Can Creativity Really Be Taught?

Creativity doesn't always come naturally. But do the classes, lists, and mantras really help? Even if your team isn't full of Renaissance men and women, these steps can start them thinking outside the cubicle.

Creative Studies classes and majors are popping up at universities around the country with growing frequency, a recent New York Times article reports. But if majoring in "creativity" or some such field sounds a bit too much like underwater basket weaving, consider its relevance on the job front.

“Creativity” was named the most crucial factor for success in a survey of 1,500 executives across 33 industries conducted by IBM in 2010. And according to LinkedIn, “creative” is the most used buzzword in user profiles for the last two years.

But what's all this hoopla about creativity about? Can it really be learned? Gerard Puccio, chairman of the International Center for Studies in Creativity at Buffalo State College seems to think so. "You are seeing more attention to creativity at universities,” according to Puccio. “The marketplace is demanding it.”

A partner at the publishing company FourSight, Puccio has created a four-prong method used by businesses and in classrooms to help promote and demystify the creative process. According to FourSight, individuals each tend to gravitate toward one of four of these steps as their primary mode of thinking. Understanding which one of these four steps you most gravitate toward, according to them, can help you and your team strike a better balance:

1. First, clarify.

This involves identifying the problem or challenge at hand. Knowing what question to ask is key so that you know what problem you're addressing. “If you don’t have the right frame for the situation, it’s difficult to come up with a breakthrough,” says Puccio.

2. Before you create, ideate.

"Ideating" is just a bit of puffery for what's essentially brainstorming or throwing ideas out there.

3. Begin to develop.

When you enter the stage of developing, you're building out potential solutions. Part of this process may very well involve failing and having to start from square one. Be prepared.

4. Implement it.

Convincing others that your idea is worth its salt is where implementing comes into play.

While creativity itself can't be taught, proponents of creative studies programs believe they can offer techniques that get you thinking in new and exciting ways.

According to Roger Firestien, author of the book Leading on the Creative Edge, and a Buffalo State professor, the point of such programs is to learn techniques “to make creativity happen instead of waiting for it to bubble up.”

[Image: Flickr user Charles Pence]

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10 Comments

  • Douglas Baldwin

    I believe that an extensive, diversified knowledge base, is an important component to creativity. Innovation often involves borrowing and adjusting ideas, strategies, or processes, etc... already being used and proven effective in unrelated fields. The universe reveals a wide variety of diverse, and yet repeating patterns, The shape of a nautilus and the human inner ear are strikingly similar. The design of a chlorophyll molecule, and the inner workings of the earliest radar are similar as well. Being able to make the connections in that diversified knowledge base is key.

  • Douglas Baldwin

    I believe that an extensive, diversified knowledge base, is an important component to creativity. Innovation often involves borrowing and adjusting ideas, strategies, or processes, etc... already being used and proven effective in unrelated fields. The universe reveals a wide variety of diverse, and yet repeating patterns, The shape of a nautilus and the human inner ear are strikingly similar. The design of a chlorophyll molecule, and the inner workings of the earliest radar are similar as well. Being able to make the connections in that diversified knowledge base is key.

  • Thanks for a great post. I agree, everything can be taught. All you need is time. To enhance creativity, I find it helps to use the simple egg-timer technique to create "time-pockets" for creative tasks. Quantity eventually transmutes into quality. Useful tools for me have been "The Artist's Way" by Julia Cameron (https://twitter.com/J_CameronLive) and TimeFly, not-for-profit time management app I created specifically for this (http://tinyurl.com/kgn57hk).

  • Yes, creativity can definitely be taught. Lots of studies have proven it, and practical experience proves it as well. At Ideas To Go, we regularly train the customers of our clients to help generate creative solutions to the clients' challenges. The difference in the creative output before and after the training is marked. And anyone can be taught to improve their creative thinking. We have successfully trained doctors, bartenders, janitors, nurses, factory managers, and more in creative thinking tools and techniques.

    To find out more, check out my blog post, "10 Rules for Brainstorming Success" (http://www.ideastogo.com/blog-10-rules-for-brainstorming-success), or my coworker Andrea's post "When Creativity Training Goes Wrong" (http://www.ideastogo.com/avoiding-pitfalls-in-creativity-training)

    --Susan Robertson, Innovation Process Consultant and VP of Business Development Ideas To Go, Inc. www.ideastogo.com

  • Floris Koot

    Creativity can be taught, and on much deeper levels than most business trainings offer. They offer mostly tool based, get-you-a-bit-out-of-the-box,-but-still-within-company-limits,-please fun training with indeed cool exercises that help a bit. Real creativity is messy, has uncontrolled outcomes, speaks to the soul of people and the essence of what is going on and needed. It throws people gently into 'outer space', so they must find their inner core or it lets them play, for playfulness in continuous invention. The question is, is your company open to discuss or challenge everything? Or was that just a Playstation add?

    Also the mechanical logical 4 steps, and all those similar 'models to implement creative innovation' processes are as unreal as Barbie. Sorry. Real processes mean jumping around between steps, often in random order, with often, as you say back to square 1, but more like dancing on a Twister board in random order, until you get it right.

  • Tom McDermott

    What we should be asking is; where is our own creativity & imagination strongest and why? What I've found from 10 years of study is; that we're "most creative & imaginative" where we're "most curious." Curiosity is "a desire to learn," and it's innate in all of us. Sadly though, most fail to realize that while we "could learn" anything, we don't all have a "desire to learn" the same things, or to the same degree. Eg. I have a bother that loves cars & everything about them, & he's been drawing new concepts since he was a little kid. But I could care less about cars. I don't know why, I just never did. So, while "I could learn" everything about cars, how creative are my designs going to be, if I don't have a strong desire to learn about them? In contrast, I've always been "far more curious" about human nature, and I have been "far more creative and imaginative" in this area as result. Find where people are most curious, and you'll see they're creativity & imaginative come alive!

  • Ideation as puffery? Creatives know that ideation is required in order to invite new ideas into possibility. Teams that are focused on problem solving based on the current state and what is known quickly skip this step and move to solutioning. Teams that ground their process by beginning with active and collaborative ideation are far more likely to tap into wildly creative ideas. @gingercrowne

  • gravitate toward one of the four steps? It is hard to imagine that large numbers of individuals gravitate toward implementation when they do not have any ideas. also, hard to imagine is that individuals gravitate toward clarifying a problem but do not generate any ideas.

    these steps are certainly a version of the creative process but not good examples of prototypical faults in a creative procedure. the title of the article, "can creativity really be taught" is barely examined.

    creativity is a trait, an aptitude, something with which you are born. you can be taught a process that amplifies the creativity you do have. you can be made more effective at using your creativity by learning a better process.