Whenever the subject of teaching creativity comes up, you can be assured that there will be a massive and, at times, contentious debate. In my experience, two types of people often comprise the “creativity can’t be taught” contingent. The first type is the person who would like to absolve themselves of any creative ability. They often say, “Oh, I can’t do that. I’m not very creative.” The second type takes great pride in their creative abilities, which they believe sets them apart from everyone else. But the reality is creativity can be taught, and the science is there to support it.
Before we go any further, it’s important to establish what kind of creativity we’re talking about with the help of the following analogy. When I was a kid, I had no idea how to throw a ball, but I learned by practicing with my Dad in the backyard. Through coaching, and some trial and error, my mechanics improved until I could throw pretty well. I’m not Nolan Ryan, and it’s pretty unlikely that I’ll ever throw a 96 mph fastball. But I can still throw a ball. That’s the type of creativity we’re talking about. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (chick-sent-ME-high) defined creativity as “any act, idea, or product that changes an existing domain, or that transforms an existing domain into a new one.” Creativity isn’t limited to painting the Mona Lisa. It can also be finding a novel solution to a problem you’re facing at work.
In his article “No Idea? Evaluating The Effectiveness Of Creativity Training” (2005), Kamal S. Birdi explored the long-term effect of creativity training workshops on British Civil Service employees, and demonstrated that creativity training workshops showed modest, but significant improvements of creative performance in the workplace. “A Creativity-Training Workshop: Short-term, Long-term, and Transfer Effects” by John A. Glover (1980) explored the effects and transferability of creativity training in college students. After participating in a series of workshops, students showed improvements in their creativity that carried over to unrelated tasks and remained during a retest months later.
The moral of the story is this. Just like my analogy about throwing a baseball. Creative thinking is teachable. And by practicing you’ll notice improvements that carry over into other areas. Like throwing a football.
Birdi, Kamal S. “No idea? Evaluating the effectiveness of creativity training.”Journal of European Industrial Training 29.2 (2005): 102-111.
Glover, John A. “A Creativity-Training Workshop: Short-term, long-term, and transfer effects.” The Journal of Genetic Psychology 136.1 (1980): 3-16.