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In this article we seek to define what creativity is and answer the question: can it be taught? We believe this is a crucial question for today’s business world, which is facing rapid change, and the ever present need to manage and prosper from the ever-changing business environment.
We also explore some popular misconceptions about creativity and outline some popular creativity training techniques.
What is creativity?
Most people would argue that creativity is involved with idea generation, new novel concepts, originality, new ways of looking at the world etc. All the above are facets of creativity and allow us to progress to a definition. We might sum up creativity as those imaginative processes that seek to bring about novel solutions in the real world.
There are 2 key facets to this definition: first there is a process of creativity and second that creativity involves “doing something”. People are not creative in the abstract –they are creative in taking action in some field e.g. in writing, business music etc.
The fact that there is a process involved in creativity-a series of identifiable steps-is important because it implies that these steps can be both learned and implemented by people who want to take creative action.
· Product life cycles are shortening all the time therefore it is vital that businesses generate ideas for new products and services to maintain a competitive edge
· It is essential that people are trained to be flexible and adaptable so that they can respond to changing markets and situations
· Everyone needs to adjust to a world where, for the majority, secure lifelong employment, in a single job, is unlikely.
Thus, if we can train people in creativity, we are like to improve business performance and overall competitiveness
However, there are a number of misconceptions about creativity that often inhibit people from exploiting their true creative potential:
1. Only certain people are, or can be, creative. The troubled creative genius is a powerful image in Western culture. Our whole history is littered with the actions of great creative men and women who battled against opposition from the masses and “conventional opinion” to bring the torch of progress and enlightenment to a troubled world.
Many companies have creative departments where all the “creative people” are concentrated-often not wearing ties, these people often work late, as they struggle with some idea beyond the comprehension of “ordinary people”.
Both these images add to the idea that creative people are set apart from the rest of us and to the notion that the great majority of people cannot be creative.
We believe that all people have the capacity to be creative and that the above view is harmful in that it prevents organisations exploiting the creative talents that lies latent in most of its employees
2. The second misconception is that creativity only happens in some special activities-especially the arts. Ask a friend or colleague to visualise someone being creative, and they may well visualise an artist or a sculptor, a poet or a novelist. However, few would visualise a businessperson, a teacher or a scientist.
The key point here is that creativity is not exclusive to any particular activity-people in any occupation can be creative and practice the process of creativity.
3. Creativity involves free expression, letting it all hang out, do your own thing etc. This view partly explains why there is some resistance to the notion of creativity training in schools. School administrators visualise kids running down corridors shouting and screaming in the name of “free expression” and creativity.
However, although part of the process of creativity involves allowing people to relax, feel at ease etc this has to be carefully planned and controlled and facilitated by the use of specialist techniques
Can we train people to be creative?
The answer is a definite yes. We can observe a process at work in creativity-and, this being so, we can define the steps involved and train people in the process. However, what is this process, and what implications does it have for creativity training?
· People are at their most creative when they operate in a stress free environment. Think of Newton sleeping under the apple tree, or Archimedes relaxing in his bath or Bohr visualising the structure of the atom while watching horse racing. This philosophy has been put into action by 3M-an organisation that perhaps epitomises the creative corporation-which gives its employees “free-time” to dream and to be creative. This is not because 3M have “gone soft” but that it recognises the value of giving employees time and space to explore new ideas.
Thus training courses in creativity should be typified by a relaxed environment and should be presented by facilitators who are specially trained to put people at ease. Also careful team selection is necessary to ensure a balance of thinking and problem solving styles are present.
· Another facet of the process of creativity is changing peoples’ brain balance! This need not involve radical surgery –what we mean is changing peoples’ brain balance from a left brain dominated mode to a right brain dominated mode.
The left- brain/ right brain hypothesis is a simplification of the operation of the human mind but nevertheless it is a good starting point to understanding the concept of creativity. The left hemisphere of the brain is the seat of logic-it operates by manipulating numeric and linguistic data –it is very fast and, because it bases itself on experiential learning, it is backward looking and logical. The right- brain does not operate in the same way as the left- brain it operates by manipulating mental images-it’s what our grandmothers would call our “minds- eye”. The right brain is forward looking it can visualise future developments and possibilities. Therefore in stimulating creativity it makes sense to encourage people to use the right brain more. However, easier said than done because most people are of a pronounced left brained orientation. Therefore it is important that creativity programmes tilt this brain balance by the use of specific creativity techniques. For example, creative visualisation exercises via the use of mental excursion techniques. Also the use of tried and tested techniques like brain writing, lateral thinking, and synectic analogies.
· A third process that we can identify and utilise in creativity techniques is that of modelling. For example we can model creative people, like:
1. Entertainers e.g. comedians who conjure up mind eye images with jokes and humour.
2. Sportspeople-who have superb powers of anticipation
3. Politicians who can claim to see the future with their vision of a new society!
4. Children – who are naturally creative in their early years before the education and training regimes pummel this out of them!
5. Women-who tend to be 20% more right brained than men.
Thus when using idea generation techniques on creativity training courses creative facilitators will often urge course delegates to anticipate like sports people add humour and don’t be afraid to speculate like a child!
These tried and tested courses are around they are effective. It makes god commercial sense to consider their suitability for your company or organisation.
John O’ Connor
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