Outside the lines

Outside the lines: My 2-year-old daughter. Inside the lines: Me.

She sees a blank canvas. I see boundaries and rules.

She’s making art. I’m merely colouring and doing what I’ve been taught to do.

She isn’t afraid of trying something new. I am.

She hasn’t unlearned creativity. I have.


Most children, when they’re very young, will do things they haven’t done before. They’ll dance, run, build, sing, climb, draw and play make-believe without being afraid of judgment.

But by the time they start and finish school, many of them learn to be afraid of being wrong and work hard to avoid failure. I certainly did. 

This isn’t an accident, or a coincidence. Most education systems work by amplifying fear, punishing mistakes and destroying creativity.

We’re taught from a young age that we ought to follow instructions, or else. Or else we risk getting poor grades and squandering our future career. As a result, we lose our ability to be different, to try new things and to embrace failure.

But this isn’t just a problem in public school. It’s a problem in college and university, too.

How many of you have interpreted an assignment a little differently than the rest of your class, or didn’t do exactly what you were told to do and were handed a lousy grade?

That’s how creativity is destroyed. 

When we show up with new ideas and make connections that transcend traditional rules and get punished for it, we learn very quickly there’s no room for thinking differently. All it takes is one instance for us to learn to associate creativity with feelings of shame, judgment, sorrow and grief.

It’s interesting that humans are wired for learning and yet most of us don’t like school. Perhaps because it destructs our innate desire and ability to be creative?

If important problems cannot be solved by simply following instructions, then instead of telling students what to do and teaching them what to think, perhaps we ought to spend time teaching them how to think and stay outside the lines.

If people don’t learn that it’s okay to be wrong and try new things, they’ll never think of new ideas or bring their own unique contributions to the world. And we’ll never solve the important problems we desperately need to solve.

Here’s a TED talk worth watching.

We are educating people out of their creative capacities. Picasso once said that all children are born artists. The problem is to remain an artist as we grow up. I believe this passionately, that we don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it. Or rather, we get educated out of it. – Sir Ken Robinson