Research / BFI Working PaperDec 01, 2016

Creative Life Cycles: Three Myths

This paper debunks three persistent myths: that creativity is greatest in youth, that wisdom hinders creativity, and that every discipline has a single peak age of creativity. These myths systematically neglect the achievements of experimental innovators – including such figures as Charles Darwin, Mark Twain, Paul Cézanne, Robert Frost, Virginia Woolf, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Alfred Hitchcock – who develop their work gradually over long periods to arrive at major contributions. Recent research has shown that experimental innovators are greatest late in life, that their wisdom increases their creativity, and that virtually every intellectual domain has great experimental old masters as well as conceptual young geniuses. In a society that devotes as much effort as ours to eliminating such pernicious forms of discrimination as racism and sexism, it is past time to recognize that these myths about creativity make a damaging contribution to ageism.

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