Encouraging creativity in the everyday

January 16, 2018

How creative are you?

How creative are the people you work with?

How about your friends?


Next time you are at a social event, ask them. You may be surprised by what they say.

I’ve worked with people and organizations all over the world. Everywhere I go, I find the same paradox. Most children think they’re creative; many adults think they are not. This is a bigger issue than it may seem.


Creating the future

We are living in a world that is changing faster than ever and face challenges that are unprecedented. How the complexities of the present will play out in future is all but unknowable.

Cultural change is never linear and rarely predictable. If it were, the legions of pundits and forecasters would be out of a job. It was probably with this in mind that the economist J.K. Galbraith said, “The primary purpose of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable.”

As the world spins faster, organizations everywhere need people who can think creatively, communicate and work in teams: people who are flexible and quick to adapt. Too often they can’t find them. Why not?

Everyone occasionally has new ideas, but how can creativity be encouraged as a regular part of everyday life? If you are running a company or an organization or a school, how do you make innovation systematic? How do you lead a culture of innovation?


Rethinking creativity

To answer these questions, it’s important to be clear about what creativity is and how it works. There are three related ideas, which I’ll elaborate as we go on. They are imagination, which is the process of bringing to mind things that are not present to our senses; creativity, which is the process of developing original ideas that have value; and innovation, which is the process of putting new ideas into practice. There are various misconceptions about creativity in particular.


Special people?

One misconception is that only special people are creative. This idea is reinforced by histories of creative icons like Martha Graham, Pablo Picasso, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Virginia Wolf, Maya Angelou and Steve Jobs. Companies seem to think this too. They often divide the workforce into two groups: the ‘creatives’ and the ‘suits’. You can normally tell who the creatives are because they don’t wear suits. They wear jeans and they come in late because they’ve been struggling with an idea. I don’t mean that the creatives are not creative. They can be highly creative, but so can anybody if the conditions are right – including the suits. Everyone has creative capacities. The challenge is to develop them. A culture of innovation has to involve everybody, not just a select few.


Special activities?

A second misconception is that creativity is about special activities, like the arts, or advertising, design or marketing. All of these can be creative, but so can anything, including science, mathematics, teaching, medicine, running a sports team or a restaurant. Some schools have ‘creative arts’ departments. I am an uncompromising advocate of better provision for the arts in schools but creativity is not confined to the arts. Other disciplines, including science and mathematics, can be just as creative. Creativity is possible in any activity that engages our intelligence.

Companies are creative in different areas. Apple is famously good at creating new products. Wal-Mart’s creative strength is in systems, such as supply chain management and pricing. Starbucks did not invent coffee; it created a particular service culture around coffee. Actually, it did invent the $8 cup of coffee, which was a breakthrough, I thought. A culture of innovation should embrace all areas of the organization.


Letting go?

Creativity is sometimes associated with free expression, which is why some people worry about encouraging too much creativity in schools. They think of children running wild and knocking the furniture over rather than getting on with serious work. Being creative often does involve playing with ideas and having fun and enjoyment. It is also about working hard on ideas and projects, crafting them into their best forms and making critical judgments along the way about which ones work best and why. In every discipline, creativity draws on skill, knowledge and control. It’s not only about letting go, it’s about holding on.


Learning to be creative

It is often thought that people are either born creative or not, just as they may have blue or brown eyes, and there’s not much anyone can do about it. The fact is, there is a lot you can do to help yourself, and other people, become more creative. If someone tells you they can’t read or write, you don’t assume they are not capable of it, just that they haven’t learnt how. It is the same with creativity. When people say they are not creative, I just assume they have not learnt how. I also assume that they can. Why are these issues important anyway?


This is an edited extract from Out of Our Minds: The Power of Being Creative, 3rd edition, by Sir Ken Robinson, Ph.D. (Capstone, 2017).

About the author

Sir Ken Robinson, Ph.D, is an internationally recognized leader in the development of creativity, innovation and human resources. He speaks to audiences throughout the world on the creative challenges facing business and education in the new global economies. Listed by Fast Company as one of the world’s elite thinkers on creativity and innovation and ranked among the Thinkers50 of the world’s top business thought leaders, he has worked with governments in the United States, Europe and Asia, with international agencies, Fortune 500 companies, national and state education systems and some of the world’s leading cultural organizations.


For 12 years, he was professor of education at the University of Warwick in the UK and is now Professor Emeritus. He has received numerous honorary degrees and awards for his international work in education, creativity and cultural development. In 2003, he received a knighthood from H.M. Queen Elizabeth II for his services to the arts.


Sir Ken’s famous 2006 talk at the prestigious TED Conference is the most watched in TED history and has been seen by millions of people in more than 160 countries. He is author of the New York Times bestsellers The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything and Finding Your Element: How to Discover Your Talents and Passions and Transform Your Life. Born in the UK, he lives in Los Angeles California.


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