This question originally appeared on Quora, the knowledge-sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus.
Answer by Paul King, director of data science at Quora, computational neuroscientist:
Children have a more active imagination than adults, and young adults are less constrained by their own prior patterns of thought.
As people become “good at life,” they develop habits of thought that serve them well. These habits are thought styles that “work” (get results, impress people, carry us through difficult situations). As we accumulate “thought techniques,” three things happen.
First, we become more effective and able to “effortlessly” (mindlessly?) navigate tricky waters.
Second, we adapt to social norms and accepted ways of thinking, making us more effective with people and society.
Third, we become a prisoner of our own success. Sticking with what works makes us both more successful and less creative. Why be random when you can be right? Unfortunately what works is what worked in the past and misses the enigmatic paths that lead to unexpected surprises.
People who are in creative professions develop personal systems to stay creative. They develop predictable habits that take them into unpredictable territory. This is a lifestyle choice to stay in the uncomfortable territory of the unknown. They may seek out people outside their profession, read random things, or force themselves to brainstorm whimsically. This systemization of creativity doesn’t have the bizarre arc of childhood imagination, but does combine life experience with creativity in a way that can be more impactful (and higher paying) in modern society.