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Top Ten Creativity Questions

Top Ten Creativity Questions... Answered

As a creativity researcher, I regularly receive questions from all over the world about creativity. What is it? Can it be trained? Who needs it? How do you build a culture of creativity…?

In response to all these questions, I have produced some answers in the form of the top ten questions about creativity.

1. What is Creativity?

Creativity is the capacity within individuals to develop ideas for the purpose of solving problems and exploiting opportunities.

It is important to define creativity because it can mean a lot of different things to different people.

Creativity is not art, it is not design and it most certainly is not the sole preserve of tortured geniuses and mad scientists.

Creativity is a capacity – it is something that we can all learn to use more effectively. It allows us to develop ideas to solve problems in different ways and to spot, adapt to, embrace and capture opportunities.

2. What is Innovation?

Innovation is the application of creativity to give rise to a new concept, product, service or process delivering something new and better to the world.

When we innovate, we work with the creative ideas we have developed and put them into practice. Innovation is NOT just about making new gadgets and fancy widgets. We can be innovative in New Product Design, but in many other ways too. New concepts, like how to lead and motivate people at work, as well as new services and processes.

3. How Are They Related?

Innovation relies on creativity. You can not innovate without first developing some ideas. Creativity is the source of innovation. If we do not use our creativity to develop a range of ideas and potential solutions, we can not select the most promising ideas and put them into practice.

Every improvement at work starts with an idea.

4. What Jobs Require Creativity?

Every job requires creativity.

In The Everyday Innovation survey in 2009, NESTA found that all jobs, in all industries need creative thinking. There is not an employee who does not (at least sometimes) face problems and opportunities. This is when we need to call upon our capacities to develop ideas.

5. Why Do Organisations Need Creativity?

Do businesses want employees at every level who develop ideas to solve problems and embrace opportunities?


In a range of studies since 2003, The Accenture Institute for High Performance found that the highest performing companies in the world encourage staff at every level to solve problems to make things new and better.

The Ernst & Young Connecting Innovation to Profit report (2010) found that fast-moving, agile companies recognise the importance of creative thinking skills, concluding that “the ability to manage, organise, cultivate and nurture creative thinking is directly linked to growth and achievement."

The IBM Global CEO Survey 2010 interviewed more than 1500 CEO’s from 60 countries and 33 industries, concluding that creativity is the most important leadership trait for the future. They suggested that “more than rigor, management discipline, integrity or even vision – successfully navigating an increasingly complex world will require creativity.”

6. Is Creativity a Strategic Priority?

Given that creativity is vital for all jobs in all industries, is the key leadership skill and directly contributes to growth and achievement…

It is little wonder that both the Boston Consulting Group Strategy Survey (2010) and the 15th Global CEO Survey by PwC (2012) found creativity and innovation to be primary strategic aims.

Why? Because creativity = profit.

As one respondent in the Ernst & Young (2010) survey suggested… “We assume that 50 percent of our revenue in five years’ time must come from sources that do not exist today. That is why we innovate.”

7. Can Creativity be Trained?


Research studies have shown that creativity can be trained. Torrance & Torrance (1973) analysed 142 separate studies and concluded that creativity training significantly improves individual creativity and problem solving. This finding has been replicated many times.

In a modern review across two studies, Scott, Leritz & Mumford (2004) found that creativity training programmes produced improvements on everything from attitudes towards the importance of creativity at work through to improvements in job performance.

8. What is the Best Way to Train People to be Creative?

Training someone to develop their creativity is similar to how we would train someone to play tennis.

A tennis coach would start by diagnosing your approach – they would ask you to hit some balls, serve a few and examine your backhand and forehand. They would then develop a customised programme to address weaknesses and build on your strengths.

This principle of a diagnosis before training should also be applied to training and developing creativity.

After a diagnosis each person or team can choose creativity tools and exercises that play to their strengths and develop their weaknesses.

9. What Are the Biggest Barriers to Creativity at Work?

There are many barriers to creativity at work.

The first and most fundamental barrier, is that people do not understand that they are creative and do not recognise where their strengths and weaknesses lie. They can rectify this by considering their style and approach towards beign creative – before working on their natural strengths and weaknesses.

The second major barrier is that organisations do not understand how to identify, nurture, manage and develop creative thinking skills.

As the 15th Global CEO Survey by PwC (2012) found… “Overall, one in three CEOs say they are concerned that a skills gap is hampering the ability to innovate, and with innovation identified as a key strategic priority for most companies to get them out of the global economic slump, it is unsurprising that talent shortages are seen as a top threat to business expansion”.

10. How Do You Build a Culture of Creativity?

Trying to produce a culture of innovation without creativity, is like building a house without the foundations. Creativity provides the ideas that allow for innovation.

So how do we build a culture of creativity?

This requires matching bottom-up processes with top-down processes.

Top-down processes are the formal practices that help to form the culture. Mission, vision, values, selection and recruitment processes, induction, succession-planning, etc.,

Organisations seem to excel at making creativity and innovation strategic priorities. They know they need to innovate to make the products and services that will drive revenue in the future. They are normally very good at including creativity and innovation in their mission, vision and values.

However, this is normally as far as the practice of creativity goes. They do not match these top-down approaches with bottom-up, grass roots creativity development.

To match the mission and vision from the top, individuals and teams need to be diagnosed and trained to develop their creativity skills. With the training comes the change in attitudes about the importance of creativity and the skills to develop ideas to solve problems and embrace opportunities.

Perhaps you might ask yourself some questions too…

  1. What are your strengths and weaknesses for creativity? What about your team?
  2. Does your organisation know how to identify creativity skills? Does it know how to manage and develop creativity?
  3. Does your CEO talk about creativity and innovation as key strategic aims? Does the organisation know how to realise them through its’ people?
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