Deferring Judgment and the Creativity Crisis

The Bronson and Merryman article on the crisis in creativity which originally ran in Newsweek is a must-read. The authors blend longitudinal studies (drawing upon the seminal Torrence Test of Creative Thinking) with recent findings on brain science to make their case for a renewed attention on deliberate creativity. There’s much to note in what they say.

But here’s a bit that’s overlooked, and which is absolutely essential in cultivating creativity: deferral of judgment. Without this, creative thinking cannot take hold. E. Paul Torrance, the creator of the Torrance Test for Creative Thinking, knew this to be true. Deferring judgment is one of the ground rules for effective divergent thinking; it helps keep us open to the ideas that are truly novel and useful.

In the Newsweek article, authors Bronson and Merryman allude to deferral of judgment obliquely. They refer to “a populace…receptive to the ideas of others,” and to teachers who are “tolerant of unconventional answers,” but they don’t call it out by name. Which is a shame, because premature judgment and pre-judgment are insidious, ever-present challenges to the flourishing of creativity.

Think your idea’s bad before you’ve even really started? Afraid to make the big mistakes that can lead to big breakthroughs? Need to have the innovative response yesterday? Then the chances are your judgement is flying high.

Obviously, we do need to make judgments, we do need to make decisions about the quality, novelty and appropriateness of what we’ve created. But please, defer them! Don’t try to diverge (generate ideas) and converge (evaluate and select them) at the same time. As Alex Osborn, another giant in the field of creativity, famously observed, this is akin to driving with one foot on the gas and one foot on the brake. You won’t get far.

In its best sense, what the Newsweek article suggests is not a contest, but an invitation to discover (and rediscover) your own creativity — best engaged in when the judging mind is made to wait, at least for a little while.

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  • Thank you for your insite into this artical I too saw this artical and wrote about it in my latest column and blog “Voice of the Artist”
    While sitting in the waiting room of my dentist office this week, the cover of Newsweek caught my eye: “Creativity in America“. Inside I found an article entitled, The Creativity Crisis – For the first time, research shows that American creativity is declining. What went wrong and how can we fix it?
    They definitely had my attention now. My concerns over the decline of the arts in our schools were confirmed when I read the following statement, “Kyung Hee Kim at the College of William & Mary discovered this in May, after analyzing almost 300,000 Torrance scores of children and adults. Kim found creativity scores had been steadily raising, just like IQ scores, until 1990. Since then, creativity scores have consistently inched downward. “It’s very clear, and the decrease is very significant,” Kim says. It is the scores of younger children in America—from kindergarten through sixth grade—for whom the decline is “most serious.”

    If you follow my columns you all know I am all about “Loving What Is”. So, if creativity is on the decline in America, or bringing it closer to home here in Middlesex County, what do we have right here in River City (Billerica) that is already in place that encourages creativity?

    If you are looking to give voice to the visual arts in the form of painting, drawing, cartooning, animation (new class this fall) and mixed medias, we have amazing teachers here at Colleen Sgroi Gallery & Art Classes. We have classes for adults, teens, children of all ages and I even offer a senior citizen class at a great discount. If you are home schooling and want to bring your children to do art with other kids we even have an art home schooling program.
    Now, if you or your kids are musically inclined, there is BTL Music School two doors away from me my art center on Andover Road. Parents have been coordinating their kid’s classes with art and music around the schedules of classes we both offer.
    Another creative avenue is acting and drama found at Atlantis Playmakers, which is located at 380 Cambridge Street in Burlington. They offer acting classes for adults and children.
    Then, thanks to shows like “So You Think You Can Dance” the creative flow of dance has made a huge come back into our culture. I love that show. Just in Billerica alone there is Sally Gould Dance Center on Boston Road, Gotta Dance on Chelmsford Road and Ellen’s School of Dance on Boston Road.

    The value of expression through the arts is one that is hard to measure. So let me just share what I see. I see kids with learning disabilities gain self confidence as they tap into their god given creativity. I see teens who are struggling for identity find peace through the sometimes dark tunnel of the teen years. I see adults who have lost loved ones find solace in painting in a group of like minded people and create friendships to last a lifetime. I see adults, who always wondered if they could paint, find joy in the creative process. I see lives enriched everyday. I see!

    If you would like to “see” too, make a commitment toward creativity this year and email me to tell me so at: Together we can bring a heightened awareness to the power of creativity to ourselves, our children, our community, our country and our world. For it is in this very way, we are like our creator.

    Colleen is a teaching artist at Colleen Sgroi Gallery & Art Classes, 12 Andover Road, Billerica, MA 978-667-1009 Email:

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