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Covent GardenOne of the great things about NPR (National Public Radio) is that you never quite know what you are going to get. Today I am on tour in California performing at casinos and several hours of driving between venues every day means plenty of happy listening time for me. I have just enjoyed a fascinating radio program which featured an interview with a professor of biology. Among the subjects he covered was love of sushi, tongue piercing, music tastes, and creativity – 3 out of four of those subject I found quite interesting. Apparently they are all related and so intriguing that I have to share my new found knowledge with you.

Here is the good news – If we haven’t opted for a pierced tongue by the time we are in our early 20’s then it is unlikely that we ever will (which means I have to keep my daughter on a tight leash for another 6 years). The reason why was the part that was most interesting – when we are young we experience excitement from doing something different. As we get older we discover a greater joy in not standing out, in conforming, in doing what we like and liking what we do. In other words when we are younger we get a buzz out of doing something a bit different, we crave excitement and adventure. This is hard wired into our system, we are preprogrammed to want to live life on the edge and try some outrageous things – a great excuse for those who want a bit of metal shoved through their tongues (but don’t tell my daughter!)

The love of sushi and music tastes, according to the professor, came under the same biological control. As we get older we grow to enjoy the familiar more than the new and different. These biological traits are designed to protect us. I guess when it comes to food it is a lesson that older people learn – let the young ones eat it first just in case it is poisonous. Or maybe the older ones got older by not being the first to try something new. Either way this is the reason why the average age of a westerner in a sushi restaurant is under forty. The younger generation saw the sushi house and went ‘hmmm, raw fish, I’ll try it’, the older generation decided that if it wasn’t cooked then it wasn’t ready to eat. Of course there are many exceptions to the rule and many like me who are not so young and adore sushi. We are the few who are at the extreme end of the bell curve of normal distribution.

Interestingly the same goes for music – if you haven’t started listening to rap by the time you are in your mid thirties – and as rap has only been around for a few years all of us over 40 hadn’t – then you are unlikely to suddenly get an urge to go see M&M (deliberate misspelling as an attempt at comedy!) And if you hear a car with a 2000 watt sound system playing drum and base you probably won’t think to yourself ‘I must get that LP’ (yes, I said LP deliberately).

The last thing the professor discussed was creativity and linking with the theme of ‘change and aging’ it seems that we grow less creative as we get older. Actual statistical studies have been carried out to prove this. Poets write fewer poems as they get older, musicians write fewer songs. This scared me.

I have reached that point in my life when I have had to finally accept that I have more years behind me than in front of me (unless by some miracle I manage to live to 109). I like to think of myself as a creative person so does this mean that my most creative years are over? Is it time to start listening to rap music and piercing my tongue in an attempt to keep my creativity alive?

A few things consoled me. The statistics were much more concerned with quantity rather than quality. In terms of creativity, more does not necessarily mean better. As you get older you develop a better internal editor which will tell you that something is a bad idea so you don’t waste so much time on it.

So as he was a professor and had done the research we have to accept that the following statement is true –

Well as I believe that our creativity is one of the thing that keeps us alive I am going to make three suggestions…

  • Firstly we need to keep the habit of creativity going. Our creativity is like a muscle and we need to keep exercising it or it will grow weaker and eventually die. Weather you are into writing, painting, inventing, music, or business we should always be trying new things. Actively looking for new ideas to pursue.
  • Second we should never fall into the trap of thinking it will never work (whatever ‘it’ is). And if it really isn’t viable then we should press on to find a better solution to the problem. Giving up is not an option.
  • Third we need to keep note books. The simple act of writing down our thoughts and our ideas keeps the creative juices flowing. And it gives us a valuable resource to return to when we are running a bit low on new ideas.

Some of the ideas that we have in our youth will be crazy but we could look back on them and discover some real gems that just need the polish of experience… I just hope you don’t need to polish the stud in your tongue!5


Keith Fields