Quest For Creativity: Why Can’t We Be Children Again?

We’ve all encountered children with vivid imaginations. Some have imaginary friends while other see remarkable patterns in otherwise mundane things. Here’s a sample scenario:

You take your daughter to the park. She points to a big cloud in the sky and says, ‘Papa look. An elephant!’; all you can do is stare at the boring lifeless lump. You say, ‘Umhmm’, try shrugging it off as stupid, and your super-observant daughter instantly knows papa doesn’t get it. She then starts explaining how the thin wobbly line at the top of the cloud resembles a trunk, the blobs on either side look like ears, and the rest of the upside-down U shaped cloud, an elephant as seen from the back; the final touch being the little tail-like wisp inside the bend. ‘Aah! Now I see it.’

Can you spot a frog? [SPOILER on the right]

Can you spot a frog in the cloud? [spoiler alert!]

If we could quantify Creativity, we would find that, mathematically speaking, age is inversely proportional to creativity (in most cases). So the real question here is ‘what changes when we grow up’? Is there a switch that is suddenly turned off as soon as we reach adulthood? Are our minds so polluted with everyday problems that we stop observing, really observing, things? Is it maybe that our educational system is too linear, too one-dimensional? Is our thought process too subjective or biased? Or is the fear of being mocked by society for indulging in childish fantasies too gripping?

I love children and everyone who knows me knows as much. Children just connect with me and I to them, and it has been so for as long as I can remember. One of my younger cousins even used to call me his mama (i.e. mother), an honor I still unabashedly cherish to this day. What I lack in having a degree in Child Psychology, I make up for in experience. From what I have seen so far, children have some innate abilities, an eye for detail, and a thirst for knowledge most of us can only dream of having. Let us look at few of the qualities that make children more creative and even though some of these might be interrelated/over-lapping, they are nevertheless individual traits:

Forgiving / Forgetting

If you read anyone’s New Year’s resolutions, I’m sure you will have quite a few for mending broken relationships or rekindling ties with the estranged. A while back, I wrote an article on ‘Punishment for Breaking Ties in Islam’; statistics on this blog show it to be one of the most-read articles. Being an adult means making hard decisions and sometimes, these decisions cost us our loved ones. One simple argument can create huge rifts that put the Grand Canyons to shame. We focus so much of our energy nurturing this hate that at times, it becomes all-consuming, destroying everything in its path.

“It was his fault; he should apologize.”

“I am never talking to her again.”

“Over my dead body.”

Children have a totally different approach to this problem. I took my daughter to a pediatrician and she told me that children have a very short memory span. They fight with each other and two minutes later, all is forgotten and you’d find them playing together. This, I believe, is a key factor that develops the creative side in children. So as a lesson, let us set our egos aside, spend less time scheming and plotting our revenge, take things in stride, forgive and forget, and use our minds for something constructive; water under the bridge, people.

Fearless / Audacious

Adults are generally driven by consequences. Our entire day is based on what-if scenarios and we are generally driven towards choosing an easy way out for every problem. Life as an adult is all about boundaries, personal spaces and comfort zones. Then again, the definition of comfort varies from person to person; a person may be comfortable jumping to earth from space but might be scared of public speaking. Most of us never dare venture out of our comfort zones and even if we do, we chicken out the moment we encounter something remotely risky.

Let me give you a fearless example from my life. I personally don’t have any issues with cats but my wife is scared of them; my daughter, on the other hand, is obsessed with these furry creatures. My wife fears their sharp claws and the angry hissing noises they make; having never seen any of those things, my daughter passionately chases after one and at times, I have to hold her tight so as to prevent her from strangling the cat in question. She is not afraid and is willing to try new things, except for food, maybe; getting her to eat something is a feat in itself.

In short, children are not afraid of the consequences. We often scold them for breaking apart things, forgetting the key fact that even if it may look destructive, the exercise on the whole is actually contributing a lot to the child’s education. You simply cannot put up a price tag on the experience. Adults generally tend to associate a monetary value with everything. How many of us will willingly break apart our iPhones only to examine their internal contents, just out of curiosity?

Inquisitive / Curious

Ignorance is bliss but people belonging to the knowledge-is-power sect may beg to differ; would any of you ever willingly touch a snake? Obviously not! For children, everything counts as ‘an experience’. Whether it is taking the first steps or trying a particular fruit, each of these things gets a child into sensory overload; these feelings, or inputs, are then decoded into likes and dislikes, loves and hates. I have noticed that my 10-month old nephew is more eager to try new things as opposed to my 22-month old daughter. Taking things downwards on the age comparison, I find that my 4-month old son is more interested in the surroundings than either his sister or his cousin; he probably knows the intricacies of the ceiling fan better than anyone else in my house.

