Can You Learn Creativity? The Answer Might Surprise You

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Creativity is a trait that is as much desired as it is admired. Many of us wish we were more creative — that we had the creative “spark” that allowed Picasso to paint Les Desmoiselles D’Avignon or Paul McCartney to write “Hey Jude.” And we as individuals aren’t the only ones who find value in creativity; today, businesses are taking note too. In a 2010 IBM global survey of more than 1500 CEOs from 60 countries and 33 industries worldwide, creativity was selected as the most crucial factor for future success. That’s right — the most crucial factor, above hard work, discipline, integrity, or vision.

Related Story: The Secret to Being Happy, Healthy, and More Productive at Work

That might be frightening if you just don’t feel like you have it in you. But guess what? You do have it in you, according to leading experts on the topic. And if you already have it in you, you can learn to let it out, let it breathe, and let it reach its full potential.

So can you learn creativity? Yes, you can. Let’s explore how.

Finding the Creative Within

“Everybody has tremendous creative capacities,” said Sir Ken Robinson, the bestselling author of Out of Our Minds: Learning to Be Creative, among other titles. His book explores the value of creativity, the ways that we stifle our true talents, and the need for a better approach to creativity in education and business.

“You can be creative in math, science, music, dance, cuisine, teaching, running a family, or engineering,” Robinson said in an interview with ASCD. “Because creativity is a process of having original ideas that have value… It’s a process, not a single event, and genuine creative processes involve critical thinking as well as imaginative insights and fresh ideas.”

Creativity as a process. That’s an important idea, and one that comes up again and again. Creativity is not just about having that “a-ha” moment (which we are all capable of); it is about setting ourselves up to have that moment, then knowing what to do when it happens.

Learning creativity, therefore, does not mean starting from scratch; it means unearthing and enhancing the creative intelligence that already exists within us.

How People Are Learning Creativity

Ever wished there was a class you could take to learn to be more creative? How about an entire program? Creative studies programs are popping up all over the place, from Drexel University’s Online Master of Science Degree Program in Creativity and Innovation to Buffalo State University’s Graduate Program, Graduate Certificate, and Minor in Creative Studies, just to name a few.

Gerard Puccio, chairman of the International Center for Studies in Creativity at Buffalo State University, told General Assembly that there are many reasons why he thinks it is possible to teach creativity, but highlighted three:

“First, my own personal experience in going through creativity training. As a young man I was the poster-child for someone who was uncreative, had much more of an athletic bent. Through undergraduate course work in creativity, I was able to dramatically improve my creative-thinking prowess. So personal experience. Second, as a practitioner, both as a trainer and educator, I have worked with thousands of people and watched their transformation as a result of creativity training. Finally, as a scholar I am familiar with the research that has experimentally tested the ‘trainability’ of creativity – and the evidence is conclusive. Creativity training has been shown to significantly improve creative attitude, creative performance, and creative problem-solving skills.”

Puccio went on to explain Buffalo State’s approach to teaching creativity:

“The research has shown that those programs that focus on providing people with cognitive strategies (tools that enhance thinking) are the most effective. With that in mind, the International Center for Studies in Creativity uses a model called Creative Problem Solving. The core skill embedded in the model is the separation of idea generation from idea evaluation. Both are important, but generation must come before evaluation. Additionally, this model provides a comprehensive set of cognitive tools that run the full range of the creative process, i.e., tools for problem clarification, tools for idea generation, tools that help to transform good ideas into great solutions, tools to help sell your great solutions to others, and tools that help with create a viable action plan.”

Dr. Fredricka Reisman, professor and founding director of the Creativity and Innovation program at Drexel, explained a similar approach in a press release for Drexel’s program:

“Everyone is inherently creative,” Reisman said. “Our program teaches techniques for improving creativity – generating original ideas – but it also takes it that next step and teaches students innovation – how to implement those ideas.”

Of course, universities aren’t the only places helping individuals learn creativity. If you look at some of the most successful startups and businesses, they’re embracing creativity too. For example, at 3M and Google, employees are encouraged to take free time to work on their own projects. LinkedIn has a foosball table where employees can play and relax (studies have found that people in a relaxed mood are more likely to arrive at creative solutions; one study by Australian researchers even found that lying on your back can help you solve puzzles). And the global design firm IDEO swears by the finger blaster, a toy that looks like a tiny rocket and launches across the room with one pull of a rubber band.

But does playing really enhance creativity?

In his very entertaining TED Talk, IDEO CEO Tim Brown shares his insights on the importance of play for creative development in children and adults. Playing not only gets the creative juices flowing, it also helps us form close relationships and trust each other. And trust allows individuals to feel comfortable sharing their ideas; to stop “self-editing,” which is an adult trait. Trust allows us to have that big idea and go for it.

“We think playfulness helps us get to better creative solutions, helps us do our jobs better, and helps us feel better when we do them,” said Brown.

What You Can Do Today To Enhance Your Creativity

Ready to embrace the creative within? Start with a few easy tricks:

  • Relax: Take a walk, play a game. Let your mind be free of its normal obligations.
  • Stop self-editing: Don’t be afraid to have an idea; don’t think that every idea is “stupid.” Give yourself the freedom to think freely. Critical thinking can come later.
  • Don’t give up: While relaxation and free thinking can help you start to be more creative, creativity also requires daily practice, discipline, and time. Some of the most creative people come up with their best ideas only after hours, days, weeks, or years of creative thought and critical thinking about a problem or question. If the “a-ha” moment doesn’t strike you right away, take solace in the fact that it rarely does.

Find a career that inspires your creative side.

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