Vital Signs: Genius and Creativity
AIRS JULY 6TH, 2020 AT 6PM
Five-year-old Aidan’s day starts like many other children’s, with a sleepy-eyed bus ride to school. But Aidan is getting his education in Singapore, the country that boasts the highest performing school system and is ranked the smartest country in the world. Aidan is one of the smartest kids in the smartest country, with a chart-topping IQ score.
A world away in Los Angeles, some of the funniest people on the planet gather for an improv show at a famous comedy club every Thursday night. They’ll be the first to tell you they’re no geniuses, but the level of creativity and quick wit they demonstrate suggests otherwise.
On the next “Vital Signs,” CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta explores the theory of nature vs. nurture when it comes to genius and creativity in the brain. How much of our smarts and our creative tendencies are innate, and how much can we learn?
Vital Sings: Genius and Creativity
Airdate: July 6th, 2020.
Dr. Sanjay G.: 00:22
Education is the foundation for our future and our future, quite frankly, depends on it. Welcome to Vital Signs. I’m Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
Dr. Sanjay G.: 00:31
Seven of the top 10 smartest places in the world according the PISA, that’s the Programme for International Student Assessment, are located in Asia. The smartest country is Singapore. So what are they doing right there? And what can the rest of us around the globe learn from them?
Dr. Sanjay G.: 00:59
You wouldn’t know by looking at it, stuffed animals, colourful books, lots of toys. But this is the bedroom of Aidan Na, one of the smartest kids in the world.
Aidan Na: 00:59
Okay, this, this is a lot. This one’s K.
Allen Na: 01:18
We realised that he’s kind of gifted at a very early age, I would say maybe about 8 months.
Aidan Na: 01:25
Then this one is J.
Allen Na: 01:29
He seemed really drawn to numbers, and shapes, and colours. He was able to recognise the alphabet right about 8 months old.
Dr. Sanjay G.: 01:40
His IQ was first tested at age 3. It was 142, making him a 3-year-old genius. Now raising a kid that smart can be daunting.
Allen Na: 01:52
There is a mismatch between the intelligence development as well as his psychological development. So that might be a conflict and there might be issues with him not being to express his emotions appropriately at that age.
Dr. Sanjay G.: 02:12
So far, it seems Aidan expresses himself just fine. He acts and looks well, his age, 5 years old, but watch what happens when you give him a math problem.
Aidan Na: 02:25
You need to move all of these like this Rush Hour, you need to move all of this.
Dr. Sanjay G.: 02:30
It’s a logic game.
Aidan Na: 02:32
I’m 5 years old. I’m 5 years old, but I still can do this. It’s very easy for me.
Allen Na: 02:40
Children with higher intelligence quotient tend to be very competitive so in dealing with their daily activities, we try to really focus on the process rather than the outcome.
Aidan Na: 02:54
It’s this one.
Dr. Sanjay G.: 02:58
Aidan has something else going for him as well. He lives in what the international community agrees is the smartest country in the world, Singapore.
Marc Tucker: 03:08
Singapore is a fascinating case. They had no skills. They had nothing. Now today, they are one of the best performing economies in the entire world. They did it largely with education and training.
Dr. Sanjay G.: 03:26
Marc Tucker is with the National Centre for Education and the Economy. He has another simple explanation as to what makes Singapore tops in education, the teachers.
Marc Tucker: 03:36
They made a absolutely key decision. They decided to source their teachers only from kids who came out of high schools with A levels.
Dr. Sanjay G.: 03:46
To see the impact of the highest level teachers, we tagged along as sleepy-eyed Aidan arrives at Pat’s Schoolhouse. We wanted to see what a world class education looks like, feels like.
Diana Ong: 04:00
I think the first years of the child’s life is very important. When you have a very confident child, that child’s confidence will carry him or her through primary school as well. Because not only do you want a child is smart, right, buy you also want a child who is resilient.
Dr. Sanjay G.: 04:18
In Singapore, whether you’re born a genius or not, education is inescapable. It is everywhere all the time.
Aidan Na: 04:26
Is it all correct? Are all the animals correct?
