Ed Glassman
Ed Glassman

Creativity as a learnable skill

Many people mistakenly think that they lack the ability to be creative. To them, creativity is a mysterious, mountain top phenomena, inherited, and therefore not available to them.

I trained as a geneticist, and “Is it inherited?” is important to me. After all, if creativity is inherited like I.Q., little can be done to help a low creative person.

Here are some creativity skills at work. Do they seem inherited?

• The ability to keep an open mind, switch tracks, see new perspectives, shift paradigms, and generate different mind sets.

• The ability to associate remote stimuli in the environment with elements in the mind and combine them into new and unusual ideas.

• The ability to generate many ideas.

• The ability to adopt different problem-solving approaches.

• The ability to generate a variety of really different ideas.

• The ability to develop ideas.

• The ability to generate infrequent and uncommon ideas.

• The ability to hang in there going against consensus and persist in the face of criticism.

Few of these creativity skills seem to be inherited, and most seem to be learnable with training. Indeed, research on how identical and fraternal twins score on available tests of these creativity skills show that differences between the scores of identical twins on creativity tests were similar to the differences between fraternal twins. (Concordance is low.) Therefore, these creativity skills do not have a large genetic contribution.

This is good news. If these creativity skills were inherited, I would end now with condolences: sorry, what you have is what you will always have, and creativity training will not help. Instead, the opposite is true. Most people with reasonable mental ability can become more creative by learning advanced creativity procedures.

Thus, escape from a major myth that creativity has a large inherited component. This myth leads to a self-fulfilling prophecy: nothing can harm a high creative person, and nothing can help a low creative person. Not so on both accounts.

First, most creativity skills are probably not inherited as shown by the research on identical and fraternal twins.

Second, you can learn creativity procedures and enhance creative thinking skills.

Third, creativity is greatly affected by the job environment and other external factors.

Finally, success as a creative person depends not only on creativity procedures, but also on talent and ability (inherited or otherwise), motivation to be creative, and on interpersonal skills in selling ideas.

Here is a devastating creativity-spoiling habit…thinking you are not creative. This negative put-down of yourself spoils your attempts to be creative. Keep in mind that creativity procedures are learned, not inherited. You can learn to be more creative by learning advanced creativity procedures.

The other side of the coin is another creativity-spoiling habit … thinking you have been very creative when you have not been. If you do not use the advanced problem-solving procedures of creative thinking, you will not use your full potential to apply your thinking skills in a creative way. Solutions to work related problems will lack the zest and yeastiness that advanced creativity procedures will bring to your thinking. Your solutions will not be as creative and as high quality as they might be.

Do not let this happen to you…..

Ed Glassman, Professor Emeritus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, founded the Program For Team Excellence And Creativity at the university. He led scores of problem-solving creativity meetings and creative thinking workshops-seminars for many large and small companies. He was a ‘Guggenheim Foundation Fellow’ at Stanford University and a ‘Visiting Fellow’ at the ‘Center For Creative Leadership’ in Greensboro, NC. His book: “Team Creativity At Work I & II: Creative Problem Solving At Its Best,” is available here.

About the Author
Ed Glassman, Ph.D., is professor emeritus and former head of the "Program for Team Effectiveness and Creativity," in the medical school of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He was also a visiting fellow at the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, North Carolina.