Monday 1 August 2022

Spark Magic with the Creative Habit • By Natascha Biebow

Do you think of yourself as a creative person? Maybe you think you were a bit more creative when you were a child . . . why?


Is creativity innate?


Professor George Land devised a creativity test for NASA to help select innovative engineers and scientists. In a 1968 longitudinal study, he decided to test it on other people. He found that 5 year olds scored 98% on the creativity test, while 15 year olds scored 12%, and adults just 2%.


Land concluded that “non-creative behavior is learned.” (Source: George Land and Beth Jarman, Breaking Point and Beyond. San Francisco: HarperBusiness, 1993)


So, what happens as we get older?


Jean Piaget (1896–1980) Swiss psychologist known
for his work on child development

From the age of 12 and up, children enter what psychologist Jean Piaget termed the Formal Operational Stage of development. They become logical thinkers, able to make more rational decisions and understand abstract ideas. Young adults can see multiple solutions to problems and consider the world through a more scientific lens.


The problem with this kind of thinking for creative outcomes is it also leads to self-criticism – mistakes and less than perfect creations are often rejected.


Teens and Adults are often more self-critical and ask fewer questions about the world.
Creativity has been shown to decrease as people get older.

Adolescents also develop a leaning towards value judgment and adapting to social constraints – teens and adults are keen to stick with what they know works. Thus they favour more predictable ways of doing things, which might be more consistently successful, but are often less creative.


The traditional education system, designed during the Industrial Revolution over 200 years ago in order to turn out good workers who followed directions, reinforces this kind of thinking also.


The traditional school classroom values gaining knowledge
and following rules rather than creativity.


Ironically, however, creativity in all age groups is more important than ever now.


According to American psychologist Robert J. Sternberg, dean of the school of arts and sciences at Tufts University, “The world is changing at a far greater pace than it ever has before, and people need constantly to cope with new and unusual kinds of tasks and situations. Learning in this era must be life-long, and people constantly need to be thinking in new ways. The problems we confront, whether in our families, communities, or nations, are novel and difficult, and we need to think creatively and divergently to solve these problems. The technologies, social customs, and tools available to us in our lives are replaced almost as quickly as they are introduced. We need to think creatively to thrive, and, at times, even to survive.”


And we need people like children’s book writers and illustrators to be creative with stories that will inspire, support and uplift young readers.


Books are key to firing up young readers' imaginations,
developing empathy, and fostering language and (visual) literacy.

But people who are in creative professions, such as us, might also be driven by constraints such as the need to make a living. 


Perhaps we feel we must make things that we know the market needs or that we think people will want to buy, as opposed to what we might make if we were given the freedom to just create from a more child-like place of ‘making something we love’.

However, any editor or agent when asked what they would like to take on for publication will inevitably recommend that people ‘write what they know’. This is because the true spark of creativity will shine through.


It creates MAGIC with readers . . .


. . . because it has been created from a place of passion and freedom; it is authentic. It connects with readers intimately. Sometimes, it also the most commercial also!


Arguably, if your raison d’etre is being an author or illustrator for a living, it can be useful to develop personal systems to stay creative, even as we age:




Sternberg also advises: “Creative people routinely approach problems in novel ways. Creative people habitually:


·      look for ways to see problems that other people don’t look for

·      take risks that other people are afraid to take

·      have the courage to defy the crowd and to stand up for their own beliefs

·      believe in their own ability to be creative

·      seek to overcome obstacles and challenges to their views that other people give in to

·      and are willing to work hard to achieve creative solutions.”


In other words, creativity is a habit that we should practise. And, as with everything, practise leads to perfection.




Finding random patterns and making connections often
sparks creative ideas, like the pieces in a kaleidescope.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Ernest L. Arbuckle Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, suggests that:

Creativity is a lot like looking at the world through a kaleidoscope. You look at a set of elements, the same ones everyone else sees, but then reassemble those floating bits and pieces into an enticing new possibility.

According to Kanter, powered by your imagination, Kaleidoscope thinking can be encouraged by:

·      Regularly making trips to new places to cultivate new and different experiences, out of the normal routine

·      Engaging with critics and challengers – those who old a different world view, beliefs or make different assumptions

·      Looking at what’s new and changing

·      Reading widely

·      Going to conferences or learning things that are new and unfamiliar

·      Exchanging ideas with others

- BE CREATIVE IN OTHER AREAS (Other than Children’s Writing & Illustrating):


If you do things that are creative and also unrelated to your writing and illustration and these might spark something. For instance:


-       Invent something to solve someone else’s problem

-       Sew something

-       Make a puppet

-       Fingerpaint – make a mess!

-       Create a new recipe

-       Make a collage

-       Make a video diary of your pet, favourite object or family member

-       doodle

-       Build with Lego

-       Melt some crayons with a hairdryer

Melt some old crayons with a hairdryer and see what you can create!

-       Change up your daily routine – eat dessert first! Go a different route round the supermarket



When you MOVE: when you go for a walk, shower, do some gardening or similar, you free up your mind.
Studies show that this leads to creative problem solving, 



When we allow for creative play like children, it creates opportunities for trying out new ideas, new ways of thinking and problem solving. We can allow ourselves to discover freely, without the censure of the voice that demands validation, financial compensation or approval.

We are just playing and saying ‘hey, look what I made!’ – for FUN.


Young children are not concerned about the end product and enjoy 'making' for fun.
It's the process that is creative and fun.

Importantly, we have to give ourselves permission to be creative:


Visionary educator Maria Montessori said, Imagination does not become great until human beings, given the courage and the strength, use it to create.”


Play is an important part of rearranging the kaleidescope bits to see new possibilities.


Allow and accept MISTAKES! 


In Beautiful Oops!, Barney Saltzberg explores the
amazing creative outcomes that can come as a result of a 'mistake'.

From Beautiful Oops! by Barney Saltzberg




Did you know that a bestselling Green Eggs and Ham was written as the result of a bet? When Random House founder Bennett Cerf bet one of his authors, Theo Geisel, that he couldn’t write an entertaining children’s book with just 50 different words, Dr. Seuss won that wager with Green Eggs and Ham, which has sold over 200 million copies.

Bestselling title Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss
was the result of a bet.

These limits stretch our problem-solving abilities and typically produce surprising results. That’s because your mind is forced into doing more divergent thinking.


        Albert Einstein said:

"Creativity is seeing what others see and thinking what no one else ever thought."


So, we have to TRUST that we can innovate – having this TRUST expands creativity.


Creativity, after all, BEGETS creativity!


Sculpture image of girl "Meisje met vogel, gedenkteken voor Maria Montessori" in Amsterdam by artist Gerarda Rueter

Natascha Biebow, MBE, Author, Editor and Mentor

Natascha is the author of the award-winning The Crayon Man: The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons, illustrated by Steven Salerno, winner of the Irma Black Award for Excellence in Children's Books, and selected as a best STEM Book 2020. Editor of numerous prize-winning books, she runs Blue Elephant Storyshaping, an editing, coaching and mentoring service aimed at empowering writers and illustrators to fine-tune their work pre-submission, and is the Editorial Director for Five Quills. Find out about her new picture book webinar courses! She is Co-Regional Advisor (Co-Chair) of SCBWI British Isles. Find her at



Pippa Goodhart said...

Such an important topic! How can we come up with new ideas if we don't make leaps of imagination beyond what is already known and accepted? Play is absolutely vital.

Juliet Clare Bell said...

I've used Beautiful Oops in author visits with children. And I feel that there's a theme coming through after our recent retreat! Hooray for play!