Aidan Na: 04:27
Dr. Sanjay G.: 04:29
In addition to his regular intensive schooling, the learning math lab is expected for Aidan every Friday night.
Well done, Aidan.
Aidan Na: 04:37
Wow, this is very easy.
Very easy for you?
Aidan Na: 04:40
Do you want to try again the next one?
Vivian Na: 04:43
They just try to give him something that is more advanced, worksheets, try to engage him more because he tend to get bored and I think a lot of teachers knows that so they try to engage him during the classes.
Dr. Sanjay G.: 04:59
Starting in the 1970s, Singapore’s economic need shifted. Before, they used to have a low cost, low skilled labour market, but were quickly moving toward high tech, white collar jobs. And the education system needed to follow along. Soon, it wasn’t just about universal literacy. It was about a world class education for every single child.
Andreas S.: 05:25
What is it that our children need to be successful tomorrow as well, tomorrow’s economy? One thing that’s been clear to them is that the world economy no longer rewards people just for what they know. Google knows everything. The world economy rewards people for what they can do with what they know.
Dr. Sanjay G.: 05:45
As simple as that sounds, it’s not easy for most places around the world. One place that is having a lot of success though is the Davidson Academy in Reno Nevada.
Dr. Sanjay G.: 05:56
When they ask you what is Davidson Academy, how do you describe it?
Connie Hong: 05:59
I would describe it as the safe haven first of all, for my daughter, Grace and my son, Ian. Socially, emotionally, it’s a place where they can feel that they are understood.
Grace Hong: 06:14
It’s all very engaged. Learning is very interactive, very engaging. The students are almost that they’re compelled and they want to, they want to participate, they want to be part of building something bigger.
Dr. Sanjay G.: 06:25
Building something bigger and better is exactly what Bob Davidson had in mind when he founded this first of its kind school in 2006. The academy, which bears his name, is exclusively for children who rank in the top 1/10th of 1% of the smartest kids in the country. That means IQ scores of 145 or higher.
Dr. Sanjay G.: 06:46
What do they do differently here versus other schools?
Bob Davidson: 06:51
Most schools traditionally are age-based education. If you’re a certain age, you’re in a certain grade. If you’re in a certain grade, you get a certain curriculum. We have completely strayed away from that. Every student here has an individual learning plan based on their ability and to some extent, based on their interests.
Darren Ripley: 07:13
I think the most important aspect of that is, especially for people who don’t deal with gifted on a regular basis, is to understand that gifted students aren’t uniformly gift. I might have a kid who’s fantastic with the humanities or a fantastic musician, but they may not be that great at mathematics.
Dr. Sanjay G.: 07:28
Really knowing your students, doing away with age-based learning, focusing on real world problem solving, and supporting all of it with teachers who get paid really well might just be the radical sort of overhaul the American education system needs.
Dr. Sanjay G.: 07:46
Funding for educating gifted students is currently just pennies on the dollar compared to funding for special education. Tuition at the Davidson Academy is free, paid for by a large group of philanthropists who believe children, even the smartest children need to feel challenge in order to learn, and that learning should look very different than what we’ve been used to for the last 50 years.
Sir Ken R.: 08:09
My contention is that creativity now is as important in education as literacy and we should treat it with the same status. Thank you.
Dr. Sanjay G.: 08:22
The belief that schools are failing to nurture creative skills has grown in recent years.
Sir Ken R.: 08:27
I have a big interest in education and I think we all do-
Dr. Sanjay G.: 08:30
The educator and author, Ken Robinson argued in an influential TED talk back in 2006 that current education practises crush students’ innate creative talents. Robinson clearly touched a nerve. His became the most watched TED talk of all time.
Sir Ken R.: 08:47
I heard a great story recently, I love telling it, of a little girl who was in a drawing lesson. She was 6 and she was at the back drawing. And the teacher said this little girl hardly ever paid attention and in this drawing lesson, she did. The teacher was fascinated. She went over to her and she said, “What are you drawing?” The girl said, “I’m drawing a picture of God.” The teacher said, “But nobody knows what God looks like.” The girl said, “They will in a minute.”
Dr. Sanjay G.: 09:15
How creative are you? I’m going to put my own creativity to the test.
