Can Creativity Be Learned?Absolutely.
Here is some advice from experts and creators
Growing up I never thought I was the “creative type”.
Yes, I put on plays with my cousin, siblings and friends, wrote little stories about the happenings in my life and pretended I was the leader of a rock band like the Partridge Family!
Still, when I thought of being creative I imaged a genius painter at her easel, Mozart at a piano writing Concerto #23 or even my mother at her sewing machine stitching together the matching ponchos she designed for my sister and me to wear over our bathing suits for a trip to the beach.
When I became a journalist and learned to adhere to a facts-only pyramid method and structure of writing, I still did not think I was creative.
It was only later in my career when I started writing profiles of people and places – stories that required observation and more than fleeting descriptions -- that I started to think I was “creative” in any way. (There were still those pesky facts to adhere to, though!).
But, it wasn’t until graduate school when I started experimenting with essay writing while redesigning my home, working with freelance clients and raising a three-year-old that I felt like I could definitely think of myself as the “creative type”.
I was a bit overwhelmed in those days but, according to creativity experts, it was in a good way. Turns out that all this multi-tasking I was doing was a good thing for stimulating creativity.
In a Ted Talk, Tim Harford, an economist, journalist and broadcaster, says doing two, three or even four things at once is a form of multi-tasking but in slow motion – meaning having different projects going on at the same time but not trying to work on them all at the same point in time.
“It sounds counter-intuitive because we associate multi-tasking with being in a rush and wanting to do several things at once,” he said. “We are used to multi-tasking out of desperation.”
Athletes, Harford said, will often talk about the benefits of cross training and you can cross train your mind.
He tells the story of two groups of medical students – half take a class in critical visual arts and the other half does not. At the end of the study, the students who took the class were better at diagnosing eye diseases than the students who did not take the class.
“Learning to do one thing well can often help you learn to do something else,” he said. “What I am describing here is having multiple projects on the go at the same time and you move backwards and forwards between them as the mood takes you or as the situation demands.”
Creativity can be learned and developed, researchers say. It involves using the part of the brain that controls divergent thinking – imagination, questioning assumptions, experimenting, exploring and synthesizing information. It is the ability to generate many ideas or solutions from a single piece of information or idea.
“Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
“I think there are individual differences in our propensity to be creative,” says Rom Schrift, a marketing professor at the Wharton School. “But having said that, it’s like a muscle. If you train yourself, and there are different methods for doing this, you can become more creative.”
He suggests trying new things – read a book or listen to music that you might not normally choose. Collaboration and surrounding yourself with other creative people is important too.
Mind mapping – putting a central idea down and then branching off into different parts of the idea or sub-topics is also a great way to jump start your creativity and practice using divergent thinking. Pick an everyday object off your desk, say a pen or stapler, and try to come up with as many uses for it as possible.
Another fun exercise is to try to come with 10 new ideas within a specific topic every day for a week. Your topic should be different each day.
Many artists and writers have their own methods for tapping into their creativity, but photorealist painter and photographer Chuck Close suggests the matter is actually less mysterious than the muse-chasers might believe. “Inspiration,” he has said, “is for amateurs — the rest of us just show up and get to work.”
Yes, just showing up to write, to paint to build, to design is the first step. I don’t have much faith that that elusive muse or random inspiration. If you don’t show up, nothing will happen. Still, I like to work my creative muscle in different ways – it helps me solve nagging writing problems and other issues that come up in my life.
Here are a few fun ideas I found around the web for rousing my creativity – I found while randomly searching around the Internet.
Doodling -- getting caught scribbling random designs on your note pad during a meeting is often seen as a negative – ‘stop fooling around and start paying attention’ your boss might say. But Sunni Brown, author of the Doodle Revolution, and other researchers say that it is actually a sign of deep thinking. I keep colored pencils on my desk and often find myself doodling designs that I have found in a fun series of books called Zentangle .
My next recommendation is the best: daydreaming! You may need to find some downtime for this or it can be done while you are waiting around for something. I have caught myself day dreaming in line at the grocery store, while writing in my journal or later in evening when my house is quiet and everyone else is occupied doing something that does not require my help. Sometimes I write about my day dreams in my journal.
Up next is signing up for a class in something you have never done before. I have done this a couple of times – I have taken Italian language and cooking lessons, learned to scuba dive, and also on how to use Microsoft Office products like Excel. During these Covid-19 times when many in-person classes have ceased, you can find plenty of virtual classes or an app to teach yourself something new.
I also like to keep some toys on my desk. I have a Lego Scooby-Do Mystery Machine van that my son built me sitting next to a small stuffed Scooby. I love Pez candy and I have a Buzz Lightyear and Woody dispenser in my pen caddy. Oh, and I think I mentioned my collection of colored pencils.
Researchers say creating the right environment for creativity is the single most important thing to do to stimulate it. Ever wonder why children are always creative? It’s because they have not yet learned to be afraid of criticism or embarrassment. We stop being creative as we get older and our ideas are sometimes ridiculed. So face your fears about being wrong and just try it – throw your ideas out there. Great ideas and successful projects have to start somewhere but if we are too afraid to try anything new because we may not be seen as intelligent by our peers we will never reach our creative potential.
Listening to some mellow jazz or classical music also helps me get in a writing or creative mode. I have several playlists on Spotify that I like – Mozart and a list called Coffee Table jazz are my favorites.
Higher scores in divergent thinking are linked to listening to music while working, according to researchers who found listening to music helps produce longer lists of ideas or solutions to problems.
A study by the Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany, showed evidence that classical music ranks highly for positive and energetic qualities – specifically pieces by Antonio Vivaldi.
Hmm, I have been listening to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons as I write this and it has been going pretty well for me!
Finally, here is an idea I want to try – writing flash fiction or non-fiction – short pieces of writing --- usually between 300 and 500 words. For inspiration and examples check out the Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Non-Fiction by Dinty W. Moore and brevitymag.com