all different directions—that creative process is exciting and interactive.”

If we start teaching kids to think about creativity as something that runs across various disciplines — as a skill-set or a state of mind, rather than a specific kind of interest — they’ll be more likely to go into STEM jobs without the stigma of being labeled a nerd.

The good news is that steps are being taken to introduce children to the creative potential of technology –– Murphy notes that The YMCA of Greater New York has started an after school program to promote STEM subjects, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg started Code to promote computer sciences in schools, and Girls Who Code is actively working to get more young women interested in technology and engineering.

By opening up the definition of creativity and applying it to technology, we give the word itself a broader scope, and –– best of all –– we introduce people who would usually balk at the idea of going into a STEM job a whole world of creative possibilities.

Source: Scientific American

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Mehera Bonner is a freelance lifestyle and entertainment writer. She lives in Brooklyn, NY, with her husband and two children.