“Two boys arrived yesterday they said was the head of a dog until I pointed out that it was really a typewriter.”
“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist
once he grows up.”
“It takes a long time to become young.”
Our boy Pablo knew a thing or two about the link between creativity and childhood. It turns out that kids have a thing or two to teach us about problem solving as well. A new study appearing in the journal Cognition shows that 4-year-olds may actually unravel some problems better than grown-ups do.
When little tykes ages 4 and 5 were asked to solve a problem using blocks to trigger a light, they figured out the pattern involved faster than some Berkeley undergrads, who seemed to cling to the problem’s most obvious solution despite the fact that it wasn’t working. On the other hand, unfettered by conventional wisdom, the kids had no problem zeroing in on the more unusual approach required.
According to the study researchers, this may reflect a more general difference between kids and adults when it comes to problem-solving. Children may well be more adept — and more open — to thinking about unlikely possibilities than adults, who know a lot about how the world works and tend to rely on what they already know rather than coming up with fresh ideas.
All this points to what computer scientists refer to as two different kinds of learning and problem solving: “exploit” versus “explore.” Using the “exploit” learning approach, we try to find a quick solution that will work immediately. In “explore” learning, we play around with lots of possibilities, including offbeat ones, even if they don’t have an instant payoff. To thrive and grow, we need a mix of the two.
One effective strategy we can use in our writing and elsewhere: start off exploring and then exploit by narrowing down the possible choices. The takeaway: As adults, we tend to fall back on the tried and true. But we need to break away from this tendency if we’re going to find the whimsical and wonderful. So let’s play around more — and write on!