When I talk about creativity, it isn’t uncommon for people to tell me that they aren’t the ‘creative type,’ as if creativity were an unchangeable trait akin to eye color or height. While it is often viewed as an innate skill that people are born with, the truth, however, is that creative thinking is actually a readily-taught set of skills, attitudes and behaviors.
Without training and conscious practice, those skills, attitudes and behaviors are typically underdeveloped in most people. In other words, when faced with a challenge, most people don’t resort to their creative skills to find a solution. More commonly, they turn to rule books, past experience and analytical skills. This is particularly true in professions which emphasize the importance of following rules, rather than thinking outside of the box.
But in an increasingly complex business world, there is much demand for professionals who can see innovative ways of tackling challenges, and can recognize that there may not only be one right answer to a problem.
Our traditional formal education system typically teaches us to solve problems by learning formulas, rules and procedures. In the more stable world of the past, this was tolerable. But today’s problem solvers need to be able to creatively discover good questions and challenges, work through ill-structured situations and see the opportunity buried in a crisis. Success requires the use of imagination, non-linear thinking and some risk-taking.
Without creativity training, many people are prematurely critical of new ideas and creative solutions. Rather than build upon promising but imperfect ideas, they too quickly reject possibilities for innovative action. Attempting to equate new and old experiences, people search for what is similar rather than what is unique in a new problem, and use available solutions rather than consider new or innovative ones.
In today’s business environment, creativity is not a frill or luxury, but an essential skill for success that is important to learn as standard business practices.