Picture a brick. Okay, got it? Now stretch your mind and come up with a list of possible uses for that brick (besides building a wall). Stumped? You're not alone. That question -- or a variation on it -- is part of the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking, which many school districts nationwide have used for the last 45 years to measure kids' originality and imagination. After consistently rising for decades, American kids' scores began a steady decline in 1990. If you think that's no big deal, consider this: In a recent IBM poll, 1,500 CEOs identified creativity as the single most important trait for leaders of the future.
That doesn't mean you should worry if your child isn't building elaborate Lego cities or can't draw anything more advanced than stick figures. Creativity isn't just about being an architect or an artist; it's about how you use your mind. From the Stone Age innovator who took two flints and sparked fire to the inventors who studied sand and conceived the silicon chip, out-of-the-box thinking has transformed the world we live in. And it's likely to be even more important in the coming decades, as we try to solve a host of complex problems: how to develop novel energy sources; bring peace to unstable regions; and find better and more affordable ways to treat diseases.