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Who Says Creativity Can’t Be Learned?

Updated Jan 16, 2024

Creativity tends to be viewed as a vague, unattainable trait that only the most artistic, innovative people receive at birth. The truth is that everyone has creativity; enhancing it only takes a bit of time and practice.

Tina Seelig, faculty director of the Stanford Technology Ventures Program, the entrepreneurship center at the Stanford University School of Engineering, said the notion that “creativity can’t be learned” is a myth. Creativity, she believes, is a renewable resource that we can tap into at any time. And yes, she says, it’s a process that can be taught.

Did You Know?Did you know

The Fourth Industrial Revolution, spurred on by digital technology, brings creativity in the workplace to the forefront of factors for future success. Behind complex problem-solving and critical thinking, creativity is the third most important skill.

In her book inGenius: A Crash Course on Creativity, Seelig introduced a revolutionary model she calls the “Innovation Engine” that offers a practical set of tools everyone can use to radically increase creativity and foster innovation. She demonstrated how creativity can be fueled and enhanced, leading to an outpouring of fresh ideas from individuals, teams, and organizations.

Seelig shared some of those ideas with Business News Daily.

Business News Daily: How do you define creativity?

Tina Seelig: Creativity is easily defined – it is the process of generating new ideas. It is particularly important in industry because the world is changing incredibly quickly, and breakthrough ideas are required to stay competitive. Generating fresh ideas is actually quite challenging because most people find it difficult to get beyond obvious, incremental solutions. True creativity requires the ability to break new ground, which requires significant effort.

BND: What are the tools and techniques of creative thinking?

TS: There is no one path to creative ideas, just as there isn’t one way to get from San Francisco to Sao Paulo. However, there are ways that are easier than others. We can make the pathways to innovation much smoother by teaching people specific tools and techniques. At the core is the ability to look at problems from different angles, to connect and combine concepts, and the ability to challenge traditional assumptions. These are job skills that look great on a resume but require practice to master.

Did You Know?Did you know

LinkedIn Learning rates creativity as the most important soft skill in the world. As 57% of senior leaders say soft skills are more important than hard skills, creativity’s importance in the workforce cannot be overstated. Businesses that provide access to a learning management system are able to attract top talent.

BND: Is creativity a learned skill or an innate talent?

TS: We are all naturally creative and, like every other skill, some people have more natural talent than others. However, everyone can increase his or her creativity, just as everyone can increase his or her musical or athletic ability, with appropriate training and focused practice. We can all learn tools and techniques that enhance creativity, and build environments that foster innovation.

BND: What are the great myths about creativity?

TS: The biggest myth about creativity is that it isn’t important and that it can’t be learned. In fact, it is one of the most important skills we can master. With enhanced creativity, instead of problems we see potential, instead of obstacles we see opportunities, and instead of challenges we see a chance to create solutions. Creativity is critically important in everything we do, including designing products, growing businesses, and building alliances between nations. We are literally inventing the future every moment. And these skills can be learned. [Read related article: How to Turn Your Idea Into a Product (and Launch It!)]

BND: Can anyone learn creativity?

TS: Our brains are built for creative problem-solving, and it is easy to both uncover and enhance our natural inventiveness. The human brain evolved over millions of years from a small collection of nerve cells with limited functionality to a fabulously complex organ that is optimized for innovation. Our highly evolved brains are always assessing our ever-changing environment, mixing and matching our responses to fit each situation. Every sentence we craft is unique, each interaction we have is distinctive, and every decision we make is done with our own free will. That we have the ability to come up with an endless set of novel responses to the world around us is a constant reminder that we are naturally inventive. These skills can be enhanced with specific tools and techniques.

FYIDid you know

In an Adobe study, 4 in 10 people said they don’t have the right tools to be creative, and 76% of respondents in the United States said they believed these tools are the main way to increase creativity. Similarly, 60% of U.S. respondents think technology can help people enhance their creativity.

BND: What is the Innovation Engine, and how does it work?

TS: After a dozen years teaching courses on creativity and innovation at Stanford University, I have created a model which I call the Innovation Engine that illustrates how creativity results from the interplay of our internal world and our external environment. Essentially, your knowledge provides the fuel for your imagination, which is the catalyst for the transformation of information into new ideas. This process is deeply influenced by a myriad of factors in your environment, including the physical space, the teams with which you work, and the implicit and explicit rules and rewards. The Innovation Engine is sparked by your attitude, which sets all the parts in motion.

BND: How can you jumpstart your Innovation Engine?

TS: You can jumpstart your Innovation Engine by building your base of knowledge, which will ultimately serve as the toolbox for your imagination. You can also build habitats – or environments – that foster creativity. This involves crafting spaces that are conducive to creative problem-solving and instituting rules, rewards, and incentives that reinforce creative behavior. And, most important, you can cultivate an attitude that problems are opportunities for a creative solution. With that mindset, you are willing to push through roadblocks and obvious answers to come up with truly creative ideas.

BND: What are the variables that inhibit our creative abilities?

TS: Without the drive to come up with breakthrough ideas and the confidence that a creative solution exists, it is unlikely that one will be found. In addition, we all live and work within communities with cultures that have a powerful impact on how we feel, think and act. If the company culture does not support experimentation and reward the generation of new ideas, then it is unlikely that creativity will flourish.

BND: How can we learn to change our frame of reference? How important is this to the creative process?

TS: You can look at every situation, every challenge, and every opportunity from different angles. Each angle provides a different perspective on the situation and unleashes new insights. We are creating frames for what we see, hear, and experience all day long, and those frames both inform and limit the way we think. In most cases, we don’t even think about the frames – we just assume we are looking at the world with the proper set of lenses. However, being able to question and shift your frame of reference is an important key to creative problem-solving.

Ned Smith contributed to the writing and reporting in this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

Sean Peek
Business Ownership Insider and Senior Analyst
Sean Peek is the co-founder of a self-funded small business that employs more than a dozen team members. His years of hands-on entrepreneurial experience in bootstrapping, operations management, process automation and leadership have strengthened his knowledge of the B2B world and the most pressing issues facing business owners today. Peek uses his expertise to guide fellow small business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs in the areas of marketing, finance and software technology. Peek excels at developing customer bases and fostering long-term client relationships, using lean principles to drive efficiency and cost-saving, and identifying growth areas. He has demonstrated his business savvy through collaborations with Forbes, Inc., Entrepreneur and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
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