Nowadays creativity is valued in the workplace, even though it is not often fostered in the workplace. In a survey among CEOs, participants reported that the skill they valued most in an employee is creativity and the ability to problem solve.
It wasn’t always that way, when I started creativity trainings for business three decades ago it was seen as frivolous, unnecessary, and even unwanted. Managers didn’t want their employees to be troubling them with their ideas, they wanted them to be quiet, compliant, and follow the rules.
However, 75% of people don’t believe they are living up to their creative potential, and there is ample evidence that it is crucial to their business success. How can this conundrum be addressed? If we want to learn how to improve creativity, we must first understand what creativity is.
What is Creativity?
Creativity is usually characterized by the ability to perceive the world in new ways, to find hidden patterns, to make connections between seemingly unrelated phenomena, and to generate solutions.
Creativity is an abstract concept that is difficult to define. Perhaps the most useful definition is one put forth by Teresa Amabile, a Harvard professor known for her work on creativity. She defines creativity as “the production of a novel and appropriate response, product, or solution to an open-ended task.”
Although the response must be new, it cannot be merely different; the nonsensical speech of a schizophrenic, for example, may be novel, but few would consider it creative. Thus, the response must also be appropriate to the task to be completed or the problem to be solved; that is, it must be valuable, correct, feasible, or somehow fitting to a particular goal.
Ideas are the Currency of the New Economy
We are living in the age of creativity. Daniel Pink in his book, A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future (2006) defines Economic Development as moving from the Agriculture Age (farmers), to the Industrial Age (factory workers), to the Information Age (knowledge workers), and now on to the Conceptual Age (creators and empathizers).
Pink argues that left-brain linear, analytical computer-like thinking is being replaced by right-brain empathy, inventiveness, and understanding as skills most needed by business. In other words, creativity gives you a competitive advantage by adding value to your service or product and differentiating your business from the competition.
Organizations that understand the relationship between creativity, innovation and performance, actively promote creativity in their employees and win in the marketplace. The root of invention and innovation is creativity.
Creativity Skills Training Return on Investment
Many organizations have introduced systematic creativity activities into their training and production processes with outstanding ROI results.
- Frito-Lay reports documented cost savings over a four-year period of almost $600 million due to their creativity training programs
- The Wall Street Journal reported that a two-year in-house creativity course at General Electric resulted in a 60% increase in patentable concepts.
- Participants in Pittsburgh Plate Glass creativity training showed a 300% increase in viable ideas compared with those who elected not to take the course.
- At Sylvania, several thousand employees took a 40-hour course in creative problem-solving. ROI: $20 for every $1 spent.
- Hewlett-Packard invested over $2 billion in R&D in 1999 and generated more than 1,300 patent applications. Net revenue: $42.37 billion. (Source: HP 2000 Annual report)
Creativity is the Most Crucial Factor for Future Success
Creativity is no longer a spectator’s sport. It is no longer just seen as what artists and musicians process. It’s a crucial skill for professionals in all fields.
LinkedIn Learning recently listed the skills companies need most in 2019 and determined that strengthening a soft skill is one of the best investments you can make in your career, as they never go out of style. Plus, the rise of AI is only making soft skills increasingly important, as they are precisely the type of skills robots can’t automate.
What was the top soft skill companies are looking for most in 2019? Creativity. Why it matters: While robots are great at optimizing old ideas, organizations most need creative employees who can conceive the solutions of tomorrow.
Learning how to think more creatively will benefit you the rest of your career. And, macroeconomic trends suggest creativity will only become more important moving forward.
Hence, it’s no stretch to say creativity is the single-most important skill in the world for all business professionals today to master.
The Creativity Gap
A 2016 Adobe study on creativity shows 8 in 10 people feel that unlocking creativity is critical to economic growth and nearly two-thirds of respondents feel creativity is valuable to society, yet a striking minority – only 1 in 4 people – believe they are living up to their own creative potential.
Creativity pays off in not only being better positioned in the current business world, but also in personal ways. Creatives have more confidence in their abilities, have more empathy, recognize and resolve problems more quickly, and live a more passionate life.
