Creativity training...what does it actually mean?
Can you train people to be more creative? Aren't some people just more creative than others?
Children often the most creative
These are questions that I hear often but I've been running learning workshops on creativity for over 12 years, and it’s my belief that everyone can learn to be more creative.
It all depends on how you define creativity. If you go down the traditional route that creativity is all about being an artist, composer or actor then I would probably have a different point of view, but I prefer to think of creativity as the simple ability to do ordinary things in new or different ways.
All too often creativity can be put on a pedestal, out of reach for many of us, but if you simply think of creativity as the ability to think flexibly around an issue and then find a new solution, then it’s easier for us to connect with it. We all have this type of creativity - it's innate and unique in all of us.
The most creative people I know are children - every 5 year old child I've ever met in fact. They live in that expansionist world. Theirs is a world of opportunities, where they are unattached to outcomes and not bound by rules and regulations. They are free spirits and free thinkers, and they can express and experiment without having any hang ups or inhibitions. They're innately curious, generous with their thoughts and they seek to make everything a game or adventure. Funnily enough, we were all 5 years old once upon a time so creativity is something we're all born with.
So why is it that I regularly meet people who have a deep-rooted belief that they're not creative? When I question these people they often say things like "Mrs Miggin's my art teacher in 3B told me I was the least creative child she had come across." Education has a lot to answer for in this regard. It pigeon holes creativity into those traditional definitions of art and music and ultimately devalues its merit in other areas of life.
Research has found that a 16 year old child leaving school in the States has had to complete over 3,000 tests or exams which look for the one right answer. This approach represses that childlike way of being, that sense of possibility. It is replaced and rewarded by a more rigorous and analytical mindset, a much more practical and disciplined approach to thinking, and one where things are black and white, right or wrong. I would not say that these are not important skills to have. In my last creative agency my team probably spent 90% of their time in this more analytical way of being. What we were very good at though, was identifying opportunities for creativity and then being explicit about the environment, dynamics, techniques, energy and behaviours that all have massive impact in ensuring successful and productive creative sessions.
I say explicit, because you can't leave any of this stuff to chance. The worlds of judgement and creativity mix like oil and water and to navigate them effectively you need awareness, confidence and a skill set. That is where the need for creative training comes in.
I often encounter cynicism when talking about 'creativity training'. If, however, I talk about skilling people up to be better flexible thinkers or to help people problem-solve in more exciting and impactful ways, then I tend to find that people want to find out more. It’s the same thing, just wrapped up differently.
Without giving too much away, here are some guiding principles that we stick to in our approach:
1. Common language. Knock creativity off that pedestal. Make it relevant and everyday, with some simple common language and real stories to help people connect, and things become way easier.
2. Awareness. Help people realise that they are creative. Heighten their awareness around what creativity feeds off and when they find ideas easy, and then help them to think about what they need to do to replicate that in their work life. We get a real buzz from helping people realise their true creative potential.
3. Skills. Arm people with some very simple techniques that make the creative process easy. These can be anything from some creative tools to help pull apart a brief, to ensure you're working on the right issue, through to a much more productive way of generating and capturing ideas (these don't include a flip chart!). We believe the simpler the technique, the easier it is to remember, and the more likely that it will be to be used back in the office.
4. Behaviours. Creativity lives or dies based on the behaviours and energy you surround it with. Don't leave this to chance. If you label some key creative behaviours, then you can be explicit and manage a group of people through any creative session. We have identified a simple set of behaviours that ensures any creative group dynamic works.
5. Confidence. Make any learning experience safe, fun and interactive and people will play and experiment. It’s not about creating awkward role-plays and putting people 'on the spot' in dull training environments. It's about rolling your sleeves up, getting your hands dirty and making the learnings real in an informal way. We design all our training courses so they'd be ones we'd want to go on ourselves. After the course it’s all about practise. There is no silver bullet and arguably the training is the easy part. It’s the discipline and bravery to try this stuff out back in the office that will cement the learnings and build people’s confidence.
Ultimately, the best thing about creativity is that it thrives on laughter and having fun and I guess, at our very core, that’s what we're all about.
Jim Lusty is a Partner at Upping Your Elvis.
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