Creativity: nature or nurture?
By Jack Stacey
Creativity is the backbone of digital marketing.
Everything that takes place under the marketing roof requires creativity, whether it’s a client-facing role creating a sales pitch, a front-end developer creating code or a PR executive creating a campaign.
While design skills require a great deal of practice and years of experience to master, is creative skill innate, something you either have or you don’t, or is it something anyone could do given the right opportunities?
Are we born creative or do we develop our creative talents as we go?
The scientific explanation
As with many aspects to human personality, there is a scientific explanation for our creativity, linked to the human brain.
Keith Heilman’s detailed investigation into creativity and the mind revealed that those who are described as more creative tend to have a different cerebral makeup than others. The corpus callosum is a series of fibres which link the two halves of the brain, and the study discovered that ‘creative’ people tended to have a smaller corpus callosum than average. The fewer cerebral linking fibres led the two halves to become more specialised, thus allowing the creative half to dedicate more brainpower to creative pursuit.
On the other hand, renowned psychologist Grant Hilary Brenner, MD, FAPA suggests that creative output is linked to three different systems within the brain working together: an idle state which carries out the everyday processes, an executive control network to make decisions, and a salience network which monitors cerebral inputs. A study corroborates this, and indicates that in creative people, these three networks are better connected, yielding easy access to creative inspiration.
So from a neuroscience perspective, creativity could be linked to a specific connective make up within the brain. But that’s only one possible explanation.
The psychological rebuke
Of course, there’s more to creativity than just how our brains are constructed. This is where psychology steps up to be counted in the pursuit of creativity – according to a variety of academic sources, we, as children and adults, have our creativity bolstered and nurtured by a number of external factors.
There is a concept that suggests that a child’s exposure to creativity can promote creativity within themselves, regardless of their cerebral make up. Research indicates that when children see someone else act in a creative manner, they become more inclined to carry out their own creative actions, thus setting them down a path to become a ‘creative’. In a similar vein, uninstructed playtime has been found to foment creativity in children, leading them to create situations and stories, and to develop solutions to made-up scenarios. Both of these examples show that creativity can be taught and ultimately nurtured in children, regardless of the connectivity of their brains.
The same understanding, that creativity can come from external factors, can also be applied to adults. There is a common understanding within psychology that adult humans can be creative, simply by working hard at it. This ‘working hard’ involves changing yourself and your environment to make both elements more conducive to creative inspiration. With creativity commonly linked to energy, for example, activities which promote energy such as sleeping, good eating habits and exercise can all lead to increased creativity. Another idea suggests that those in pursuit of creativity should avoid situations or actions which can dampen creative outputs; an example of this is over-working without breaks, since this does not allow the brain to generate new ideas.
Nurture with just a dash of nature
The honest answer, as it would seem to be, is that creativity is a combination of both nature and nurture. While it could be true that some people are born more creative than others thanks to their cerebral makeup, this means little without the upbringing, hard work and selfcare that’s necessary for creativity to thrive. A key lesson we can take from this is that the more content we feel, in ourselves and in our world, the more creative our output becomes as problem solvers, creators and innovators.
Drive, ambition and energy are cornerstones of creativity – far more important to creative endeavours than the size of one’s corpus callosum.