Can we learn to be creative?

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Creative thinking comes naturally to some people. Those who are better at it seem to be able to generate ideas and evaluate them at the same time. Recent studies suggest the skills associated with this can be developed.

How creativity can be developed
Thinking creatively requires you to get out of your comfort zone. Stenger (2018) suggests this includes being willing to challenge assumptions, open to new ideas and possibilities and happy to experiment, explore and constantly ask questions.

Four core competencies help individuals think creatively and generate original ideas. Each of these enhances the development of creativity. However, the most important of these is capturing ideas.

  1. Capture ideas
    Find a way of keeping track of good ideas that you have. That means capturing them quickly and storing them in something accessible. They may be a phone or tablet (notes or voice recordings) or in a notebook.
    Ideas occur to us when we are least expecting them, so ease of capture is important.
  2. Seek challenges
    Embrace challenges that come your way, even if they seem too hard or that there may not be a solution. If you force yourself to have a go and think about possibilities rather than limitations, helps generate new ideas.

    Challenges can lead to failures. Accepting this as a possibility and a means to learn, is part of being creative.
  3. Broaden knowledge and skills
    Acquiring knowledge and skills in areas more broadly than your specific area of expertise is important. The development of such diversity can be the basis for creative thought.

    There are abundant sources of learning in these areas – many of them available online, as well as formal courses and community learning networks.
  4. Manage your environment
    Your surroundings influence how you think. It is suggested that having diverse and original physical and social environments stimulate thinking and the generation of novel ideas.

    This may mean seeking out new places to frequent and groups to interact with.
    Many communal learning spaces provide interesting shared workspaces and a diverse range of people to work alongside.

Avoid inhibiting creativity
Too much structure can stifle creativity. Some structure and organisation can help take in information efficiently. However, too much structure limits the free flow of thoughts and ideas. It can restrict flexibility and limit the range of outcomes possible.

How creativity is being taught
A range of educational institutions are teaching creativity. Approaches include:

  • teaching students how to think through an emphasis on critical thinking, communication and interacting effectively
  • encouraging the development of hypothesis research, testing theories, conducting interviews and visualising data
  • exploring creativity through theoretical, sociological, psychological and political approaches
  • thinking by analogy, looking for patterns and using play to get new ideas
  • brainstorming, questioning, developing potential solutions and implementing new ideas

Source: Stenger, Marianne. 2018. Can We Learn to Be More Creative? In InformEd,

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