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5/13/2016

HowtoRaiseaCreativeChild.StepOne:BackOffTheNewYorkTimes

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SundayReview

CONTRI BUTI NGOPEDWRI TER

HowtoRaiseaCreativeChild.Step
One:BackOff
AdamGrant

JAN.30,2016

THEYlearntoreadatage2,playBachat4,breezethroughcalculusat6,
andspeakforeignlanguagesfluentlyby8.Theirclassmatesshudderwith
envytheirparentsrejoiceatwinningthelottery.ButtoparaphraseT.S.
Eliot,theircareerstendtoendnotwithabang,butwithawhimper.
Considerthenationsmostprestigiousawardforscientificallygifted
highschoolstudents,theWestinghouseScienceTalentSearch,calledthe
SuperBowlofsciencebyoneAmericanpresident.Fromitsinceptionin
1942until1994,thesearchrecognizedmorethan2000precocious
teenagersasfinalists.Butjust1percentendedupmakingtheNational
AcademyofSciences,andjusteighthavewonNobelPrizes.ForeveryLisa
Randallwhorevolutionizestheoreticalphysics,therearemanydozenswho
fallfarshortoftheirpotential.
Childprodigiesrarelybecomeadultgeniuseswhochangetheworld.
Weassumethattheymustlackthesocialandemotionalskillstofunctionin
society.Whenyoulookattheevidence,though,thisexplanationdoesnt
suffice:Lessthanaquarterofgiftedchildrensufferfromsocialand
emotionalproblems.Avastmajorityarewelladjustedaswinningata
cocktailpartyasinthespellingbee.
Whatholdsthembackisthattheydontlearntobeoriginal.They

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strivetoearntheapprovaloftheirparentsandtheadmirationoftheir
teachers.ButastheyperforminCarnegieHallandbecomechess
champions,somethingunexpectedhappens:Practicemakesperfect,butit
doesntmakenew.
ThegiftedlearntoplaymagnificentMozartmelodies,butrarely
composetheirownoriginalscores.Theyfocustheirenergyonconsuming
existingscientificknowledge,notproducingnewinsights.Theyconformto
codifiedrules,ratherthaninventingtheirown.Researchsuggeststhatthe
mostcreativechildrenaretheleastlikelytobecometheteacherspet,and
inresponse,manylearntokeeptheiroriginalideastothemselves.Inthe
languageofthecriticWilliamDeresiewicz,theybecometheexcellentsheep.
Inadulthood,manyprodigiesbecomeexpertsintheirfieldsand
leadersintheirorganizations.Yetonlyafractionofgiftedchildren
eventuallybecomerevolutionaryadultcreators,lamentsthepsychologist
EllenWinner.Thosewhodomustmakeapainfultransitiontoanadult
whoultimatelyremakesadomain.
Mostprodigiesnevermakethatleap.Theyapplytheirextraordinary
abilitiesbyshiningintheirjobswithoutmakingwaves.Theybecome
doctorswhohealtheirpatientswithoutfightingtofixthebrokenmedical
systemorlawyerswhodefendclientsonunfairchargesbutdonottryto
transformthelawsthemselves.
Sowhatdoesittaketoraiseacreativechild?Onestudycomparedthe
familiesofchildrenwhowereratedamongthemostcreative5percentin
theirschoolsystemwiththosewhowerenotunusuallycreative.The
parentsofordinarychildrenhadanaverageofsixrules,likespecific
schedulesforhomeworkandbedtime.Parentsofhighlycreativechildren
hadanaverageoffewerthanonerule.
Creativitymaybehardtonurture,butitseasytothwart.Bylimiting
rules,parentsencouragedtheirchildrentothinkforthemselves.They
tendedtoplaceemphasisonmoralvalues,ratherthanonspecificrules,
theHarvardpsychologistTeresaAmabilereports.

