Creativity is the use of imagination or original ideas. Employers in all industries want employees who can think creatively and bring new perspectives to the workplace.
There are large differences between artistic creativity and functional creativity. Functional creativity can appear in all disciplines and careers. In this sense, creativity is the ability to see situations in a new light.
Why is creativity an employability skill?
- It expands creative solutions and perspectives. This helps companies to remain competitive.
Companies need to compete. They do this by constantly reviewing and coming up with new potential products and/or services. Whilst product development is a role itself and a highly creative one, the whole workforce will usually be encouraged to input into creative solutions. These will have direct benefits to the organisation, usually either by increasing sales or decreasing costs.
- It helps individuals and companies manage change. People learn to adapt more easily if they have to think of new solutions for their change of circumstances.
This will often happen when there is a change in the leadership of a company or organisation. Or indeed, where there has been a restructure, takeover or merger. Often staff have to adjust to the new business plans and come up with creative solutions as a response to their new circumstances.
- If an individual is able to adapt to change and can creatively think their way through different and difficult circumstances, then they will help the organisation they work for to be agile. They will therefore be able to look at an issue, not as a problem, but as a challenge to be overcome.
During the pandemic, there have been many examples of how organisations have had to adapt and to pivot to offer their products and/or services differently. For example, when shops had to close, many companies changed to sell on an online marketplace. The ability to be agile is important and organisations can usually support the individual to achieve this.
Busting some myths about creativity
Isn’t it all about being artistic?
Being artistic can help, however creativity is more about solving problems in certain contexts. Science, engineering, business and finance can also be highly creative fields e.g. designing a more efficient assembly line, writing a new innovative computer programme, creating a testable hypothesis.
Aren’t people who are creative usually a bit non-conformist, or rebellious?
It’s important not to stereotype creative people. To be conformist means that you are reliable and organised. This implies that you can set time aside for reflecting on your work. In addition, part of being creative is acknowledging how things have been carried out traditionally. You need to understand this, to be able to think about creating new solutions.
You also have to be able to communicate well and organise your ideas so that others can understand them. Therefore, communications skills (written and oral) will be important.
Isn’t it a skill you are born with?
It’s important for individuals not to label themselves as ‘non-creative’. Creativity is a choice, and the good news is that it’s a teachable skill.
Creativity can be nurtured to create a shift in mindset. This shift will encompass the questioning of the old ways of thinking, working and processing information.
Tips for becoming more creative
Your students can be encouraged to follow these tips:
- Ask questions, critiquing the usual way of getting things done. ‘What?’ and ‘How?’ are powerful questions. For example, ‘What are the steps we need to take next?’ ‘How are we going to make this work better?’
- Observe other people’s approach to solving problems. There is usually more than one way to achieve something. You can learn a great deal by witnessing someone finding a solution to a problem. Be open-minded and pay attention to their approaches and processes.
- Network and be open to a diverse set of people who may think differently to yourself. Creativity often happens when people from a range of backgrounds come together. Many studies, such as that by McKinsey and Company, have proven that organisations who are successful, tend to employ diverse teams.
- Test your ideas to make sure they work. If you are experimenting to see if a solution will function, call it a ‘pilot’. In business, products and services often fail and companies have to try multiple times before they find something that performs well. Review what has and hasn’t worked at the end of the pilot.
- Take action on your ideas. Most people have ideas, but they don’t take action. Good advice is that when you have a new revelation about how to solve a problem, or you come up with a great plan, note it down. Then you should be strict with yourself to make a decision to review and take action on your best ideas.
Models of creativity
Various models can be employed to help with creative thinking. Below are a few of these:
This is the ability of seeing many possible answers to a question, including different interpretations of the question itself. Those engaging in divergent thinking will use their imagination to include original or unexpected ideas. This is the exact opposite to convergent thinking, which focuses on coming up with only one solution.
An example of divergent thinking could be asking a person to find as many uses for a fork, above and beyond its primary use. A different interpretation of the question could be questioning the size of the fork, what if it was the size of a building? It could therefore have many other uses.
This way of thinking also challenges what you know, or what you think you know. For example, it can involve seeing a problem from distinct personal perspectives. It could also require challenging the status quo of a project.
This is similar to divergent thinking, but it is a deliberate, systematic creative-thinking process that looks at challenges from completely different angles.
You can develop lateral thinking by completing mind-maps, or analysing the problem backwards. For example, you would look at a problem and then describe what you’d ideally like the solution to be. From there you can begin working backwards to finding the starting point to your solution. De Bono described lateral thinking as ‘thinking outside the box’. What that means is that you are able to challenge assumptions to generate alternative solutions.
Often ideas come from reflecting and having a holistic approach to the issue. Inspirational thinking is referred to as the ‘light bulb’ moment where ideas are formed.
It is thought that stepping away from the issue, having more time to reflect and changing the perspective might give space to inspire thought and a different perspective. Thinking positively, as well as having belief in yourself that you can come up with a solution, will help. Having the ability to see past potential barriers will be invaluable for students here.
Brainstorming and mind-mapping
Brainstorming is used as a technique for idea generation and to spark creativity.
- It’s good to begin with a target problem or brief to help you stay focussed. You can get creative with your ideas, but it’s good to stick to your brief.
- Focus on quantity, the more ideas you discuss the better. This will lead to sifting out the tangible solutions form the least pragmatic ones.
- Withhold criticism. Refrain from judgment, it’s better to critique each idea at the end of the process.
- Combine and improve ideas.
- Use visuals if that helps – these could be diagrams, lists or charts.
Mind-mapping is like brainstorming, but without worrying about order and structure. A mind-map is a diagram for representing tasks, words, concepts or items linked to and arranged around a central concept or subject. It should help you generate more ideas, identifying relationships among the different pathways. It’s very useful when constructing essays and assessing what content to use. It gives you the freedom to explore ideas and to generate creative solutions.
An idea for an activity to bring creativity into the classroom
Teach, or get the students to carry out some research on, the different models of creativity. Find a suitable problem, it could be relating to a school subject, or an interesting topic that’s in the news. Divide your students into different groups and have each one try a different model of creativity. If you have several problems, then you can move the students about, so they have the chance to try out each model of creative thinking.
Lisa is a registered careers practitioner with the CDI. She has worked as a careers consultant in the NHS and the university sector. She has also trained in Leadership Coaching and is a Certified Associate member of APECS (the Association of Professional Executive Coaches and Supervisors).