If you're convinced your creative well has run completely dry, this new study might provide some reassurance: creative peaks can happen at different life stages, according to new research into Nobel Prize winners, and it's perfectly fine not to create your best work in your twenties. The study, published in the journal De Economist, found that there are two types of innovators; while some peak in their mid-twenties, others produce their most groundbreaking work in their mid-fifties.
Lead author Bruce Weinberg, professor of economics at The Ohio State University, and co-author David Galenson, professor of economics at the University of Chicago, looked at 31 winners of the Nobel Prize in Economics (Weinberg stressed, "We believe what we found in this study isn't limited to economics, but could apply to creativity more generally.")
Weinberg and Galenson organised the Nobel laureates into "conceptual innovators" and "experimental innovators"; the former "challeng[e] conventional wisdom and tend to come up with new ideas suddenly," while the latter "accumulate knowledge through their careers and find groundbreaking ways to analyse, interpret and synthesise that information into new ways of understanding."
The researchers determined each laureate's peak based on how many times their research papers were cited, using two different methods to work out how frequently cited they were. Conceptual innovators, they found, typically peaked at either 25 or 29 (depending on which method of determining citations they used), after which they became "immersed in the already accepted theories of the field." Experimental innovators, however, peaked in either their mid-fifties or at around 57.
"Many people believe that creativity is exclusively associated with youth, but it really depends on what kind of creativity you're talking about," Weinberg concluded in a press release.
That's not to say you're best off putting your creative projects on pause until you hit your 50s, of course. If you're in the midst of a creative block, there's a whole host of ways to address it. Harvard University's Division of Continuing Education, for instance, stresses the importance of taking regular breaks, rather than pledging yourself to your desk until you finally produce something you're satisfied with. Environment, too, is important: your imagination might be inhibited if you spend all your time affixed to your laptop within the same four walls.
Psychology Today recommends looking for patterns in each instance of creative block: detecting a trend might allow you to avoid or switch up the things that stifle you. New York Magazine's "Science of Us" series, meanwhile, points out that your solutions to a problem tend to become more creative the longer you spend cooking them up. Next time you're tempted to give up on a project, try brainstorming a little longer instead.
Writing on writer's block in the New Yorker, psychologist Maria Konnikova suggests temporarily switching to an alternate, pressure-free creative activity in order to "escape from external and internal judgement." A novelist, for instance, might document their dreams in a diary, rather than abandoning the pen altogether. It's a method that sounds easily applicable to creative pursuits other than writing, too.
The overarching theme of these tips? No creative block is insurmountable, no matter how spent your imagination might seem.