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How creative can you be with just one paperclip?

Sam Osys

I was sketching out a new portrait idea when my husband asked me why is it that some people are creative and can create something out of nothing?

I personally think that everyone is born creative. We sit children down at a table with a blank sheet of paper and some crayons and they start scribbling, limited only by the boundaries of their imagination. Over the years we begin to worry about what to draw, how to draw it, who we’re drawing it for and if they will like it. It is only when we choose to walk away from drawing the table that some of our creativity seems to dry up.

Then there are some who choose to stay at the table.

So, what is creativity? 

Creativity is the ability to produce new ideas or the process of generating novel solutions to problems (OSCRiceUniversity). People are typically born with varying degrees of creativity but can also develop their own natural capacity for creativity by learning how to be more innovative and open-minded.

As a creative person I have always been curious about what creativity is and how it manifests itself.

Creativity is often associated with innovation, but it is so much broader. It is the ability to use skill and imagination to produce something new. It can take many forms, from the invention of a product or service to the composition of music or painting.

Creativity is what makes our world so beautiful. An artist, writer, or musician can transform raw material into something special that creates an emotional response from a consumer. It is powerful to develop new ideas, solve complex problems, and express oneself in a way that no one else can quite replicate.

In 1968, George Land and Beth Jarman conducted an experiment with 1,600 5-year-old children. They repeated the experiment with the same children when they were 10 and 15 and with a separate group of adults. Participants were asked to come up with as many ideas for what they could use a paperclip for. The results were fascinating. 

The percentage of participants that scored "Genius Level" (the most ideas) by age group:

  • 5-year-olds: 98%
  • 10-year-olds: 30%
  • 15-year-olds: 12%
  • Adults: 2% 

Young children have incredible imaginations and take a while to develop the annoying internal voice that tells them an idea is stupid or illogical. Children use divergent thinking – the ability to use imagination to think about what is possible. They are not restricted by previous experiences of rejection or embarrassment. Once they have explored the possibilities, they start to converge to make a choice and decide an object's purpose. (Bolton)

Over time our creative thinking starts to become affected by conditioning to social norms that reinforce stereotypes. Our thinking goes from being mainly divergent (ability to come up with novel ideas to solve problems) to convergent (solving problems with general information, also referred to as choice-making). But according to Zhang et all in their paper on Metacontrol of human creativity: The neurocognitive mechanisms of convergent and divergent thinking, we need a combination of both to be genuinely creative (Zhang, Sjoerds, & Hommel, 2019)

Blog Post Image

The difference between divergent and convergent thinking

Research shows that convergent and divergent thinking happens in two different places in the brain, and the older we get, we shift from divergent thinking to convergent. This is when convergent and divergent thinking try to happen at the same time. The divergent part fires up with ideas that are bursting to come out, but the convergent brain shuts them down, dubbing them as "dumb" before they even have a chance to think the idea through. It is a protective thought mechanism, ensuring that people get the "right" answer as quickly as possible. (Bolton)

Divergent thinking is critical for innovation.

And so, for organisational success, companies must start making time for divergence and promote a creative mindset.

  1. Let go of outcomes!Don't come up with solutions before you've had time to creatively think about the problem.
  2. Ask how might we do something?Not how CAN we do it. Open yourself to new possibilities.
  3. No idea is stupid. Ask for ALL of the ideas, not the "right" ideas and celebrate mistakes and failures the same way you celebrate success - people will be afraid to learn if they're not allowed to make mistakes. 

To be creative, you need to allow yourself to take risks, be flexible, and think outside the box. You also need to be open-minded and willing to accept different ideas from different people.

You can't force creativity, but there are things you can do to help cultivate your creative side:

  • Learn about different kinds of creativity: There are many kinds of creativity, so it's essential to learn about them to find what works best for your style. Some people like to learn by reading or watching whilst others prefer to get stuck in and start creating, learning from their own failures rather than following a process.
  • Make time for creative pursuits: Your time is valuable, so make sure you're spending enough time on things that will keep your mind stimulated and productive. This could include doing side projects, reading books, or going out for coffee.

Different types of creativity

While many people believe that being creative means you need to be artistic or have a "creative background," this couldn't be further from the truth. Being creative means thinking outside the box and coming up with new and innovative ideas, and it also means identifying and appreciating the beauty of something old or traditional. Above all, being creative means being able to express yourself in a way that your audience will understand and appreciate.

Research shows us that four types of creative insights occur in consciousness (Dietrich, 2004). Creativity is not something that a few possess. We are all born creative and can all have an innovative mindset. Creativity can be emotionally or cognitively based; it can also be spontaneous or deliberate.

Creative quadrant

Figure 1. Four basic types of creative insights result from two processing modes, deliberate and spontaneous, each of which can guide neural computation in structures that contribute emotional content and in systems that provide cognitive analysis. Crossing the two processing modes with the type of information yields the four basic types of creativity.

How to think creatively

We are all creative!

Creativity cannot be taught, but you can set up an environment that lends itself to creativity (Ahrens, 2017). Many factors contribute to a person's creativity. Children are taught to develop their creativity and are surrounded by things that encourage expression. A safe place for a person to explore creativity is in the classroom. If you give a child the freedom to express themselves, they will have more room to create. A child's imagination can focus on various things and explore what creativity means to them and their skills.

All of this can be applied in adulthood.

You can give creativity a boost by implementing a creative exercise. This can encourage an audience to think in new ways and develop the necessary skills to use their imagination to solve complex problems. It is essential to make sure that your workspace is set up and designed to allow creativity to flourish. Allow enough space for creativity within the room. To encourage employees to experiment with their ideas, they must have opportunities to collaborate and a setting that is accessible and flexible.

While creativity often requires artistic talent or training, it can be learned and developed by anyone. The key is to understand the right ways to be creative. Creativity is the process of developing new ideas and inventions through imagination. Human creativity plays a central role in personal expression, society, culture, and technology.

In Part 2, we will delve deeper on how to use creativity to solve problems and how fun collaboration can help spark innovative ideas.


Ahrens, S. (2017). How to Take Smart Notes: One Simple Technique to Boost Writing, Learning and Thinking – for Students, Academics and Nonfiction Book Writers. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

Bolton, R. (n.d.). GC Genuine Contact. Retrieved from

Dictionary, O. L. (n.d.). Dictionary. Retrieved from Oxford Learner's Dictionary : https://www.oxfordlearnersdict...

Dietrich, A. (2004). The cognitive neuroscience of creativity. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 1011-1026. (n.d.). Lexico. Retrieved from

OSCRiceUniversity. (n.d.). 36 What Are Intelligence and Creativity? Retrieved from PB Pressbooks: 

Zhang, W., Sjoerds, Z., & Hommel, B. (2019). Metacontrol of human creativity: The neurocognitive mechanisms of convergent and divergent thinking. Science Direct.


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