Dr. Sanjay G.: 09:21
Whether you’re looking to get smarter or become more creative, experts say it helps to establish a routine. Some of the smartest and most creative people in history like Benjamin Franklin have taken this to the extreme. Here’s what I liked about his rigid daily schedule. At 5 AM, Frank would ask the morning question, “What good shall I do today?” And every night before bed, at 10 PM, he would ask the evening question, “What good have I done today?” setting goals and holding himself accountable.
Dr. Sanjay G.: 09:51
Ludwig Van Beethoven got up at the crack of dawn and didn’t waste any time getting to work. Beethoven’s breakfast was coffee, which he prepared himself with great care, 60 beans per cup, counting them out one by one for a precise dose.
Dr. Sanjay G.: 10:07
Maya Angelou was unable to write at home, instead opting for a hotel or motel room. She always kept a dictionary, a Bible, a deck of cards, and a bottle of sherry close by.
Mason Currey: 10:20
I felt like so many of these really successful, well-known figures, they organised their lives around their creative projects and often to the detriment of their health or their finances or sometimes their personal relationships, but I think that that ruthlessness about pursuing their creative projects really took them to greater heights.
Dr. Sanjay G.: 10:44
Author Mason Currey has chronicled the everyday routines of 161 of the world’s greatest artists in his book Daily Rituals.
Dr. Sanjay G.: 10:52
A lot of the artists seemed to prefer mornings, not all of them, and really early, waking up quite early in the morning and forcing themselves to write or do whatever. What do you make of that? What is it about mornings?
Mason Currey: 11:06
I think mornings have a couple of obvious advantages. If you put your creative projects first in the day, then you have less of a chance of being interrupted by something else. If that’s literally the first thing you do in the day, then it becomes the most important part of your day.
Dr. Sanjay G.: 11:19
Exercise, swim, bike, run, whatever it may be, that seemed to be another theme. Not everybody again, but how important did you think exercise was for the artists you profiled?
Mason Currey: 11:29
I was really struck by walking in the book, how many figures incorporated a long, usually solitary walk into their daily routine. I think there’s something about the act of walking that tends to get your brain going, working away at problems you may have in your project.
James Kaufman: 11:47
Creativity is one of those things that everybody feels like they have-
Dr. Sanjay G.: 11:52
Just like working a muscle when you exercise, University of Connecticut professor James Kaufman says you can train your brain to become more creative.
Dr. Sanjay G.: 12:01
How do you teach creativity?
James Kaufman: 12:03
One very easy basic way is to ask questions that have more than one solution and to try to get your child or your student to come up with as many of them as they can.
Dr. Sanjay G.: 12:16
It’s called divergent thinking and today, James is going to put mine to the test.
James Kaufman: 12:21
For this task, it’s called an alternate uses type of task and where I’m going to ask you to consider an object, and to think of all the different possible things that you could use the object for. What I’m going to ask you is how many different uses can you think of for what you could do with this pen?
Dr. Sanjay G.: 12:41
You can obviously write with it. You could use it to connect two different things together. You could use it as a sort of bridge. You could use it to probe things, push things back, examine. You could use the cap to potentially catch things. You could put paperclips or needles or something like that, something that’s sharp inside there. If you could break apart the other part, you could actually use it as a little toothpick, even to pick locks perhaps. You could use it as a bookmark. You could use it as a ruler, the parts of it that are straight.
James Kaufman: 13:18
What’s interesting that your answers were much more functional, much more practical than almost any I’ve ever heard. There are three ways that this is scored. One is for fluency and that is how many different ideas did you come up with that were creative, that were appropriate to the task. You had 15 different responses, which is notably above average when I tend to do these projects. Most people tend to do about 10 or 12.
James Kaufman: 13:44
The biggest thing is that creative people are open to experiences and this could mean they’re open to new ideas. They’re open to try new foods, to bungee jumping, to meeting new people. It could mean they’re open to intellectual debates. It could mean they’re open to [trying and seeing 00:14:02] new different type of art. So it’s a very wide meaning, but that is one of the single most important personality components for a creative person.
Anne Sertich: 14:14
Where I’m from, that’s polite to say that that means that you might be interested in me. Hi. I’m Rhonda and I’d like to take the apartment.
