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June 3, 2011

Is Creativity Inherited?

by aliciaarnold

A few weeks back at the FEI11 conference, I helped setup the Lego exhibit. After unloading boxes and boxes of Legos, I dove into contributing the first of many user-generated, or in this case, conference attendee-generated, creations that would grace the exhibit. As I thought about what to construct, I decided it might be nice to welcome folks to Boston by building the skyline. After constructing the John Hancock Tower, the “Boston Legal” building, the Prudential building, and a “Bridge to the Future” with a divergent and convergent staircase, I started on the waterfront. I added water details including Lego ducks. Over the course of the conference many folks popped by the exhibit and added their own creations. They ranged from geometric sculptures, word art, and lifelike objects to whimsical creations.

As the conference came to a close and I stepped back into work, memories of the Lego exhibit were replaced by meetings, deadlines and conference calls. However, a few mornings ago I was reminded of the exhibit by my 5-year old son. He skipped into the dining room and asked if I wanted to see his Lego creations. My son then proceeded to show me a jail he had made. He happily pointed out the propellers that could be used to help the building fly away. Then, he showed me a “mechanical tool” and curiously enough, a team of Lego ducks that looked exactly (except for the color) like the ones I created at FEI.

Now, I know there are numerous ways to conceptualize Lego ducks. But, I wondered, how was it that my son and I both had ducks on our minds at close to the same time, then continued to construct the same version of the ducks? Though I talked about the conference with my family, I didn’t go into detail and I definitely didn’t show them any pictures of my Lego creations.

The experience with my son made me wonder how much of our creativity is inherited. Sometimes levels of creativity runs within family lines. There are many examples of musical families, artistic families, families who are gifted writers, families who are great strategist, and so on.  After pondering, I decided to do a bit of digging. I found creativity, like intelligence, is part nature and part nurture. Research on neuroplasticity suggests we are able to rewire the neurons in our brains based on our experiences.  So, though we may not be able to increase our creative potential, through our experiences, we can reach our creative potential.

My son’s experiences are already helping to rewire his notion of creativity. Remember how his ducks were a different colors than mine? Well, his ducks were “Pokemon ducks” with special attributes (something he learned from playing Bakugan). The red Pokemon ducks had fire attributes, the blue ducks had water attributes, while the black ducks had vision attributes.

If you’re looking to increase creativity within your organization, within your family, within your community, think about ways to change experiences. Introducing people to new perspective, to creativity training, to experiential activities, can help increase the success of innovation initiatives.

This article was originally posted on IIR’s Front End of Innovation as Is Creativity Inherited?


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