Spark Magic with the Creative Habit • By Natascha Biebow

Do you think of yourself as a
creative person? Maybe you think you were a bit more creative when you were a
child . . . why?


Is creativity innate?


Professor George Land devised a creativity
test for NASA to help select innovative engineers and scientists. In
a 1968 longitudinal study, he decided to test it on other people. He found that 5 year olds
scored 98% on the creativity test, while 15 year olds scored 12%, and adults
just 2%.


Land concluded that “non-creative behavior is learned.”
George Land and Beth Jarman, Breaking Point and Beyond.
San Francisco: HarperBusiness, 1993)


So, what happens as we get older?


Jean Piaget (1896–1980) Swiss psychologist known
for his work on child development

From the age of 12 and up, children
enter what psychologist Jean Piaget termed the Formal Operational Stage of development. They become logical
thinkers, able to make more rational decisions and understand abstract ideas.
Young adults can see multiple solutions to problems and consider the world
through a more scientific lens.


The problem with this kind of
thinking for creative outcomes is it also leads to self-criticism – mistakes
and less than perfect creations are often rejected.


Teens and Adults are often more self-critical and ask fewer questions about the world.
Creativity has been shown to decrease as people get older.

Adolescents also develop a leaning
towards value judgment and adapting to social constraints – teens and adults are keen to
stick with what they know works. Thus they favour more predictable ways of
doing things, which might be more consistently successful, but are often less


The traditional education system, designed
during the Industrial Revolution over 200 years ago in order to turn out good workers
who followed directions, reinforces this kind of thinking also.


The traditional school classroom values gaining knowledge
and following rules rather than creativity.


Ironically, however, creativity in all age
groups is more important than ever now.


According to American psychologist Robert J. Sternberg, dean of the school of arts and
sciences at Tufts University,
“The world is changing at a far
greater pace than it ever has before, and people need constantly to cope with
new and unusual kinds of tasks and situations. Learning in this era must be
life-long, and people constantly need to be thinking in new ways. The problems
we confront, whether in our families, communities, or nations, are novel and
difficult, and we need to think creatively
and divergently to solve these problems. The technologies, social customs, and
tools available to us in our lives are replaced almost as quickly as they are
introduced. We need to think creatively to thrive, and, at times, even to


And we need people like children’s
book writers and illustrators to be creative with stories that will inspire,
support and uplift young readers.


Books are key to firing up young readers' imaginations,
developing empathy, and fostering language and (visual) literacy.

But people who are in creative
professions, such as us, might also be driven by constraints such as the need
to make a living. 


Perhaps we feel we must make things that we know the market
needs or that we think people will want to buy, as opposed to what we might
make if we were given the freedom to just create from a more child-like place
of ‘making something we love’.

However, any editor or agent when asked what
they would like to take on for publication will inevitably recommend that
people ‘write what they know’. This is because the true spark of creativity
will shine through.


It creates MAGIC with readers . . .


. . . because it has been created from a place of passion and freedom; it is
authentic. It connects with readers intimately. Sometimes, it also the most
commercial also!


Arguably, if your raison d’etre is
being an author or illustrator for a living, it can be useful to develop
personal systems to stay creative
, even as we age:




Sternberg also advises: “Creative
people routinely approach problems in novel ways. Creative people habitually:


look for ways to see problems that
other people don’t look for

take risks that other people are
afraid to take

have the courage to defy the crowd
and to stand up for their own beliefs

believe in their own ability to be

seek to overcome obstacles and
challenges to their views that other people give in to

and are willing to work hard to
achieve creative solutions.”


In other words, creativity is a
habit that we should practise. And, as with everything, practise leads to perfection.




Finding random patterns and making connections often
sparks creative ideas, like the pieces in a kaleidescope.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Ernest L. Arbuckle Professor of Business
Administration at Harvard Business School, suggests that:

Creativity is a lot like looking at the world through a
kaleidoscope. You look at a set of elements, the same ones everyone else sees,
but then reassemble those floating bits and pieces into an enticing new

According to Kanter,
powered by your imagination, Kaleidoscope thinking can be encouraged by:

·      Regularly making
trips to new places to cultivate new and different experiences, out of the
normal routine

·      Engaging with
critics and challengers – those who old a different world view, beliefs or make
different assumptions

·      Looking at what’s
new and changing

·      Reading widely

·      Going to conferences
or learning things that are new and unfamiliar

·      Exchanging ideas
with others

than Children’s Writing & Illustrating):


If you do things that are creative and
also unrelated to your writing and illustration and these might spark something.
For instance:


-       Invent
something to solve someone else’s problem

-       Sew

-       Make
a puppet

-       Fingerpaint
– make a mess!

-       Create
a new recipe

-       Make
a collage

-       Make
a video diary of your pet, favourite object or family member

-       doodle

-       Build
with Lego

-       Melt
some crayons with a hairdryer

Melt some old crayons with a hairdryer and see what you can create!

-       Change
up your daily routine – eat dessert first! Go a different route round the



When you MOVE: when you go for a walk, shower, do some gardening or similar,
you free up your mind.
show that this leads to creative problem solving, 



When we allow for creative play like children, it creates opportunities for trying out new ideas, new ways of thinking and
problem solving. We can allow ourselves to discover freely, without the censure
of the voice that demands validation, financial compensation or approval.

We are just playing and saying ‘hey, look what I made!’ – for FUN.


Young children are not concerned about the end product and enjoy 'making' for fun.
It's the process that is creative and fun.

we have to give ourselves permission to be creative:


Visionary educator Maria Montessori
Imagination does not become great until human
beings, given the courage and the
, use it to create.”


Play is an
important part of rearranging the kaleidescope bits to see new possibilities.


Allow and accept MISTAKES! 


In Beautiful Oops!, Barney Saltzberg explores the
amazing creative outcomes that can come as a result of a 'mistake'.

From Beautiful Oops! by Barney Saltzberg




Did you know that a bestselling
Green Eggs and Ham was written as the result of a bet? When Random House
founder Bennett Cerf
bet one of his authors,
Theo Geisel, that he couldn’t write an entertaining children’s book with just
50 different words, Dr. Seuss won that wager with Green Eggs and Ham, which has
sold over 200 million copies.

Bestselling title Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss
was the result of a bet.

These limits stretch our
problem-solving abilities and typically produce surprising results. That’s
because your mind is forced into doing more divergent thinking.


        Albert Einstein said:

"Creativity is seeing what others
see and thinking what no one else ever thought."


we have to TRUST that we can innovate – having this TRUST expands creativity.


Creativity, after all, BEGETS


Sculpture image of girl "Meisje met vogel, gedenkteken voor Maria Montessori" in Amsterdam by artist Gerarda Rueter

Natascha Biebow, MBE, Author, Editor and Mentor

Natascha is the author of the award-winning The Crayon Man: The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons,
illustrated by Steven Salerno, winner of the Irma Black Award for
Excellence in Children's Books, and selected as a best STEM Book 2020.
Editor of numerous prize-winning books, she runs

Blue Elephant Storyshaping,
an editing, coaching and mentoring service aimed at empowering
writers and illustrators to fine-tune their work pre-submission, and is
the Editorial Director for Five Quills. Find out about her new picture book webinar courses!
She is Co-Regional
Advisor (Co-Chair) of SCBWI British Isles.
Find her at


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