Dr. Sanjay G.: 14:23
And taking sensible risks, like getting up in front of a live audience to perform improv. Genius, creativity, it all comes together in a very unusual place, a tiny stage in downtown Los Angeles.
Dr. Sanjay G.: 14:41
In the 30 seconds it’ll take me to finish this introduction, you’ll have consumed 35 megabytes of data, equivalent to a book of about 17,000 pages. Now if you’re also surfing the web at the same time, multitasking, you can add up to 20% to that. In fact, researchers at the University of California San Diego have calculated that we consume about 74 gigabytes, that’s about nine DVDs worth of data every single day. It’s amazing that we’re able to process all this, make sense of it. How do you think straight in the age of information overload?
Daniel Levitin: 15:19
Information overload refers to the notion that we’re trying to take in more than the brain can handle. We used to think and we taught this that you could pay attention to five to nine things at a time. We now know that’s not true. It’s a crazy overestimate. The conscious mind can attend to about three things at once and in a few rare laboratory demonstrations, four. Trying to juggle any more than that and you’re going to lose some brain power, some efficiency, some critical capacity.
Dr. Sanjay G.: 15:50
What he is saying, our brains on multitasking aren’t nearly as good as we think they are. What happens is let’s say you’re working on an activity over here and suddenly now, you’re trying to multitask another activity, you’re not actually doing both activities at the same time, but in fact, you’re now diverting your attention from one part of your brain to another part of your brain. That takes time. That takes resources. That takes brain cells. And what happens over here now is that you’re starting a brand new activity. So in fact, you’re probably slower and not nearly as good at doing both activities at the same time.
Dr. Sanjay G.: 16:24
We could shift our focus really fast. Sometimes it just takes a 10th of a second, but the time doesn’t matter as much as the bandwidth that the brain requires to move back and forth. That might affect your performance. It might also affect the quality of the work that you finally produce.
Dr. Sanjay G.: 16:40
Information overload also leads to something we’ve all experienced, decision fatigue. It’s why in nearly every picture, Albert Einstein is wearing a grey suit, why Steve Jobs always wore a black turtleneck, and Marc Zuckerberg is almost always sporting his signature grey T-shirt. They didn’t want to waste valuable energy making inconsequential decisions about their clothes.
Dr. Sanjay G.: 17:03
Neuroscientist Dan Levitin is the author of the Organised Mind.
Daniel Levitin: 17:08
If you’re making a bunch of little decisions like do I read this email now or later, do I file it, do I forward it, do I have to get more information, do I put it in a SPAM folder, that’s a handful of decisions right there, and you haven’t even done anything meaningful.
Dr. Sanjay G.: 17:22
Those meaningless decisions take away valuable energy that we need for more meaningful ones.
Daniel Levitin: 17:28
Find out you’ve got cancer, do I want the radiation treatment or the surgery or the chemo, right? Important decisions, our ability to make those is dramatically compromised by decision fatigue, which comes from making a lot of trivial decisions throughout the day.
Dr. Sanjay G.: 17:42
Do you think is this as good as we get or do we evolve?
Daniel Levitin: 17:47
One thing that’s interesting is when you look at stress, we get stressed out now by having somebody yell at us in the office or by making a mistake or losing a bunch of money. These aren’t problems that our hunter-gatherer ancestors had. They’d get stressed if a lion came to them or a boulder was rolling towards their living quarters, big thing down the hillside. That kind of stress provoked the fight or flight response, cortisol would be released, adrenalin to get you ready to do something.
Tim Bagley: 18:17
Anne Sertich: 18:17
Long weekends with Dad. Weekends with Dad are awesome.
Tim Bagley: 18:26
Yes, but your mother cannot know you’re here.
Dr. Sanjay G.: 18:30
There is plenty of stress and adrenalin on stage at the Groundlings Theatre in Los Angeles.
Tim Bagley: 18:35
Does the doctor know that you’re out here in the …
Speaker 19: 18:39
What? I’m sorry. What? Excuse me. What?
