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Creativity Comments by Winston J. Brill, Ph.D.

12/02 Creativity Comment

Reaching Your "Inner Child"?

How many times have you heard the opinion that, as we become adults, we lose the creative abilities we once had?  Also, you’ve likely heard that, to be very creative, you have to think like a child.  In fact, quite a few creativity techniques, used at work, rely on trying to reach our “inner child.”  Such methods include playing with toys or games, or pretending being five years old—to solve work problems.  In my study of great ideas in the workplace (Creativity Comment 03/01), I didn’t find a single example of a great idea occurring when someone intentionally tried to reach his or her “inner child.”

But how creative is a child?  That depends on the definition of creativity.  If creativity merely means thinking with minimal conceptual barriers, then being childlike is very creative.  To solve a workplace technical problem, a 5-year old could, for instance, suggest adding kryptonite or waving a magic wand.  However, as we’re defining the subject in these Comments, creativity means having new and useful ideas.  Those ideas, with regard to the workplace, should be useful to your company.  Would you really want the child mind at work?  I say keep the inner-child out of the workplace (that is, unless you produce items or services that are specifically purchased for, or by, children).

At work, our challenges are bounded by all sorts of barriers.  Of course, once in a while, a real breakthrough idea is thought of by someone who has jumped over a major barrier.  But, I bet that person didn’t think of the idea by reverting to “being like a child.”  Most likely, the great idea came about while being involved in an activity such as driving, taking a shower, or resting in bed (see Creativity Comment 04/01), not by intentionally acting, or thinking, “childlike.”  

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