What is creativity?
Everyone can develop their thinking skills and acquire new knowledge. Add the motivation to make a difference, and you have the basic recipe for creative achievement. But it takes time. Like learning a language, it’s easy to pick up a few phrases, but it takes longer to become fluent. When we talk about ‘highly creative people’ we mean people who’ve become fluent in creative thinking. Many people could achieve fluency, but many don’t, because they lack the conditions, education or training which permits their creativity to thrive.
Creativity across the board?
It would be foolish to suggest that people who are highly creative in one area can automatically be just as creative in another. In areas people know well, they can solve tricky problems much more quickly than when they’re in unfamiliar territory.
When people say they’re operating intuitively or have a gut instinct that a strategy ‘feels right’, this is often because they’ve developed the expertise needed to process information rapidly – so rapidly that they don’t know how or why they know what’s right – they just ‘feel’ it is. And that goes for scientists, managers and inventors just as much as artists and designers.
But if we don’t have much to go on, we need to know how to find useful information or spot connections with other situations with which we are familiar, so we can extrapolate from them. Finding links between apparently unrelated situations is a key aspect of creativity.
Developing this skill takes a lot of practice.Tackling different practical problems can help develop connection-making skills. So can any activity which requires us to use our imagination – listening to a radio play or reading a novel, for example. Or simply letting our minds wander, as we might when going for a walk or listening to music.
Interestingly, there’s a strong correlation between the amount of time spent in solitude and the development of a good imagination – especially during a childhood that has provided plenty of opportunity for imaginative play.
Knowledge and skills
When psychologists talk about ‘creative thinking skills’, they mean the kinds of strategies people use to solve persistent or complex problems, along with the imaginative ability to use these strategies effectively. Psychologists often refer to ‘creative problem solving’ in this context, but ‘problem’ isn’t meant to imply anything negative, rather it means resolving something that is unclear.
The mechanisms they use are the same as the ones we all use for thinking and decision-making. It’s the strategies they use to make sense of what’s going on which are different. And these strategies can be learned.
Different strategies suit different kinds of problems, so another essential skill is the ability to know what kind of problem-solving strategy to use. What’s appropriate will depend on whether:
- it’s the current situation that’s unclear
- we don’t have a good enough picture of the goal
- we don’t know how to reach the goal.
Each of these situations requires a different thinking strategy. This is normally a much-neglected area in training and education. In fact, most creativity training focuses on only one or two strategies – or aspects of them. These are often called ‘creativity tools and techniques’, but few programmes offer them all or explain why one strategy might work better than another.
At The Creativity Centre we address all aspects of creativity. In addition to thinking, problem-solving and decision-making skills, we need various practical skills. We also need other skills which have wide applicability, such as communication skills. Such skills are often called transferable skills. In fact, highly creative people often find they can transfer many skills from one situation to another.
Motivation is vital in creativity. Without it, even the most accomplished people are unlikely to produce anything very creative, at least not on a regular basis. Motivation can show up as ‘dogged determination’, ‘unwillingness to quit’, even ‘stubbornness’. However, it’s a
complex process. It’s possible to improve low levels of motivation, but this isn’t simply a case of offering rewards or incentives. Obstacles can sometimes be just as motivating. At The Creativity Centre, we can help people understand motivation better and make it work for them.
The main point is that creativity is not a mystical process. It can be explained and it can be learned. It applies to individuals and to groups and
organisations. Indeed, many creative breakthroughs these days involve a team effort. At The Creativity Centre, we provide consultancy and develop materials which help make this happen. Also, research is a large part of our remit, whether it’s helping others find answers to questions or helping us to improve what we have to offer. Please contact us if you would like our help.