When it comes to the state of creativity in the U.S., the news isn't very good--and it's not getting any better.

On July 10, 2010, an article--"The Creativity Crisis in America," by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman--was published by Newsweek, triggering a tsunami of articles, news stories, and op-eds on the topic of creativity, or more specifically, the lack thereof.

The media frenzy was caused by the publication of KH Kim's research on creativity in the United States. In her study, Kim demonstrated that both creativity and IQ scores rose steadily from 1966 until 1990. After that period, American creativity scores declined significantly.

The upshot is this: today, Americans are less able to think creatively than they were 25 years ago. Furthermore, this decline continues with no end in sight.

Kim's analysis broke down separate aspects of creativity and measured each one individually. The results showed a decrease in many of the component parts of creativity, such as the ability to:

  • Generate a large number of unusual or original ideas
  • See things from a different perspective or angle
  • Think in the abstract, outside the box and to connect seemingly irrelevant things together
  • Tell stories or articulate or elaborate on ideas
  • Be open-minded in judgments of the ideas of others
  • Be emotionally expressive and imaginative

The most troubling aspect of this decrease is its prevalence in young children, who should be encouraged and enabled to develop their creative instincts. Kim's research suggests that America will have progressively fewer individuals capable of finding and implementing solutions to the problems the nation faces. If this trend is not stopped, the United States will eventually be unable to tackle the challenges of tomorrow, and other nations will step in to fill the vacuum.

Fortunately, there is a solution.

In her book, The Creativity Challenge, KH Kim outlines a 3-step process that anyone can use to improve their creativity--or the creativity of their employees or children. Kim's 3 steps are:

Step 1: Cultivate creative climates

According to KH Kim, there are 4 climates that, when present, allow creativity to flourish. These "4S" climates include:

  • Soil: Diverse resources and experiences
  • Sun: Inspiration and encouragement
  • Storm: High expectations and challenges
  • Space: Freedom to be alone and unique

Step 2: Nurture creative attitudes

Explains Kim, "Attitudes--the ways individuals react to the climates--are also important...Two individuals exposed to the same climate may react differently, depending on their creative attitudes."

For each of the 4 creative climates, people have a range of attitudes that must be present for creativity to be sparked. The sun climate, for example, has six attitudes that help people become curious optimists--enabling creative-thinking skills. The six sun attitudes include:

  • Optimistic
  • Big-picture thinking
  • Curious
  • Spontaneous
  • Playful
  • Energetic

Step 3: Apply creative-thinking skills

Three specific creative-thinking skills are enabled by creative attitudes--inbox, outbox, and newbox.

  • Inbox thinking includes traditional ways of accomplishing tasks or choosing the right answer--essential for developing expertise or mastering a subject or skill.
  • Outbox thinking is divergent or outside-the-box thinking that seeks nonconforming ideas that are spontaneous, flexible, and original.
  • Newbox thinking combines elements of inbox and outbox thinking to combine/synthesize unrelated ideas and transform them into a creation--essential for innovation.

I have barely scratched the surface of KH Kim's ideas on how to foster creativity in yourself and others. Says Kim, "Creativity has the power to transform the good to the best, and history has shown that it only takes a few parents or educators to make striking advances for humankind."

As KH Kim proves in her extremely well-researched and documented book, each of us has the power to reverse the decline in creativity in the United States--not just in our workplace, but in our homes and schools.

It's time to get to work.