Flexibility and Intelligence

The more I write about creativity and its relationship to intelligence, the more I appreciate creative people. This doesn’t necessarily mean someone who is artistic or musically inclined, just someone who can think creatively. Someone who “thinks outside the box” (talk about an overused clichéd term). My dissertation topic is on using creativity to improve problem solving skills in Third Culture Kids (kids who are living in a different culture than where they were born or where their parents are from and don’t know the language/customs/etc.). Obviously these children are at a disadvantage in that they cannot communicate very well, will lose ground in school, and thus the downward spiral begins. So using different means to keep these children from slipping through the cracks needs to be utilized and the learning curve shortened.


I have read probably about 200+ articles on this topic now. Creativity. Divergent thinking. Fluency. Originality. Elaboration. Flexibility. These terms come up over and over again in the world of intelligence and creativity. Those who are high in these capabilities are typically both creative and intelligent. I find that flexibility is the one skill that needs to be fostered early and often (not to say the others should be ignored). But as I talk to more and more people on a day to day basis about various topics I realize that flexible thinking is INCREDIBLY important in intelligence.


Being flexible is basically being open-minded. Your thought process can bend and be malleable. You do not get into a rigid thought process about concepts or ideas. “This is the way it is and that’s the only way I will allow myself to see it.” You don’t limit yourself or your understanding to a set paradigm. If you see a problem, you can think of many different ways to solve it. There are several keys to open the lock.


My favorite example of this is Alton Brown from “Good Eats” on Food Network. He is wont to demonstrate his affinity for “multi-taskers” and his disdain for “uni-taskers.” For instance, his use of a common drill bit for an apple corer, a terra cotta stepping stone from the hardware store have been used as a pizza stone, or a standard zip top bag for a piping bag used to decorate cakes and cookies (Brown, 1998). As Defeyter and German (2003) showed, this is common for many of us to fall into, as children as young as 6 years old show less ability to use an item for anything other than its intended use. However, being able to not be beholden to functional fixedness, and use creative processes will allow you to save money on all of these gadgets, space in your drawers, and also use analyze a problem from a different perspective. This is a result of being able to think about problems in different ways as opposed to one problem=one solution.


So how is this related to intelligence? If you don’t close your mind to an idea, and you are open to new ways of approaching a problem or open to new evidence to alter your perspective on things then you can L E A R N something new all the time! Don’t fall into the pattern that you know all the angles. You don’t. You never will. Otherwise you’ll become one of those people who gets locked into thinking “I know all about that” or being narrow-minded and thinking “all those people are like this.” Nobody likes that person. And nobody has ever accused that person of being intelligent.


Brown, A. (Writer, Director). (1998). Good Eats.

Defeyter, M., Avons, S. E., & German, T. C. (2007). Developmental changes in information central to artifact representation: Evidence from “functional fluency” tasks. Developmental Science, 10(5), 538-546.