For the last week or so, every weekday at around 8am, from the window of my apartment, I notice a parent on the school run carrying a young child under their arm like a rugby ball. For this parent it seems the game ‘the floor is lava’ is an absolute necessity to get their little’un at the school gates on time.

The parent carries the 5/6 year old from a bench, to a wall, to a concrete block to another bench before they head off the concourse and on to the next stage of their daily commute. Each day you can see the youngster’s imagination running wild as they add a new rule to the game or insist on one more lap before they continue their morning journey.

Imagination comes so naturally to young people, if you needed further evidence of this just take a look at the two tweets below that have made me smile in the last couple of weeks.

This morning as I sipped my first cuppa of the day, three thoughts came to mind:

  1. Can creativity and imagination be learnt or practiced?
  2. What do others do to harness creativity?
  3. Maybe I should start carrying emergency confetti

In the peak of lockdown number one I read an article by IdeaPod on creativity. The article explains that NASA carried out some research testing 1600 5-year olds on their ability to come up with new, different, and innovative ideas to problems.

The percentage of these 5-year olds that fell into the genius category of imagination…98%!

NASA tested the children again 5 years later and only 30% fell in to the genius category for imagination. This continues to drop to 12% when they test them again another 5 years later and by the time we’re adults they predict it’s around 2%.

The 2% figure doesn’t come as a massive surprise, however I’ve worked in the physical activity and sport sector now for six years and if there is one skill I feel we downplay its creativity. I’ve lost count of the amount times at conferences, in meetings or on training I’ve heard the phrase “Sorry, I’m not very good when it comes to being creative” (of course we apologise first, it’s a British thing).

But that’s not true, imaginative solutions and working collaboratively to solve problems is one of our biggest strengths and I think 2020 has evidenced this for our sector more so than ever. Maybe the first step to being creative is accepting and believing that you are?

“The most creative people are motivated by the grandest of problems that are presented before them.” – Neil deGrasse Tyson

So how do we harness our creativity and be more 5 year old? 

I don’t like dedicating time to be ‘creative’ because it generally doesn’t work for me, creativity comes to me in peaks and troughs so when I’m feeling creative I just run with it and accept that other ‘important’ stuff must wait.

However recently I have been breaking my rule around dedicating time to creativity and I have been practicing an idea I have pinched from American artist Tom Sachs who talks about this idea of ‘Output before you input’.  First thing in the morning before you look at your email, instagram, the newspaper, make a phone call or whatever it is you do as part of your morning routine, we should write, dance, sing, draw, paint, do whatever your creative release is before you do anything else.

Sachs explains that the reason to do this is while you’re sleeping, you’re spending numerous hours with your subconscious mind making sense of nonsense. When you wake up you have exclusive access to this divergent part of your brain (which is used for generating new possibilities) before it starts to get influenced by external information from your phone, tv etc (the conscious brain).

The results have been mixed; I have opted for a notebook by the side of my bed. Some days I write/draw nothing, other days I can’t pick up the pad quick enough. The ideas are also very random, one day I had some thoughts about Xmas presents  and another day I woke up with ideas around how to make the SpaceX spacesuit more stylish… maybe that’s the beauty of it.

There’s not a set way to practice being creative; you must find what works for you. As the nation heads out of lockdown number two, we will again be challenged to solve grand problems and being creative can help us to do that.

Let me know how you are harnessing your creativity at this time and next time you see me, share some good news… I might have my emergency confetti!

Thanks for reading, Shay.

While you’re here: We’re committed to helping to support the coaches, leaders, volunteers and organisations who make sport and activity happen across Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes, for our latest information around support for deliverers during the Covid-19 pandemic click here.