Every child is a genius!

In this RSA illustrated video, Sir Ken Robinson summarizes a talk entitled Changing Paradigms. This is about the connection between ADHD and standardized testing and the associated standardized education. And he discusses a remarkable study about creativity and genius levels in kids and adults based on a study about a ‘paper clip’.

Divergent thinking

Robinson wonders why schools are still modeled after a factory. To illustrate the effect of this method of education, Robinson talks about a study conducted on divergent thinking among children. A few years ago a study was published on divergent thinking. Divergent thinking is not the same as creativity. He defines creativity as producing original ideas that have value. Divergent thinking is an essential skill for creativity. It is the ability to answer a question in many different ways and to interpret a question in many possible ways. By not thinking linearly or convergently, but to see multiple answers.

Paper clip

Tests have been developed to estimate the degree of divergent thinking. In this longitudinal study, a test was done with 1,500 toddlers and preschoolers who were 3-5 years old at the time. Throughout their lives, the same question was asked again at ages 8-10, 13-15, and into adulthood: “How many uses can you think of for a paper clip?” Most adults come up with 10 or 15 options. People who are very good at this have 200 applications. That is called genius level. They do this by saying, for example: Could the paper clip be made 100 meters high and made of foam rubber?

Genius level

The question now is: what percentage of the preschoolers and toddlers tested scored genius level on divergent thinking? So more than 200 solutions? So what percentage was at the level of genius? No less than 98%! The same children were tested again five years later when they were 8 to 10 years old: by then the 98% had dropped to 50%. Five years later they were tested again  at ages 13-15 and levels also dropped further. The final test included 200,000 adults aged 25 or older for the control. And so they came up with 10-15 solutions…


A lot of things happened to these kids growing up. But one of the most important things that happened to them, Sir Ken believes, is that they are educated. They have been told at school for ten years that there is often only one possible answer. Schools, education, tests, curricula and everything that goes with it are designed in such a way that real creativity does not come to the fore. This is one of the reasons to take a very critical look at where the child grows up in his young life and under what circumstances. How can you and sometimes not create a context-rich environment? How can you have and maintain confidence in the child who is developing in his own unique way? This often does not start with the child, but with the parent, the adult. What do parents and adults still have to learn and, above all, unlearn?