Are Schools Killing Creativity?

My daughter, Chloe, recently had an unfortunately all-too-common experience in school. Chloe’s 4th grade art teacher asked the students in her class to draw a bear. Chloe went to work and came up with a cool purple, odd-shaped bear. She walked proudly to the teacher and handed over her work, anticipating great praise and admiration. Instead, the teacher said, “That’s not what bears look like. Bears aren’t that color. Go re-do the project.”

In that instant, a little piece of Chloe’s creativity was extinguished. And unfortunately, experiences just like this happen thousands of times each day throughout America.

Bears aren’t that shape? Bears aren’t that color? Ever hear of an Ugly Doll?

Ugly Dolls are an enormously popular toy ( These stuffed animals are odd shapes and colors, just like you and me. The company is a breakaway entrepreneurial success, and is one of the hottest toys in the world. They won the 2007 Toy of the Year Award, and when Sasha Obama went to her first day of school in Washington DC, she clutched tightly to the security of her ugly doll.

Bears aren’t that shape? Bears aren’t that color? What Chloe was being taught in school is the exact opposite of what creates success in the real world. A stuffed animal company making boring, normal, plain brown bears would draw very little buzz and likely would end up competing on price alone. What generates success outside of grade-schools is being unique, different, and remarkable. We are taught one thing – how to fit in, follow instructions, do what your told, don’t make waves – yet the most success comes from doing exactly the opposite.

According to Sir Ken Robinson, best-selling author of Out of Our Minds, and an expert in creativity education, “We don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it.” Schools were developed back in the Industrial Age, when obedience and rule-following were considered highly important. The problem is that our school systems have not adapted for the times.

To thrive in the future of business (and life), confronting the status quo and breaking free from conventional wisdom is a requirement rather than a luxury. Those that wait to be told what to do by some authority figure will come up short-handed, while those that invent and create and imagine will rule the day.

This week, think about your standard operating procedures, and see if you can come up with your own “Ugly Doll” version. Craft a brand new reality, rather than abiding by the rules of the past. Break free from traditional thinking, and unleash your true creative potential. What are you waiting for?