After I wrote this article on my techniques for getting into a creative mindset, my friends and I were discussing the problem of aging and creativity.
It strikes me as odd that our creativity would diminish as we grow older — after all, creativity is such a useful tool in just about every area of our lives.
But it struck me this morning (after our conversation had been sitting on the back burner) that perhaps it’s not a lack of creativity that adults suffer — it’s a lack of imagination.
And that’s entirely different.
Imagination is not the same thing as creativity, although the two are intimately related.
While creativity is hard to pin down precisely, it’s generally considered as the ability to create something using the imagination.
Creativity is the act of creating something in the real world, while imagination deals with ‘unreal’ thoughts that are free from the confines of reality.
When we are children, we use imagination all the time.
Take an example of the classic game, the floor is made of lava — I’m sure you’ve played it before.
The game relies on using some imagination skills to imagine the floor is in fact made of lava. But simply imagining the floor is made of lava is not enough to define the player as creative — they are just using their imagination to participate in the game.
However, the first kid who came up with the game imagined all the rules, and taught others how to play — they were being creative.
They used their imagination to create a game that didn’t exist before.
Imagination is a powerful thing.
Imagination is necessary for creativity but not the other way around.
Imagination comes first.
Knowing this, something seems clear: After a certain age our parents, teachers, and friends begin to shun imaginative play… It becomes “weird” for us to play with imaginary friends, make-believe, or give reference to our wild imagination.
I can remember this happening to me as I grew older and I’m sure this situation is similar with others.
I remember, I didn’t suffer from a lack of imagination, it just became abnormal to reference my imagination.
Imagination became a private thing rather than a shared experience.
This is probably what maturity is… It’s defined as; the ability to respond to the environment in an appropriate manner.
Playing imagination games in public is considered appropriate only if you are a child. But at some point we must grow older and it becomes inappropriate to behave like this.
Part of maturing is the act of setting aside our imagination in favor of the real world.
As a kid, I never thought I would enjoy discussing the economy or the evening news. At the time I thought my imagination would always be far more engaging than anything the “real world” had to offer.
But, in order to survive in the real world, you need to operate under its conditions and be practical in your thinking.
While there are major advantages to engaging with reality in a practical manner, the downside is that we set aside our childhood imagination.
Perhaps it’s not a lack of creativity adults have but rather, a lack of imagination?
While we are imagining we are free from the confines of reality.
With imagination, we can hear music that doesn’t exist. We are free to visualize unreal things and can be or do anything…
As we grow older, imagination becomes less important and we are taught to favor the real world over the imaginary.
This might be for the best… after all who would get anything done if adults spent their days playing lava games?
But, what happens when adults tap into the creative power of their imagination?
That’s a question worth asking.