You’ve Forgotten How to be Creative — But You Can Re-Learn

Three lessons on creativity after going from worker drone to independent creative

Carley Centen
Ascent Publication
Published in
7 min readNov 3, 2019

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Two hands, palms up, covered in dark blue, black, and green pigments.
Fact #1: It’s usually messy. Photo by Amaury Salas on Unsplash

I just wrote a story about frozen peas and their anthropomorphized journey from the frozen tundra of their bag to an inexplicably warming black sea. I have no idea where it came from. I don’t like peas. I don’t remember the last time I ate a pea. I don’t have peas in my house. I don’t even, at present, own a freezer.

It was an exercise in freewriting where I told myself to write whatever popped into my head. There was no prompt and a bag of frozen peas is what came to mind. (How weird is consciousness?) The resulting epic was one of deep separation and loss, exposing the ways in which we deny the inescapable realities of death with poignant parallels to humanity’s race against time in the fight against climate change.

I’m kidding on that last point. The resulting prose of sentient peas was, of course, silly, and, as with any first draft of anything, utter rubbish.

I won’t do anything with this odd little vignette. This was a creative exercise for creativity’s sake because I’m working out my creative thinking like I would a muscle.

Most roles in my career so far have had a creative element. I’ve worked for process-driven government agencies, lean and agile start-ups, and large charities finding the best way to help more people. In these varied environments, I’ve worked on visual designs, led innovation sprints, and problem-solved on a daily basis.

But leaving the nine-to-five (or nine-to-seven…?) office life to develop as a writer has taught me some unexpected lessons about the creative process. Here’s what I’ve learned in my shift from drone to creative.

1. True creativity is a skill we forget how to use

There is good evidence that humans are a pretty creative bunch from the get-go. An often-cited study by George Land in the 1960s found that by five years old, 98% of children will ace measures of creativity. By ten years old, only 30% will. This more than halves again by age fifteen and in adults, only a meager 2% will perform well on these measures.

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Carley Centen
Ascent Publication

Exploring why we do what we do in love and work for those curious to understand more about themselves, others, and the world. More: http://lnk.bio/aNXQ