Despite the fact that Icelanders largely refuted the idea that they were any more creative than people of other nations, Kerr and her team’s CLR supported the theory that creativity among Icelanders was a result of their individual, social, educational, and cultural attributes.
While Icelanders did not possess remarkably distinct personalities or abilities, they were found to commonly display “attitudes of independence and tolerance” which, Kerr wrote, “supports openness to experience, the personality attribute that is most strongly correlated with creativity.”
In terms of the environment, Icelanders rejected the idea that the vast beauty of the landscape was a font of creative inspiration. Kerr said that interviewees were overwhelmingly skeptical of this, often saying one of two things: “The inspiration comes from community and culture, and not from the environment,” or “That’s just the national advertising, policy makers came up with that idea, just trying to attract tourists.” Researchers found that urban and social contexts were more important to creativity.
“At one point, we came to the conclusion that Icelanders are like fish in water—they live in an inspiring environment, but they’re used to it,” Kerr quipped. Research found that unsurprisingly, non-natives were more likely to be inspired by the natural landscape.
Kerr noted that one of the most important differences between Icelanders and people from the United States and European countries is “extreme differences in family life.” They found that relationships between couples are remarkably egalitarian, and women’s creative output is well-supported. And while the institution of marriage is not a priority (only 30 percent of Icelandic people are married), family life and caring for children are central to adulthood.
Both in schools and at home, it’s common practice to give children the space for play and exploration, which “encouraged both imagination and the creative process,” the study found. In schools, which are free and public, testing is de-emphasized, and students engage in hands-on learning and free-play. Over the past two decades, the dominant curriculum has been innovation education
(IE), which originated in Iceland in 1991, and is also used in other parts of Scandinavia and the United Kingdom. Students are given opportunities to apply creativity to everyday life, and teachers act as “facilitators rather than lecturers,” the researchers wrote, serving to support students in generating high-quality, novel ideas through their work.
Kerr also pointed to an emphasis on craft and making things by hand. “Every Icelandic male knows how to knit, every female knows how to use tools,” she said. “It seems important to the development of creativity to simply know how to use tools for making and learning at home and school.”
The government can also be credited for fostering creativity, researchers found, as “policies in Iceland encourage the development of creative products,” like public art commissions for street artists. Interviewees noted, however, that the government’s support might be “impeding more radical expressions of creativity,” given their political motives.
The less hierarchical society also enables greater creativity, Kerr’s team found. For one, an online phone book enables creatives to reach out to peers or leading artists, as well as local officials and business professionals, to discuss projects and collaborations. “I think that’s especially important to artists—not only can they get in touch with each other but opinion-makers and promoters,” Kerr said. “If you have a rock band, you can get bookings, you can get reviewers to come and watch you, it’s not that hard to reach out.”