This is why, Lerner continues, young people can be so innovative and disruptive in their fields.
They are “natural outsiders”.
A study done by Adolphe Quetelet in the 19th century shows that creativity doesn’t increase with experience. By studying the bodies of work of various playwrights, he found the so-called “inverted U curve” of creative output: creativity appears to peak, then level out, then start to fall as the individual moves into middle age.
Dean Simonton, a psychologist at UC-Davis, expanded on this, demonstrating that physicists usually make their most important discoveries before the age of thirty. (The only field that peaks before physics seems to be poetry.) Simonton argues that the innocence and ignorance of these young whippersnappers “makes them more willing to embrace radical new ideas”.
Meanwhile, the more experienced creators “start to repeat themselves, so that it becomes more of the same-old same-old.”
The move from outsider to insider status, then, seems to equal creative death.
Our thoughts get trapped by the familiar. The brain is a lazy beast. It’s constantly tracking patterns and looking for shortcuts. It’s constantly learning what it can get away with: what it doesn’t have to bother to notice. The more expert you become, the more settled in routine thinking-grooves, the more the brain blocks out all the stuff that’s not relevant.
The problem is, creativity happens when the brain is forced to make connections and find relationships between things that, on the surface anyway, don’t appear to have any relevance to each other.
Which means that creativity gets exchanged for efficiency.
But it doesn’t have to be this way…
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