Think Like a Five-Year-Old
Reclaim Your Wonder and Create Great Things
by Len Wilson
Creativity is a word that triggers all kinds of reactions from people. Some are delighted with the idea of creativity and everything that comes with it: energy, freedom, innovation, artistry, and beauty. Some are hesitant about creative activities because of the seemingly undefined boundaries, chaos, messiness, and absence of guarantees about the end product.
Question: How can one promote the idea of creativity among those who do not self-identify as creative types? Answer: Encourage them to read Think Like a Five-Year-Old – Reclaim Your Wonder and Create Great Things by Len Wilson.
Think Like a Five-Year-Old is divided into three main parts. The first is about the creativity that we all have as children, and which most of us lose as we grow up. Surprisingly, Wilson says, creative freedom seems to go by the wayside as early as fourth grade. He cites educator Bryan Goodwin and creativity specialist Paul Torrance as having extensively documented the Fourth-Grade Slump. This slump “is characterized by an increased hesitancy to take risks, a loss of spontaneity, less playfulness, and a general decline in creativity. “And,” Wilson adds, “by the time we leave elementary school, we’ve developed a morbid fear of rejections and have shut off our own imagination.”
But there is hope, and Think Like a Five-Year-Old points us in that direction. “Each of us is made to be God’s co-creator. And, as with any creative process, the work draws the workers together. When we create, we move closer to God…To call someone, or yourself, uncreative is simply untrue. Our creativity problem is not that we don’t have this supernatural power within us. It’s that we have lost track of it. It’s latent… The goal of this book is to help you know the story of your creativity: why you had it to begin with, how you lost it and how to get it back.”
In the second part of the book, Wilson cites Mark 12:30, which Jesus referred to as the greatest commandment, as a basis for recovering creativity. The text, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength,” Wilson says, can be used as a guideline,(or from my perspective, a zip-line) for creative expression. I interjected zip-line for guideline here because one of the ways to spark the creative process, Wilson says, is to in some way “leave town.” Viewing our ideas, talents, and challenges through the text allows the scriptures to be our zip-line into new perspectives. The Story, through the power of the Holy Spirit, enlivens our thinking by carrying us into new, exciting vistas. Changing locations — whether short term or long term, whether mental or physical — makes space for new sights, sounds, people, and experiences, all of which, Wilson explains, can break you out of old habits and rituals. “Every time we do something creative… we engage our authentic selves..and we’re rediscovering our creative genius and in the process [we are] becoming a new person.”
Wilson then goes through the four types of creative expression from Mark Chapter 12:30 “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.”
Heart – How to Care Like a Five-Year-Old
Wilson asks what is it that gets you as excited as a five-year-old? What fires up your passion? What is it that gives you un-peace? What makes risk taking seem worth it to you? “Passions give birth to enthusiasm, and when we are enthusiastic we want to push and drive. That ambition can be quite helpful… The counterintuitive trick is to surrender our passion, which comes from God anyway, back to God, and then wait…Passion pursued eventually becomes a calling. It transcends from a focus on self-fulfillment into something more. It becomes the embodiment of Jesus’ commandment to love with all of our heart, which is not self-fulfillment but self-sacrifice…Where might a more Creative Heart lead you?”
Soul – How to Sense Like a Five-Year-Old
As adults we have a lot of practice at knowing things. We lose our sense of wonder and don’t pursue things that don’t have some measurable result. A five-year-old doesn’t know a lot of things, but has a great sense of wonder, and will put his or her whole self into an effort — making a sand castle, a crayon drawing, building a snowman. This is honest, wonder filled, fearless exploration of a subject, and most often there is no profitable or practical result to the effort. Wilson writes, “Art has many definitions, but it is always personal and honest. A five-year-old’s creations are always personal. When I say something is art I mean something is honest, and from the honesty comes beauty… Many of us live with a high degree of unrecognized fear. From fear, we detach emotionally and intellectually to protect ourselves…Don’t worry about the beginning [of the creative process]. Start where you are, and you’ll be surprised how it connects with where you want to go. Where might a more Creative Soul lead you?”
Mind – How to Think Like a Five-Year-Old
A five-year-old mind is wide open and ready to go. It is what Wilson describes as divergent, that is, “tending to develop in different directions.” According to How to Think Like a Five-Year-Old, divergent style of thinking is full of imagination, surprise, provocation, discovery, invention, and prediction. On the other hand, continues Wilson, we adults have become proficient at closed-system analysis thinking, which means we think in a convergent style. Convergent thinking, according to How to Think Like a Five-Year-Old , involves evaluation, knowledge, deduction, judgment, criticism, and assessment. Wilson assures us that these two styles of thinking are not oppositional but complementary. “Creative Minds are people who do not accept the conventional wisdom.” says Wilson. “Rather than bury your crazy thoughts as impractical, how might you begin to research [them] for a while and see what happens? Where might a Creative Mind lead you?”
Strength – How to Build Like a Five-Year-Old
Creative Hands, or strong hands, are builders’ hands. Strength makes use of the other creative expressions of heart, soul, and mind, too. And strength requires the courage and discipline to look ahead while still in the midst of success so that the next project can “ride the tail” of the current wave of accomplishment. Wilson tells the story of a company that was behind the times innovatively and behind the eight-ball financially. It would surely have to close its doors without a new product to boost its sales. How this company built a new product — which is still in high demand today — from their old one, is both humorous and inspiring. Creative Hands are planning hands and building hands. Where might your Creative Hands lead you?
The third part of “Think Like a Five-Year-Old” is about the process of becoming more creative. There are sections on how to begin, how to find a workable creative process, and why one can’t rest on previous accomplishments.
Wilson sums up in this way: “The act of creating, of surrender and faith –expressed as love of heart, mind, soul, and strength toward God — draws us into the intimacy of co-creation and is as close in this life as we ever get to the heart God. Creativity is the active ingredient of faith. Faith is the catalyst that converts dreams to plans…When we discover that the sustaining power of this[creative] journey is Christ, then we are on our way to reclaiming the wonder of a more creative and fulfilling life.”
Phil Yancey, in his book Vanishing Grace – Whatever Happened to the Good News (reviewed here July 2015) makes a convincing case for the creativity of the arts as one of the best, and most subversive, ways to reach the broader culture with the good news of Jesus, but notes that the creative arts have been underused as a means of nudging others to Christ. I believe that Think Like a Five-Year-Old — Reclaim Your Wonder and Create Great Things would be an excellent book to introduce the subject of re-claiming latent creativity among those in the church. For that reason, Think Like a Five-Year-Old would be a compelling small group study. There is a link to a free study guide for the book in the back pages of Think Like a Five-Year-Old.