Posted by: crudbasher | March 28, 2014

Do Rules Stifle Creativity?

My son Nicholas is nearly 14 months old now. Here’s a pic.

Nicholas, age 14 months

Nicholas, age 14 months

Each morning I get to spend a little time with him before I go to work. As a person who has been intensely interested in how people learn and why people are creative, I have been watching him develop with great interest. An observation occurred to me a few days ago that I wanted to relate.

What I have noticed is the way he plays with toys has changed over the last few months. It used to be that he would play with a toy and the pieces that go with it, then he would put it down and go to a different toy. Now he tends to use pieces of toys together. It’s like he’s trying to figure out what things can be used in combination.



As I watch him I have the urge sometimes to tell him that certain things won’t work together. For example, he has this ball popper thing where it uses a fan to propel a small ball up a tube and pop it into the air. It then gets caught by a bowl and returned back to the other end of the tube to be popped out again. You can get a cycle of about 5 balls going at once. It’s loud, plays music and he loves it. The other day he started dropping other things into the tube. Of course that didn’t work but I restrained myself from telling him that. I want him to figure out things for himself.

Being able to figure out other uses for things is called Divergent Thinking. I first heard the term from Sir Ken Robinson’s RSA talk. It starts at 7:40.

Nicholas is an expert at Divergent Thinking. (Ok, I’ll admit the first thing he does with a new toy is put it into his mouth, but after that he gets quite creative.) He literally has no limits on what he can imagine to do with something because he has no previous experience. As we develop as children we gain rules and experience and thus start ruling options out. Why is that? I think it may because as we get older we move into more structured rules sets. In school there are all sorts of rules aren’t there? Almost everything a student does is governed by rules. Some of them don’t even make sense but we tend to accept them anyway. There is a certain mindlessness to it and very little common sense.

More importantly though, in school a student knows that there is one right answer and if you are patient you will be told what it is. In that situation, why would you spend any time thinking about alternative solutions? This is why I believe schools produce people who have very little creativity at the end. In fact the ones who are the most creative often have the most trouble in school.

Well whatever the cause, I am going to make sure Nicholas gets to be as creative as he wants to be for as long as I can keep it going. There is no more important skill or ability he will enter adulthood with and I view it as my job to help him nurture it.



  1. You’re on too something here and I fully agree. I don’t know your future education plans for Nicolas but I hope they will continue just as they are. Parents are a child first, and many times best, teachers.

    Wishing you many happy years of parental observations ahead!

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