Dr. Sanjay G.: 18:46
This is improv comedy and there’s hardly anything that can make you more vulnerable and tap into your creativity. Many of the greats have come through this stage, Will Ferrell, Kristen Wiig, Phil Hartman, Paul Ruebens, and Kathy Gryphon just to name a few.
Dr. Sanjay G.: 19:06
Tonight, I’m in the audience to watch these creative geniuses in action.
Speaker 20: 19:10
All I need from … one, a household object like toaster, some object.
Dr. Sanjay G.: 19:17
Speaker 20: 19:17
A broom. You did great.
Dr. Sanjay G.: 19:20
One word, that’s all they get. Here’s what Mindy and her partner, Alex did with it.
Alex Staggs: 19:26
Mindy Sterling: 19:27
Alex Staggs: 19:27
Mindy Sterling: 19:28
David, who spilled all this blood?
Alex Staggs: 19:31
I did. I spilled it.
Mindy Sterling: 19:35
Honey, but you know what, I clearly put notes on all the blood vials up here to say, “Please don’t pick them up and shake them or use them for something other than what we need to use them for.”
Alex Staggs: 19:48
Marla, we keep a fridge and a cabinet full of blood vials. Some warm, some cold and occasionally, I’m reaching in for a coconut water and not [some O blood 00:19:57].
Dr. Sanjay G.: 19:59
The broom, I threw out broom thing, and Mindy and Alex, you guys didn’t have any time obviously to talk ahead of time. You were picking up vials of blood.
Mindy Sterling: 20:10
Yes, I was. I thought something was going to happen with that.
Dr. Sanjay G.: 20:14
You went right with that.
Alex Staggs: 20:14
Dr. Sanjay G.: 20:15
Did you have to question? Did you know where it was going? Any … [Bristles 00:20:20] on the brush-
Alex Staggs: 20:21
No, no idea. I was like maybe … She might be grabbing a brush down there, so I’m going to be looking for something up here, and she might’ve had a brush, but I thought we could both have brushes. There’s no rules that says we can’t both have brushes. I blacked out. I’m not even sure what happened. I was like I think she mentioned blood. I think I said it was mine. Then I don’t know, we just kept rolling with it.
Dr. Sanjay G.: 20:40
You literally went from a broom to Jackson Pollock.
Mindy Sterling: 20:45
Dr. Sanjay G.: 20:47
It was …
Mindy Sterling: 20:47
Look at this. Look at this.
Alex Staggs: 20:47
It’s just a bunch of splatters, Marla.
Mindy Sterling: 20:47
Look at this. Can you tell which blood came from which part of my body?
Dr. Sanjay G.: 20:53
Even just sitting around backstage after the show, I couldn’t help but feel surrounded by really fast brains. Is creativity associated with high intelligence?
Mindy Sterling: 21:06
Not as far as Tim goes.
Tim Bagley: 21:08
For most of them, yes. For me, it’s just all a hope and a prayer. I don’t know. I feel like there are different kinds of intelligence and just like when you see Magic Johnson playing basketball or somebody that comes in and can look at a room and say, “This should go here, that should go there,” there’s different kinds of intelligence. I don’t know how, but we all have figured out how to play and incorporate. Whether you know about something or not, I’ve seen Mindy where they say, “It takes place in Sri Lanka,” and she just is committing like she knows exactly what she’s doing and just going forward …
Anne Sertich: 21:54
She doesn’t even know what that word is.
Tim Bagley: 21:55
She’s never heard that word before.
Mindy Sterling: 21:58
No, no. I have no idea so …
Anne Sertich: 21:59
I think creativity comes from fearlessness. So I got like a 400 on my SAT, not really, but I think it comes from fearlessness and that’s part of what improv teaches you is to be fearless.
Dr. Sanjay G.: 22:15
Nature versus nurture, it’s one of the oldest arguments in the history of psychology. How much of our smarts and our creative tendencies are innate and how much can we learn? One thing’s for sure, there’s no telling where our next generation of geniuses will come from or how the definition of genius will [change 00:22:32]. I will tell you one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever been given, “Do something that scares you every day. It’ll keep your mind sharp, your blood pumping, and your horizons expanding.”
Dr. Sanjay G.: 22:43
I’m Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Thanks for watching.