Creativity Can Be Learned –


A lot of people think that creativity is a mysterious trait like charisma – either you have it or you don’t. The received wisdom is that creativity is one of those elusive arts that must be a birthright and cannot be taught.

Tina Seelig, executive director of the Stanford Technology Ventures Program, which is the entrepreneurship center at Stanford University School of Engineering, says it’s a myth.

Creativity, she believes, is a Renewable resource that we can exploit at any time. And, yes, she says, it’s a process that can be taught.


In his new book, “inGENIUS: a crash course on creativity“(HarperOne, 2012), Selig presents a revolutionary new model that she calls the ‘Innovation Engine’ which offers a practical set of tools that anyone can use to radically enhance creativity and foster innovation. demonstrates how creativity can be nurtured and enhanced, leading to a wave of new ideas from individuals, teams and organizations.

She recently shared some of these ideas with BusinessNewsDaily.

BusinessNews Every day: How to define creativity?

Tina Seelig: Creativity is easily defined – it is the process of generating new ideas. This is especially important in the industry because the world is changing incredibly fast and revolutionary ideas are needed to stay competitive. Generating new ideas is actually quite difficult as most people find it difficult to go beyond the obvious and step-by-step solutions. True creativity requires the ability to innovate, which requires significant effort.

Photo by Tina Seelig courtesy of HarperOneCredit: Photo by Tina Seelig Courtesy of HarperOne

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

TS: There isn’t just one way to get creative ideas, just like there isn’t just one way to get from San Francisco to São Paulo. However, there are some easier ways than others. We can make the pathways to innovation much smoother by teaching people specific tools and techniques. At the heart is the ability to look at issues from different angles, to connect and combine concepts, and the ability to challenge traditional assumptions. These are skills that take practice to master.

BND: Is creativity an acquired skill or an innate talent?

TS: We are all naturally creative, and like any other skill, some people have a more natural talent than others. However, everyone can increase their creativity, just as anyone can increase their musical or athletic abilities, with proper training and focused practice. We can all learn tools and techniques that enhance creativity and create environments that foster innovation.

BND: What are the big myths about creativity?

TS: The biggest myth about is that it doesn’t matter and can’t be learned. In fact, it is one of the most important skills we can master. With increased 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 product design, business growth, and building alliances between nations. We are literally inventing the future every moment. And these skills can be learned.

BND: Can anyone learn creativity?

TS: Our brains are built for creativity problem solving, and it is easy to both discover and improve our natural inventiveness. The human brain has evolved over millions of years, from a small collection of nerve cells with limited functionality to a fabulously complex organ optimized for innovation. Our highly evolved brains are always evaluating our ever-changing environment, mixing and matching our responses to fit each situation. Every sentence we write is unique, every interaction we have is distinct, and every decision we make is made on our own. The fact that we have the ability to offer an endless set of new responses to the world around us is a constant reminder that we are naturally inventive. These skills can be improved with tools and techniques.

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

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

BND: How to start your innovation engine?

TS: You can start your innovation engine by building your knowledge base, which will ultimately serve as a toolkit for your imagination. You can also build habitats – or environments – that encourage creativity. It involves creating spaces for creative problem-solving and instituting rules, rewards, and incentives that reinforce creative behavior. And, more importantly, you can cultivate an attitude that problems are opportunities for a creative solution. With this mindset, you are ready to overcome obstacles and the obvious answers to come up with some truly creative ideas.

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

TS: Without the willingness to come up with groundbreaking ideas and the certainty that a creative solution exists, it is unlikely to be found. Additionally, we all live and work in communities whose cultures have a powerful impact on the way we feel, think and act. If culture doesn’t support experimentation and reward the generation of new ideas, then creativity is unlikely to flourish.

BND: How to learn to change frame of reference? Is it important for the creative process?

TS: You can examine every situation, every challenge and every opportunity to different angles. Each angle offers a different perspective on the situation and opens up new perspectives. We create frames for what we see, hear, and experience throughout the day, and these frames both inform and limit the way we think. In most cases, we don’t even think about frames – we just assume we’re looking at the world with the right set of lenses. However, being able to question and change your frame of reference is an important key to creative problem solving.

Reach BusinessNews Senior Editor of the Daily Ned Smith at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @nedbsmith.

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