Overcoming Myths About Creativity
Beliefs that only special, talented people are creative (and you have to be born that way) diminish our confidence in our creative abilities. The notion that geniuses such as Shakespeare, Picasso, and Mozart were ‘gifted’ is a myth, according to a study at Exeter University. Researchers examined outstanding performances in the arts, mathematics, and sports, to find out if “the widespread belief that to reach high levels of ability a person must possess an innate potential called talent.”
The study concludes that excellence is determined by: opportunities, encouragement, training, motivation, and most of all, practice. “Few showed early signs of promise prior to parental encouragement.” No one reached high levels of achievement in their field without devoting thousands of hours of serious training.
Mozart trained for 16 years before he produced an acknowledged masterwork. Moreover, many high performers achieve levels of excellence today that match the capabilities of a Mozart, or a Gold Medalist from the turn of the century.”
George Land’s Creativity Test
In 1968, George Land conducted a research study to test the creativity of 1,600 children ranging in ages from three-to-five years old who were enrolled in a Head Start program. This was the same creativity test he devised for NASA to help select innovative engineers and scientists. The assessment worked so well he decided to try it on children. He re-tested the same children at 10 years of age, and again at 15 years of age. The results were astounding.
Test results amongst 5 year olds: 98%
Test results amongst 10 year olds: 30%
Test results amongst 15 year olds: 12%
Same test given to 280,000 adults: 2%
“What we have concluded,” wrote Land, “is that non-creative behavior is learned.”
Why Aren’t Adults as Creative as Children?
For most, creativity has been buried by rules and regulations. Our educational system was designed during the Industrial Revolution over 200 years ago, to train us to be good workers and follow instructions.
Rules and regulations kill creativity. Our school systems typically denigrate imagination, day dreaming, and imperfection—all attributes that great minds say were key to their most revolutionary ideas. Educational systems all too often teach us not to think differently, but how to follow instructions and obey the status quo.
How to Be More Creative
There are various priming techniques you can try to enhance creative abilities. Many of these techniques can be very useful, mostly in the area of creative problem solving. Creative problem solving consists of the manipulation of existing ideas in order to generate new solutions, and is the result of more flexible thinking.
Truly new and novel ideas are the result of creative perception. Hence there is a difference between thinking creatively and being creative. This is the mysterious and often misunderstood aspect that successful artists and inventors possess, nurture, and protect.
One can build creative thinking skills without improving creative perception, or “the ability to perceive the world in new ways.” However, learning to perceive the world in new ways will naturally lead to thinking more creatively.
Novices often assume that creativity occurs solely in the conscious mind. They try to will their muse into being. But experienced creative geniuses know better. They know that the true source of their creativity resides in their unconscious mind. Whether by innate aptitude or by learned conditioning, they know how to call and rely upon the vast resources of the unconscious.
Imagination is a Fundamental Skill in Creativity
A key aspect of building your creative perception lies in improving your ability to visualize the non-existent, or to imagine. The ability to see things before they are actualized is what enables us to conceive of new and novel ideas.
Imagination is the bulwark of the creative process and there is an alarming lack of imagination in a world that force-feeds us imagery on a daily basis, negating the need for us to cultivate visualization skills. It is the neglected step child of mental functioning.
Fortunately, it is quite easy to learn. Which is why I usually begin my creativity trainings with it. It alone can utterly transform a person who is “not the creative type” into a genuinely creative person.
Let me be clear, everyone has an imagination although most people need a serious upgrade to that skill. “Upgrade Your Imagination” is a concise step-by-step guide that I often use for new students. You can download a copy and try it for yourself for free here.
Get “Upgrade Your Imagination” click here
Newer Studies on Creativity
- State of Create 2016
- The Creative Dividend How Creativity Impacts Business Results
- Capitalizing on Complexity Insights from the Global Chief Executive Officer Study
If you would like to learn more about Gary’s courses available at The Practical Guru see his course page. You can also subscribe below to be kept in the loop.