Adam Grant on what thwarts creativity in kids

This was an enlightening New York Times column by the prolific young scholar, Adam Grant. He highlights research that shows that too much structure and a rules-focused environment are not conducive to sparking creative thinking:

So what does it take to raise a creative child? One study compared the families of children who were rated among the most creative 5 percent in their school system with those who were not unusually creative. The parents of ordinary children had an average of six rules, like specific schedules for homework and bedtime. Parents of highly creative children had an average of fewer than one rule.

Creativity may be hard to nurture, but it’s easy to thwart. By limiting rules, parents encouraged their children to think for themselves. They tended to “place emphasis on moral values, rather than on specific rules,” the Harvard psychologist Teresa Amabile reports.

My wife and I certainly fall into that “average of fewer than one rule” category. I’ve worried that we’re terrible slackers and need to give our kids more structure, like an actual bed time or chores and such.

But, thanks, Adam Grant. We will continue with our rule-free ways.

I do think there’s much merit to establishing a general sense of values and a clear direction and then leaving it up to the kids (or your team or organization) to use their own judgment and creativity to figure out how to proceed on their own. This less controlling approach is more interesting and organic and just more fun, too.

Precise rules and micromanaging might get the results you desire, but it precludes potentially better results you didn’t imagine.