Being creative is not about being young or old; it is age resistant.
I am 60 years old and some months ago started a new business that provides craft kits and supplies to adults with fine motor skill problems and/or attention difficulties. I was not inventing the wheel but inventing a different approach to the wheel. For example, adult necklace kits often involve tiny pieces, a small tool and precision. But beautiful necklaces can also be made by focusing on the solution and then the design. This was my approach because initially I had to consider the closure of the necklace, then the components and the third step was the design. This is the reverse of the way most designers approach their projects yet it successfully produced a variety of unique necklaces for a specific market.
My friend, Joan Lobenberg, is in her 70s and designed a solution for making clay beads for Caring Craft kits. Traditionally, you create a clay bead by rolling a small piece of clay between the palms of your hands to make a small ball and then puncture it with a sharp tool to make a hole for threading. But Joan thought that the clay bead would be too heavy when strung as a necklace with other beads and wanted to develop a solution to create a clay bead that would be light. Lots of thought produced terrific results. Joan rolls air-dry clay on a flat surface, wraps it to cover a small Styrofoam ball and then makes a hole using a knitting needle. A simple and elegant solution to a problem that renders a necklace light and easier to wear.
Dr. Gene Cohen, founding director of the Center on Aging, Health & Humanities at George Washington University. has been studying aging for over 30 years and shares this wonderful personal story:
My in-laws, Howard and Gisele Miller, both in their 70s,were stuck. They had just emerged from the Washington,DC, subway system into a driving snowstorm. They were coming to our house for dinner and needed a cab since it was too far to walk. But it was rush hour, and no cabs stopped. Howard tried calling us, but both my wife, Wendy, and I were tied up in traffic and weren’t home yet—this was the pre-cell phone era. As his fingers began to turn numb, Howard noticed a pizza shop across the street. He and Gisele walked through the slush to it and
ordered a large pizza for home delivery. When the cashier asked where to deliver it, Howard gave him our address, and added, “Oh, there’s one more thing.”
“What’s that?” the cashier asked.
“We want you to deliver us with it,” Howard said.
And that’s how they arrived, pizza in hand, for dinner that night.
This favorite family story perfectly illustrates the sort of agile creativity that can accompany the aging mind. Would a younger person have thought of this solution? Possibly. But in my experience, this kind of out-of-the-box thinking is a learned trait that improves with age. Age allows our brains to accumulate a repertoire of strategies developed from a lifetime of experience, part of what other researchers have termed crystallized intelligence. Obviously, Howard hadn’t used that pizza routine before, but the accumulated experience of other successful strategies helped
stimulate the thinking that produced his creative resolution. This was one of his new senior moments, occurring, again, not as a failing of aging, but a benefit of it.
Solutions. They challenge us every day. And when we realize that there is a better way and creatively and patiently think it through, our solution empowers us. We are less fearful of challenges because we are mobilized to respond.