Anyone can Learn to be Creative

Anyone can Learn to be Creative

Individuals’ creativity can be encouraged and developed through a variety of ways and practices. While some people have a natural propensity toward creativity, everyone with the appropriate mindset and work can improve their creative ability.

Researchers have found a new strategy for teaching individuals to be creative, one that appears to be significantly more effective than current methods of stimulating invention. Based on narrative theory, this innovative strategy encourages individuals to be creative in the same way that children and artists do: by making up stories that envisage alternate worlds, shift perspective, and generate unexpected acts.

The narrative technique works by acknowledging that we are all creative, according to Angus Fletcher, a professor of English and a member of Ohio State University’s Project Narrative.

“We as a society radically undervalue the creativity of kids and many others because we are obsessed with the idea that some people are more creative than others,” Fletcher said. “But the reality is that we’re just not training creativity in the right way.”

Fletcher and Mike Benveniste, also of Project Narrative, discussed the narrative method of training creativity in a just-published article in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences.

We as a society radically undervalue the creativity of kids and many others because we are obsessed with the idea that some people are more creative than others. But the reality is that we’re just not training creativity in the right way.

Dr. Fletcher

The narrative technique was effectively employed by the two researchers to instruct members of the United States Army’s Command and General Staff College. Based on his methods, Fletcher created a publicly available training guide for officers and advanced enlisted people. They have also collaborated with the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, the Ohio State College of Engineering, and a number of Fortune 500 organizations to teach creativity to their employees and students.

The present cornerstone of creativity training is the divergent thinking technique, which has been in use since the 1950s. According to Fletcher, it is a “computational approach” to creativity that sees the brain as a logical computer.

It works through exercises designed to, among other things, expand working memory, foster analogical thinking, and promote problem-solving. But divergent thinking hasn’t delivered the results that many hoped for, Fletcher said. A major issue is that its computational approach relies on data and information about the problems and successes of the past.

Anyone can be trained to be creative

“What it cannot do is help people prepare for new challenges about which we know very little today. It can’t think of truly unique actions,” Fletcher added. “But the human brain’s narrative machinery can.”

Many of the approaches used by authors to generate stories are used in the narrative method of creativity training. One method is to imagine new universes. Employees in a corporation, for example, would be asked to consider their most peculiar customer and then envision a world in which all of their customers were like that. What impact would that have on their business? What would they have to do in order to live?

Another technique is perspective-shifting. An executive at a company might be asked to answer a problem by thinking like another member of their team. The point of using these techniques and others like them is not that the scenarios you dream up will actually happen, Fletcher said.

“Creativity isn’t about guessing the future correctly. It’s about making yourself open to imagining radically different possibilities,” he said. “When you do that, you can respond more quickly and nimbly to the changes that do occur.”

Fletcher noted that the narrative approach of training creativity through telling stories resembles how young children are creative – and research shows that young children are more imaginatively creative than adults. However the ability of children to perform creative tasks drops after four or five years of schooling, according to studies. That’s when children begin intensive logical, semantic, and memory training.

According to Fletcher, the story approach to creativity can help people rediscover the creativity they may have lost as they moved through school. One advantage for companies that train their employees to be creative is that they no longer need to seek out “creative people,” he says.

“Trying to hire creative people causes problems because the people identified as creative by leaders are almost always people who are similar to themselves.” As a result, it encourages conformity rather than uniqueness,” Fletcher explained. “It is preferable to hire a diverse group of individuals and then train them to be creative.” This fosters a culture that recognizes that there are already creative people in your business who are underutilized.”

Fletcher and his colleagues have begun a more rigorous evaluation of this narrative style of creativity training, which has already garnered favorable feedback. They are running randomized controlled trials of the creative curriculum on over 600 United States Army majors enrolled in the Command and General Staff College. In addition, they are continuing to collaborate with new groups, such as the Worthington Local School District in Ohio.

“Teaching creativity is one of the most useful things you can do in the world,” he says, “because it is simply coming up with new solutions to problems.” This innovative way of educating creativity, according to Fletcher, “could only have come from Ohio State’s Project Narrative.”