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Eventhen,though,parentsdidntshovetheirvaluesdowntheir
childrensthroats.WhenpsychologistscomparedAmericasmostcreative
architectswithagroupofhighlyskilledbutunoriginalpeers,therewas
somethinguniqueabouttheparentsofthecreativearchitects:Emphasis
wasplacedonthedevelopmentofonesownethicalcode.
Yes,parentsencouragedtheirchildrentopursueexcellenceand
successbuttheyalsoencouragedthemtofindjoyinwork.Their
childrenhadfreedomtosortouttheirownvaluesanddiscovertheirown
interests.Andthatsetthemuptoflourishascreativeadults.
WhenthepsychologistBenjaminBloomledastudyoftheearlyroots
ofworldclassmusicians,artists,athletesandscientists,helearnedthat
theirparentsdidntdreamofraisingsuperstarkids.Theywerentdrill
sergeantsorslavedrivers.Theyrespondedtotheintrinsicmotivationof
theirchildren.Whentheirchildrenshowedinterestandenthusiasmina
skill,theparentssupportedthem.
Topconcertpianistsdidnthaveeliteteachersfromthetimetheycould
walktheirfirstlessonscamefrominstructorswhohappenedtolivenearby
andmadelearningfun.Mozartshowedinterestinmusicbeforetaking
lessons,nottheotherwayaround.MaryLouWilliamslearnedtoplaythe
pianoonherownItzhakPerlmanbeganteachinghimselftheviolinafter
beingrejectedfrommusicschool.
Eventhebestathletesdidntstartoutanybetterthantheirpeers.
WhenDr.Bloomsteaminterviewedtennisplayerswhowererankedinthe
top10intheworld,theywerenot,toparaphraseJerrySeinfeld,doing
pushupssincetheywereafetus.Fewofthemfacedintensepressureto
perfectthegameasAndreAgassidid.Amajorityofthetennisstars
rememberedonethingabouttheirfirstcoaches:Theymadetennis
enjoyable.
SINCEMalcolmGladwellpopularizedthe10,000hourrule
suggestingthatsuccessdependsonthetimewespendindeliberate
practice,debatehasragedabouthowthehoursnecessarytobecomean

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expertvarybyfieldandperson.Inarguingaboutthat,weveoverlooked
twoquestionsthatmatterjustasmuch.
First,cantpracticeitselfblindustowaystoimproveourareaofstudy?
Researchrevealsthatthemorewepractice,themorewebecome
entrenchedtrappedinfamiliarwaysofthinking.Expertbridgeplayers
struggledmorethannovicestoadaptwhentheruleswerechangedexpert
accountantswereworsethannovicesatapplyinganewtaxlaw.
Second,whatmotivatespeopletopracticeaskillforthousandsof
hours?Themostreliableanswerispassiondiscoveredthroughnatural
curiosityornurturedthroughearlyenjoyableexperienceswithanactivity
ormanyactivities.
Evidenceshowsthatcreativecontributionsdependonthebreadth,not
justdepth,ofourknowledgeandexperience.Infashion,themostoriginal
collectionscomefromdirectorswhospendthemosttimeworkingabroad.
Inscience,winningaNobelPrizeislessaboutbeingasinglemindedgenius
andmoreaboutbeinginterestedinmanythings.Relativetotypical
scientists,NobelPrizewinnersare22timesmorelikelytoperformas
actors,dancersormagicians12timesmorelikelytowritepoetry,playsor
novelsseventimesmorelikelytodabbleinartsandcraftsandtwiceas
likelytoplayaninstrumentorcomposemusic.
Nooneisforcingtheseluminaryscientiststogetinvolvedinartistic
hobbies.Itsareflectionoftheircuriosity.Andsometimes,thatcuriosity
leadsthemtoflashesofinsight.Thetheoryofrelativityoccurredtomeby
intuition,andmusicisthedrivingforcebehindthisintuition,Albert
Einsteinreflected.Hismotherenrolledhiminviolinlessonsstartingatage
5,buthewasntintrigued.Hisloveofmusiconlyblossomedasateenager,
afterhestoppedtakinglessonsandstumbleduponMozartssonatas.Love
isabetterteacherthanasenseofduty,hesaid.
Hearthat,TigerMomsandLombardiDads?Youcantprogramachild
tobecomecreative.Trytoengineeracertainkindofsuccess,andthebest
youllgetisanambitiousrobot.Ifyouwantyourchildrentobringoriginal

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ideasintotheworld,youneedtoletthempursuetheirpassions,notyours.
AdamGrantisaprofessorofmanagementandpsychologyattheWharton
SchooloftheUniversityofPennsylvania,andacontributingopinionwriter.
ThisessayisadaptedfromhisnewbookOriginals:HowNonConformists
MovetheWorld.
FollowTheNewYorkTimesOpinionsectiononFacebookandTwitter,and
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AversionofthisopedappearsinprintonJanuary31,2016,onpageSR12oftheNewYork
editionwiththeheadline:HowtoRaiseaCreativeChild.

2016TheNewYorkTimesCompany

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