A recent study set out to answer the question “What makes Icelanders innovative?” The country has a well-deserved reputation for creativity and inventiveness, particularly in the fields of music, design, and technology. RÚV reported first.
Barbara Kerr, professor of counselling psychology at the University of Kansas and one of the study’s authors, spoke to Futurity about the idea behind the project. “We wanted to know more about cultures that support bringing ideas and taking products and creations to fruition.”
Kerr says Icelanders often fail to realize how creative they are compared to other nations. “I haven’t met a single family there that doesn’t have someone in a creative occupation such as the arts, innovative and technological sciences, writing, and new forms of creativity that technology has made possible like gaming and virtual reality,” she remarked.
The research team interviewed over 15 Icelanders who work in various creative fields. Interestingly, they deny the commonly-held belief that Icelanders’ creativity comes from the uniqueness of Icelandic nature. Instead, it’s educational and cultural factors, as well as governmental support, that are the driving forces of Icelandic innovation.
Icelandic schools make an effort to include creative learning and problem solving in their curriculums, spending time on learning to use tools and build and create a variety of products. Strong social nets mean that all family members take part in child-rearing and free childcare means that children are encouraged to spend time on free play while adults have more time to create.
Kerr also believes Iceland’s dark winters and bright summers positively impact the rhythm of creative work. “I think of that as a perfect formula for creativity,” she says. “Artists often have long periods of productivity followed by down phases of collaborative critique, editing, and reflection.”
Iceland’s small population makes it easier for creative individuals to be discovered and have their work appreciated, while its social openness means creatives feel safe trying new things.
The study’s researchers believe many of their findings could be applied in the US, particularly in education.