Conscientiousness vs (and?) Creativity

Just some food for thought on a Monday ... 

Last night I came across this article pointing to Conscientiousness (by the always-provocative Eric Barker) as the one-trait-to-rule-them-all in terms of predicting future success, both career-wise and personal.

In this context conscientiousness is simply defined as being “efficient, organized, neat, and systematic.” All worthy traits, right? And personally, familiar. 

Barker cites several studies that link a fulfilling career, lasting relationships and longer life to those with high degrees of conscientiousness.

But then, as he often does, Barker throws a curveball: "... to what degree is conscientiousness universally good — and to what degree is our society merely structured to reward it?"

Which raised a really troubling thought: are creative and independent kids at a disadvantage in our schools? And eventually in the workplace? 

Teachers often say they love creative students. They don’t.

Judgments for the favorite student were negatively correlated with creativity; judgments for the least favorite student were positively correlated with creativity. Students displaying creative characteristics appear to be unappealing to teachers.

I personally index high on conscientiousness but one of my two young (5 years old) children is shaping up to be a creative and independent type.

It's not that I necessarily think he'll make art for a living. He just marches to the beat of his own drum. With everything. It's so beautiful (and yes, it can be frustrating sometimes for me and his brother, but usually our frustration ends in a collective laugh).

He drew this yesterday. He told me it's "how Halloween  feels " to him. You can easily imagine an average teacher pressing him for more specificity, but that's not the point of his creation.

He drew this yesterday. He told me it's "how Halloween feels" to him. You can easily imagine an average teacher pressing him for more specificity, but that's not the point of his creation.

He and I have had a silly bedtime ritual for a while. After I tuck him in I say: "Don't let anyone tell you ..." and he finishes: "... that my way of doing things is weird."

Doris Lessing has her own version of our bedtime ritual - a rallying cry for independence and creativity. I found it a few weeks ago (via the excellent Nitch):

Ideally, what should be said to every child, repeatedly throughout his or her school life is something like this: You are in the process of being indoctrinated...What you are being taught here is an amalgam of current prejudice and the choices of this particular culture...You are being taught by people who have been able to accommodate themselves to a regime of thought laid down by their predecessors...Those of you who are more robust and individual...will be encouraged to leave and find ways of educating yourself—educating your own judgments. Those that stay must remember, always...that they are being molded and patterned to fit into the narrow and particular needs of this particular society.

I don't see why conscientiousness and creativity have to be mutually exclusive personality traits. And I'm not sure Barker or Lessing is suggesting they necessarily are. I'd like to raise my kids to be both.

But what's pretty clear is that creativity isn't as celebrated in school (or the workplace) as we'd like to believe. Which means parents have a responsibility to recognize, foster and celebrate creativity; because sadly, it appears the system will either extinguish it or leave your little Picasso/Buddy Rich/Roald Dahl behind. That would be a shame for them and us.