Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Creativity - Innate Capability or Learnable Skill?



What? You mean now? Like right now? Uh, levitating unicycles, no, wait, monster segways… oh man, I can’t do this! I’m just not the creative type…


Bouncing from brainstorm to brainstorm as we often do in this line of work, I am constantly struck by how many people are convinced that they just don’t have the “creativity gene”. The belief that “some have it, others don’t” is pervasive.

In truth, this makes sense. It’s common knowledge that creativity is, in essence, taught out of us once we start school – “Here’s the way to do this...” And, when we are put on the spot and told to exercise our creative powers on-demand, we tend to perform poorly. Who wants to go through that? I know if that was my main exposure to “creative thinking” then I’d rather suppress any creative capacity than repeatedly put myself through that pressure-riddled brain-racking.

Our experience has told us that, while some are in fact more prolific creative thinkers than others, everyone has the capacity to be creative given it is elicited in the right way. This can be especially helpful with managing a group brainstorm, and will help everybody in the room contribute (an unfortunately rare thing).

Top 3 tips for fostering creativity:
1. Build a safe environment – Yeah there is such a thing as a bad idea, but they get worked out of the process without anyone needing to say that the idea was a dud, so establish some rules prohibiting shooting down each other’s ideas. Furthermore, bad ideas can stimulate new, better ideas; so don’t get rid of them too early!
2. Suspend evaluation – Start with a broad task that allows people to go in a multitude of different directions. If the task asks for a particular type of solution you are constraining the group’s creativity before you even begin. If you aren’t diverging before you converge, you won’t get anywhere new.
3. Build on each other’s ideas – If you like it or if you don’t, what is it about the idea that you do or don’t like? Take the pieces that stuck out to you and play with them, turn them on their heads, and put them back together. What did you end up with? A new idea?!? Well, look at that.

After all, a new idea doesn’t have to be 100% new. Even 1% new qualifies it as new. Just some element has to be new – new shape, new color, new industry or market… they all qualify. So, don’t sweat it so much, borrow from each other or from things you see and experience in the world, and let creativity come and go as it pleases, you’ll be much more creative and much happier with these pursuits.

Oh, by the way, I was going to trademark “Monster Segways” but it seems I’ve been beaten to the punch – so go be creative yourself! Apparently, it’s back to the drawing board for me too.


What’s your take? Is creativity learnable? If so, how do you elicit it in yourself, or in others?


Clay is a Business Innovationist with Creative Realities, an innovation strategy consulting firm. He is a frequent contributor to their Innovationist Blog where all things innovation are discussed and will be posting live from FEI 2011 in Boston May 16-18. You can find out more about Creative Realities at www.creativerealities.com

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