At first blush, intelligence and creativity seem like two separate things. High IQ is all about recalling and manipulating information consciously. Creativity often seems more mysterious -- ideas simply pop into your head while you're in the shower or appear unbidden while you're staring out a train window.
But according to author and cognitive scientist Guy Claxton the two abilities are actually intimately interrelated, but not in the way you might imagine. In a talk last year at the London Business Forum the expert on learning and creativity argued that trying to be clever often makes us less creative.
Too clever for creativity?
Everyone wants to be seen as smart, and there's nothing wrong with that. The problem arises, according to Claxton, when our definition of intelligence is too narrow.
"There's an expanding idea of what it means to be intelligent," he says. "The narrow idea is all built around what I call cleverness, which is the ability to argue, to marshall facts, to interpret a spreadsheet. It's all done through reason. It's all done consciously, but what we now know through research is that while that remains an extremely useful aspect of intelligence, there's an awful lot more that's going on on the margins of the mind, areas that are much more hazy or poetic."
In our efforts to appear clever, we often make decisions too quickly or spout off the first vaguely intelligent idea that pops into our head. True creativity needs time and space -- shortcircuit the creative process with constant quick rational responses and you eliminate the space for the really innovative.
Slow down your decision making
To avoid thinking too much getting in the way of your creativity, Claxton recommends you live by a simple creativity principle -- never make a decision before you have to. "Whenever there's a decision that needs to be made, the first thing you ask yourself is 'When does this decision need to be made?' and you don't make it until then," he instructs.
"If you decide prematurely, if you somehow assume that fast decisiveness is the hallmark of intelligence, it's actually the reverse of that, it's a hallmark of stupidity because it stops you giving yourself the time to collect more information, to listen to more hunches, to allow more creative ideas to bubble up into your mind. If you deprive yourself of that, that's not being smart. That's merely being macho," he cautions.
So the next time you feel the urge to leap in with arguments and conclusions the instant a problem or question is tabled, ask yourself if your need to respond immediately is because the issue is genuinely urgent, or because you're just trying to show off your intelligence. If it's the latter, a gentle reminder to yourself that being more creative often means being less clever, might result in the space you need to come up with your best ideas.
Are you ever too rational and decisive for your own good?