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.

Can Creativity Really Be Taught?
[Image: Flickr user Charles Pence]

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.”

About the author

Jane Porter writes about creativity, business, technology, health, education and literature. She's a 2013 Emerging Writing Fellow with the Center For Fiction.