Learning Creativity – born or made? (part 1)

The C-word is often thrown around. For me, it conjures images of the great innovations and innovators like Leonardo Di Vinci, Einstein, Steve Jobs and Picasso. However you choose to interpret the concept of creativity, we can probably all agree on something – it’s an extremely valuable attribute in today’s business world and particularly in the Public Relations and Advertising industries. This post is the first in a two-part series on creativity that will examine some prominent myths and suggest ways to improve personal and group creativity.

Myth 1: creativity cannot be learned

Creativity is often viewed as a ‘do or don’t’ trait, an inherent characteristic in the lucky few – you either have it, or you don’t. This is evident in a recent study that found that 68 percent of business leaders firmly believe that great innovators are born and cannot be made: a shocking finding and one far from the truth.

The immense scientific study and psychology research behind creativity has indeed found that creativity, like any other skill, can be learned and refined. Academics have argued that creative capabilities can be divided into two parts: 30% of creativity you are ‘born’ with and is defined by your genes, while a whopping 70% is determined by your attitude and mindset, which can be cultivated. However, if someone is to typecast him or herself as a ‘non-creative type’ – as is expected by the pre-existing notion that you either are or aren’t – then there is a very limited chance that that person will awaken, explore and build the 70% of internal creative possibility within them.

Sir Ken Robinson, author of New York Times best-seller ‘The Element’ and passionate advocate for creating an education system that nurtures (rather than undermines) creativity, argues in line with this philosophy. He believes that we are all born ‘creative’, and that creativity should be treated with the same status as literacy, but that we are educated out of it. The education system currently ranks creative subjects like art at the bottom of the hierarchy, favoring math, science and literacy. When children first go to school they are not afraid to think innovatively and they’re certainly not afraid to be wrong. They aren’t hindered with the same fear of making mistakes that adults are, they’ll simply have a go. And as Einstein said, ‘if you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never create anything original’.

In his inspiring TED talk that has been viewed more than 10 million times, Ken recounts the endearing story of watching his 4-year old son play one of the three kings in the Christmas Nativity play. As the story goes, the three kings come bearing gold, frankincense and myrrh. Unfortunately, the three boys went out of sequence, got confused and the script went like this:

“I bring you gold”

“I bring you myrrh”

“Frank sent this”

The important point is that if a child isn’t sure, they will have a go anyway as a child is far less likely to be inhibited by fear of being wrong and making mistakes.

Lesson 1: ALL of us are born creative

great is the human who has not lost his childlike heart

Myth 2: Only geniuses are supremely creative

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book ‘Outliers: The story of success’, he recounts a common psychology convergence test measuring creativity, which I want to do here. Give yourself 30 seconds each to write down the different possible uses for:

a)      a brick

b)      a blanket

This test was carried out on two people, one with an average IQ and one with an off-the-scale score. The only examples the prodigy came up with for the uses of a brick were ‘building things and throwing’, while the first respondent said a brick could be used for smash-and-grab raids, to help hold a house together, to use in a game of Russian roulette if you want to keep fit at the same time (bricks at ten paces, turn and throw—no evasive action allowed), to hold the eiderdown on a bed tie a brick at each corner, and as a breaker of empty Coca-Cola bottles. While his IQ was substantially lower, his ability to think creatively reigned supreme!

Even if you did not wow yourself with creative thinking for the uses of a brick or blanket, I bet any money that the next time you are engaged in a similar situation or activity you will recall this experience and as a result think more laterally, which serves to reinforce the first point that we CAN learn to be creative with practice and experience in different situations.

Lesson 2: High IQ does not equal creativity

You see things; and you say, 'Why?' But I dream things that never were; and I say, "Why not?"

Tips to get the creative juices flowing:

I hope I have now convinced you that you have the ability and potential to be creative, so what’s next? There are a range of tools and exercises available to help build your creative skills, which I will provide links to in the additional resources section below. A simple tool to start with is Roger Van Oech’s ‘Whack Pack’ that provides one stimulating thought on creativity each day. Creativity happens in different ways and different places for all of us. Some people feed off a collaborative frenzied branstorming session where others may prefer a tranquil room where they can gather their own thoughts. We canvassed some of the Text 100 Sydney team on what they felt was their best creative ‘zone’:

Andy Wray:

Simon Clark:


Additional reading:


Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared on the Text 100 Sydney blog, Digital Comms Down Under.

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