At Catalyst Ranch, Chicago’s West Loop meeting venue, the word “creative” comes up a lot!  (Note the name of our blog!)  The meetings we host include brainstorming, lively discussions, and the development of innovative ideas.  We provide meeting attendees with plenty of stimuli and tools to foster creativity from projectors and flip charts to Play-Doh and pipe cleaners.  Many people think they are either creative or not creative, that creativity is a gift that only artists or musicians are born with, but creativity is a skill, and like all skills, it can be honed and developed.  As technology and businesses evolve more rapidly than ever, creativity has become a crucial and desirable skill in the workplace.  So how do you teach and learn creativity?

yellowTeaching Creativity

Teaching creativity at the college level is a growing trend as more employers consider creativity to be a job skill as necessary as communication, mathematics, and critical thinking skills.  Many universities offer not only courses, but advanced and undergraduate degrees in Creative Studies.  A Creativity minor can complement many fields of study including business, education, digital media, humanities, science, and engineering.  Buffalo State College started teaching creativity in 1967 and offers the nation’s oldest creative studies program.  Gerard J. Puccio, chairman of the International Center for Studies in Creativity at Buffalo State says, “The reality is that to survive in a fast-changing world you need to be creative . . . The marketplace is demanding it.”

Dr. Puccio developed a systematic way to teach creativity that he calls FourSight.  The method looks a bit like a facilitator’s agenda for an ideation session here at the Ranch.  As you may have guessed, Puccio’s method has four steps: clarifying, ideating, developing, and implementing.  Each step is important in the creative process, though people tend to gravitate to certain steps, which may reveal something about their primary thinking style and strengths.  By breaking the process down into four basic steps, everyone can see where he or she fits into the productive creative thinking system.

Failure 101

Jack V. Matson, an environmental engineer and instructor of “Creativity, Innovation and Change,” teaches a freshman seminar at Penn State that he calls “Failure 101.” According to Matson, “the frequency and intensity of failures is an implicit principle of the course. Getting into a creative mind-set involves a lot of trial and error.”  One assignment in Dr. Matson’s course is to build the tallest structure you can with 20 Popsicle sticks. The trick to the assignment is to destroy the sticks and reimagine their use.  Dr. Matson says, “As soon as someone in the class starts breaking the sticks, it changes everything.”  In another assignment, Dr. Matson requires his students to create a “resume” of all of their failures.

Dr. Matson contends that college campuses can provide a safe place to explore both failure and creativity, and how one may spark the other.  Many high-performing students tend to avoid failure at all costs. Perhaps they are afraid of looking foolish or breaking “the rules” (since following “the rules” is probably what got them into that top-tier college in the first place!) Students who take fewer risks which may be hindering their ability innovate, inadvertently making themselves less competitive in the job market.   Think of the 1,000 unsuccessful attempts it took Thomas Edison to perfect the light bulb!  (For an inspiring list of other famous people who failed, click here!)


Rewards of Creativity

If you think you are not creative, think again!  You do have the capacity to be creative, and that can make you more valuable to your company or help you advance in the workforce.  The greatest rewards of being creative, however, extend beyond work life.  As Psychology Today’s  Robert Evans Wilson, Jr. explains, “Developing your ability to think creatively prepares you to handle difficult situations as they arise, and to think faster on your feet. You’ll recognize opportunities that others will miss. Plus, you’ll find you’re getting more out of life. When your mind is open to new stimuli, you’ll discover exciting new things to do. You may be pleasantly surprised!”

Do you know a simple exercise to get creative juices flowing? Please share in the comments section!