Teach youth to train their brain to be more creative

Try these proven principles to spur creativity in your classroom, club or home.

Creativity image
Photo by Kathy Jamieson, MSU Extension

Albert Einstein once said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For while knowledge defines all we currently know and understand, imagination points to all we might yet discover and create." With the age of automation, artificial intelligence and big data analytics, creative problem-solving has been identified as an essential skill needed in today’s and tomorrow’s workforce.

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), an international evaluation conducted every three years, began measuring creative problem-solving in 2012 and collaborative problem-solving in 2015. According to their results from 44 developed nations, a large proportion (21.4 percent) of 15-year-olds lacked basic problem-solving skills. In particular, the United State faired only slightly better than the average with 18.2 percent of students lacking proficiency in creative problem-solving. Overall, the United States scored 18th in comparison to the other 44 countries with Singapore, Korea and Japan having the highest overall score.

How can you help children better compete in the global workforce? How can you promote creative problem-solving in your club, class or even your home? Michigan State University Extension provides the following recommendations adults can use with youth to build the creative skills needed in this ever-changing world.

Collaborate. Create a safe, comfortable, collaborative environment where creativity can flourish. Creativity is increased when members of a group feel comfortable in jointly taking risks, resolving uncertainty and finding new ways of problem-solving. To reduce groupthink and conformity, the group leader should “encourage members to speak their minds openly so that different perspectives are discussed and debated” suggests Ben Dattner, PhD, an industrial and organizational psychologist in his article “Preventing Groupthink.”

Read. Encourage youth to read deeply and not just skim the surface for simple answers. You have to know a subject well enough to be able to identify gaps, needs or problems. The more you know about something, the more you can copy it, compare and contrast it with something similar or different, and create something new. Recommend youth read widely and consume content outside their comfort zone so they can be exposed to new concepts, ideas, perspectives and people.

Explore. Encourage young people to experiment with a new project or engage in a conversation with someone they do not know. It is about experiencing the unfamiliar and helping them expand their comfort zone and take risks.

Ask questions. The kinds of questions asked can cultivate curiosity or create conformity. By asking open-ended questions, you can prompt reflection and deeper exploration. Carefully frame your questions to solicit rich information instead of yes-no or simple answers. Be mindful of asking questions such as “Why did you do this?” that might place blame or ignite defensiveness.

Test. All ideas do not have the same value. Give youth time to test their thoughts and theories to see if they have merit or if they can be improved upon. Try to restrain from giving them the “correct” answers when they struggle and let them persevere and discover the answers for themselves.

Imagine. Provide time for young people to dream or doodle or do nothing at all. Let their mind’s eye wander. We can be more creative when we are relaxed. Research by University of California, Santa Barbara psychology professor Jonathan Schooler and his colleagues, for example, finds that people are more creative after they have been daydreaming or letting their minds wander.

Visualize. Visualization is a powerful tool for goal achievement. Think it, feel it, see it, make it real using all the senses. Help young people visualize the process, not just the outcome. The more specific details the better.

Exercise. Incorporate some kind of physical activity into your club, group or classroom. Go for a walk and explore your surroundings. It might spur inspiration for your next big idea. Research by cognitive psychologist Professor Lorenza Colzato found that those who exercised four times a week were able to think more creatively than those with a more inactive way of life.

The New Year is a perfect time to inspire the innovative spirit in youth. This January, join in the celebration of International Creativity Month by learning from the visionaries and motivating others to explore their own internal creativity.

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