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The Importance of Colouring Outside the Lines

I’ve long believed that everyone has creative abilities regardless of their job title. I’ve also long suspected that far too many truly creative people realize this because they’ve had the motivation to exercise their creative skills beaten out of them.

My wife, for example, is one of the most creative people I know, and almost everyone who meets her comments on this. Despite this, she was given a near-failing grade in junior high school art class, effectively killing her interest in pursuing a visual arts career.

I was reminded of this last week when I had the pleasure of hearing Dave Chalk deliver a very inspiring keynote address at the BC AIM DM Day event I was also a speaker at. Dave is also of the opinion that everyone is born with creative abilities, and he shared an amazing tidbit with the audience.

According to Dave, a study was conducted of 10,000 North American families with children. It was revealed that by the time a child has reached the age of 18, they have been discouraged from doing something creative (e.g., drawing, singing, dancing) an average of 150,000 times. That’s one hundred and fifty thousand times, on average, per child!

On the other hand, by the time a child has reached the age of 18, they have been encouraged to do something creative a mere 35 times! Yes, just thirty-five times. That’s it!

Now I don’t know the specific details of the study, and I may in fact be getting the numbers slightly wrong, but what I am sure about is that we, as a society, need to do a better job of encouraging creativity in children and young adults.

The day after I heard Dave speak, I was having dinner at a restaurant with an old friend and his nine year-old daughter. While we waited for our meal to arrive, my friend’s daughter began to fill in the colours in the ‘colouring book’ style children’s paper place mat.

As she was working, I told her how much I admired the precision by which she was colouring within the lines. Recalling the numbers in the study cited by Dave, I then told her that she was welcome to colour outside the lines and, in fact, draw her own lines.

The next time you’re in a similar situation, literally or figuratively, I encourage you to do the same. We don’t need more creative people; we need more people to realize they are creative.


  1. Judy Gombita
    Judy Gombita November 15, 2006

    Bill, I had the pleasure of hearing the inspirational Dave Chalk speak at the opening keynote session during the recent SOHO SME Business Conference and Expo (Toronto). Considering all of the obstacles he’s overcome–an extreme form of dyslexia, as well as a neurological condition that interferes with face recognition called prosopagnosia, or face-blindness–the fact that he celebrates creativity and has put it to amazing, profitable use in his own life is astounding.
    Having learned of the above, I was particularly impressed with the effectiveness of his delivery. I was sitting near several of Dave Chalk’s staff and asked whether his speeches were written for him. I was told that they were entirely his own creation, and done without any notes or props, and that each one was different from the last.
    Here is an interesting interview (albeit a little old), which details more of his background:
    Dave Chalk, Wired for Success

  2. Ken Schafer - One Degree
    Ken Schafer - One Degree November 15, 2006

    Good stuff Bill, BUT, that 150,000 number sounds WAY to high. It might be what Dave said but it works out to a discouraging word being heard every hour of every day from birth to 18 whether you are awake or asleep. While I’m sure the number is HIGH I can’t imagine it’s THAT high.
    I know you tried to confirm the stat or find the source to know avail. Maybe others (or Dave himself) can either provide the real number or the reference.

  3. Joy Boyson
    Joy Boyson November 15, 2006

    Same theme… Sir Ken Robinson gave this quick talk at TED in February. Highly recommended (& thanks Kate 🙂

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