In 1968, professor George Land conducted a research study on creativity using a creative test that he devised for NASA to select innovative scientists and engineers. It was a simple test that measured the ability to look at a problem and generate new and innovative ideas. A sample American population of 1,600 four to five year olds were part of the research and the results showed 98% scored at the genius level of imagination. That finding lead to a longitudinal study to retest the group again at 10 and 15 years old. What he found was at age 10, those who scored at the genius level dropped to 30% and 12% at 15 years old. The same test was given to over 1 mil adults, average 31 years old, and only 2% scored at the genius level. In a separate longitudinal creativity test, the Torrance Tests of Creativity Thinking by Ellis Paul Torrance, the results showed that the highest creativity drop in elementary school children occurs at around nine years old or fourth grade. The phenomenon is referred to as the "Fourth grade slump in creativity." Jeanne S. Chall, a Harvard Graduate School of Education psychologist, writer and researcher, first coined the "Fourth grade slump" when she identified two stages of reading development: "learning to read" and "reading to learn," in which the second stage takes place at fourth grade and beyond causes a dip in reading. It is during the second stage where study has shown 40% of kids between five to eight years old read everyday but drops to 29% by fourth grade in a 2006 Scholastic Inc. survey.
A similar point on lost of creativity was made by Sir Ken Robinson in his famous TED talk about schools killing creativity. In his talk, he highlights our education system prioritizes subjects to support the labor workforce and uses academic performance as a measure of intelligence. This ongoing tendency to measure and bound children to those two performance factors undermines brilliance that do not fit the system. I believe this narrow point of view is what conditions us to follow the roads set by others and forget that we have the capability to diverge and use our creativity and imagination, like our five year old self, to dream up new paths.
Divergent thinking is the essence of creativity and foundational to the ideation process of design thinking. It is the process of allowing the mind to freely imagine new possibilities, without judgment of what's possible or not. Once you have a set of new and innovative ideas available, you'd then converge back and move forward with the best sets of options. For example, if we can agree that there are jobs in the future that no one knows about today, then we must begin to diverge on what we can do with our passion, outside of the society's norm. Once we are faced with possibilities, we can then converge to form tangible paths that will lead us to our unique purpose.
Stop looking outward for answers and begin to cultivate your divergent thinking skills and let your creativity propel you forward.