Can You Really Learn To Be More Creative?

Consider these factors before shelling out for innovation inspiration.

From Orlando’s Disney Institute to the Henry Ford Innovation Institute in Detroit, it seems you can’t throw a stone these days without hitting a creativity or innovation training program.

But is shelling out for innovation inspiration worth it? Costs can range anywhere from several hundred dollars to, in the Ford Innovation Institute’s case, a licensing stake in the products developed.

Program leaders should be able to describe how they’re going to get you beyond your same-old thinking patterns and start forging some new neural pathways, says creativity consultant Barnet Bain, cohost of Cutting Edge Consciousness Radio, a southern California radio show. His book Rediscovering Creativity will be published in March 2015. To help you evaluate the best programs for your needs, keep these recommendations in mind.

Relevant stretching.

A program should stretch you to think in new ways without abandoning logic and reason, Bain says. You’re not going to learn how to fly a plane in a three-hour course, even though that would give you new perspective, he adds. Look for programs that are going to challenge you and expose you to new ideas and stimuli, but which aren’t completely abandoning any relevancy to the reason you’re there in the first place. They’ll show you how what they’re teaching you applies to the creativity challenges you wish to solve.

“A good program will help you realize what is valuable versus what you can reaffirm,” Bain adds.

Experiential learning.

When Jonathan Feinstein teaches creativity and innovation at Yale, he uses exercises to let people be creative. While his courses are typically semester-long, he says that even shorter-form seminars and workshops should have some experiential components. One of the exercises he favors is close observation where students look at a small part of a whole subject so they can see the finer points of it and see the whole in a new way. He likens it to sketching, and it can be an important training opportunity to help people make themselves see things differently.

“You can just go in, and see details, and see gaps, and see things differently,” he says. “And you’d be amazed how many students come in the next week or two and say, ‘Wow, I never saw the world that way before.’”

Interaction.

Being part of a group that shares ideas and gives feedback is an important part of nurturing creativity. Your program should have methods of fostering trust and idea sharing among participants while still giving you the freedom to explore your ideas, Feinstein says.

At Henry Ford Innovation Institute, affiliated with the Henry Ford Health Systems (HFHS), a team of 17 professionals works at problems and opportunities in the health care sector. These professionals have various areas of expertise, including health care, product design, and venture capital experience. They descend on their projects and use their collective experience and ideas to improve upon them and bring them to market, says Mark Coticchia, vice president and chief innovation officer at HFHS.

“When bring those people together we use various methods--nominal group technique, brainstorming technique, etc.--to prioritize and zero-in on potential solutions. We rank in order and we decide on how they could be resourced and how we go forward,” he says.

Ongoing practice.

The program should leave you with some new skills and insights to continue developing your creative side, Feinstein says. After all, Georgia O’Keefe didn’t get to be who she was by taking a weekend seminar.

Feinstein works on getting his students to shed their misperceptions about their creative potential. He believes that everyone can learn to be more creative. To do so, he has them read biographies of famous creative types ranging from Steve Jobs to Picasso, to show how the greats also had to work at their talents. Your program should similarly help you see yourself as having the potential to be more creative.

“We’ll talk across the board to help you understand how those people set up their lives and all the ups and downs and struggles they went through, and the way they explored their creative interests. I think that helps students understand that you can be Albert Einstein but you still had to go through a process, you still had to put some things together to come up with your ideas,” he says.

[Image: Flickr user Impact Hub]

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  • An example from his book, "The Nature of Creative Development" defines a creative interest is a key step in forging a path of creativity.

    Thomas Edison was originally a telegraph operator. His earliest focus for invention was the development of a multiplex system so that a single telegraph wire could carry multiple messages, a topic that many other inventors were also focusing on. But as he learned and gained experience he formed a far more distinctive creative interest: Inventing peripheral devices that could be connected to telegraph systems, especially for automated reading and transcribing of messages (what today we call “Input/Output”). This interest was the basis for his important early inventions, notably the electric pen and stock ticker, and led to his work on the telephone and invention of the phonograph.