From all these observations, I have come to a simple conclusion; Children inherently have unbiased opinions. They are more subjective, open to new ideas, and ready to explore new avenues; adults, on the other hand, are generally inflexible. Children see the world in a different light; they analyze, think and evaluate ideas, no matter how absurd or preposterous the concepts may seem. We, on the other hand, say NO to anything that goes against our principles, our beliefs, and don’t skip a heartbeat in trashing it straight-away.

Free-thinkers / Broad-minded

If you’ve ever been to interviews, the phrase that truly sells you to a prospective employer is ‘Out-of-the-box thinker’. Ever wondered why it is so? Adults tend to be very linear, one-dimensional, in their approach. Most of us don’t see things from a different perspective, that’s why fancy concepts like out-of-the-box thinking are all the rage these days.

When it comes to children though, everything from a close inspection of car to the cereal they oh-so love is out-of-the-box (no pun intended). They just seem to see everything in a different light and a have a multidimensional perspective. They ask a lot of questions to understand concepts until all their curiosity is satiated. My daughter loves asking questions, so much so that at times, we just hold our hurting heads and beg her to stop the inquisition; fortunately, that doesn’t stop her from asking more.

We adults, however, feel ashamed to ask questions, fearing that asking too many questions might make us look dumb. There’s this one friend of mine who’s a genius (Masha Allah), literally (Ph.D. from MIT, working for Google, etc.), and he once told me something I haven’t let go of till this day:

One who asks a question is a fool for five minutes, but one who doesn’t, is a fool forever [Chinese Proverb]

The key point here is to see every issue, every problem, using a holistic approach, keeping your bias out of the equation and to freely ask questions. You may come across pros you might be against, cons you might actually support, but you need to be open-minded and listen to all sides of the story before drawing conclusions.

Visionaries with Wild Imaginations

Being adult means being extra-cautious before saying anything out of the ordinary, lest society labels you a weirdo.

“That’s preposterous. What would they think if I said this out loud?”

We also don’t hesitate to label someone as soon as something remotely fantastical comes out of their mouth.

“Are you five?”

The great thing about children is that they often mix fantasy with real life; that in itself is a big difference in how we adults perceive the world. We compartmentalize our thoughts, making judgments on what is acceptable and what is not, and have an innate need to ‘keep it real’. On the contrary, children have no mental boundaries; its all uncharted territory, a blank canvas waiting to be painted with the colors of creativity. Imaginary friends, bizarre drawings (that, if painted by adults, count as ‘abstract art’), and monsters in the closet are all part of this world they live in. Leading companies across the globe have realized the value of these ideas and have concluded that children have a lot more potential for creativity than adults. That is why, they run annual competitions where children are encouraged to envision a greener world or draw their fantasy cars.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

I just love observing my children. Call me neurotic (after all, what parent isn’t?) but I tend to capture even the least insignificant of my children’s accomplishments as a record of their history, their growth, and their victories. Whether it’s a photo of my son holding his milk bottle for the very first time or a video of my daughter naming all her favorite candies (Smarties=Mattish, M&Ms=M.M.M., Maltesers=Matishers), I have it all on camera, thanks to the digital revolution (man, we’re lucky!).

Children can be a constant source of inspiration and learning; all we need is to look at them in a different light, take a moment to understand their thought process and take them seriously. To truly unleash our creative potential, we need to start experiencing things like they do. They may be ignorant, but they are certainly not stupid. We as parents should nurture and encourage these behavioral traits from childhood so that our children can transgress with these into adulthood.

After all is said and done, I am painfully aware of the fact I am about to present to you:

When we are young, we can’t wait to grow up, be independent. It’s only after we get there do we realize how enslaved we are by our very minds and know the true value of freedom.

Love is in the air

Love is in the air

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7 thoughts on “Quest For Creativity: Why Can’t We Be Children Again?

  1. you keep seeing parents cousins and relatives telling children how they were when they were younger, how intelligent, how sporty and how observant and imaginative, your writeup is reminiscent of the same warmth and expressions… enjoyed the read..

  2. Amazing article! I do agree we get less creative as we grow up. But I think there’s a solid reason for it.

    Creativity usually doesn’t get results. And as we grow up – we need results. Whether it’s grades in class, a degree in college, or meeting deadlines in a company.

    We have to do whatever it takes to get those results. And applying creativity is a huge a risk.

    I used to be highly creative as a child. But when I tried to apply that same creativity to business, I couldn’t make a dime. Nothing that I tried worked.

    So I just modeled what other successful business did. And I started getting results. Now that I’ve have a secure base to stand on – I can get creative again. But starting off, being creative was a burden rather than an advantage.

    Anyways.. loved your article. I wish we could have the child like wonder all over again 🙂

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