Is creativity a talent or a skill?
It seems to me if creativity is a talent it can be fine-tuned, like a natural athlete trains to compete in professional football.
A talent can be stretched and strengthened, but there is some intangible pre-existing characteristic that can’t be made out of will alone. You either have the talent to play at a professional level, or you do not.
On the other hand, if creativity is a skill, it can be taught in the same way, we might teach our children to throw or catch a football. With practice, that skill might become good, and potentially even great, though great somehow implies an interdependency with talent.
However, a skill can be lost. Learning to tie knots is a perishable skill if tying knots is not a habit. Yet it’s also one that can be regained with study. Once you learn to ride a bike, you never forget; the balance is forever.
By contrast, we usually hear about wasting talent, rather than losing it. It’s possible to waste a thing suddenly, but the talent is usually described as being wasted away over time. Once time is gone, it cannot be reclaimed.
Sometimes creativity just exists. It comes in waves and droughts. It comes in random moments and with pressing deadlines.
It might happen in sprints or long iterations. Or it might remain elusive.
Creativity can’t be pre-ordered, ordered on-demand, purchased on credit, or saved and stored for use on another day.
And so the curious case of creativity as a skill or a talent is the theme for this week’s Unscripted Marketing links [UML] roundup.
As it is on the occasional Saturday, below I offer three articles on creativity that I’ve vetted, found inspirational, and recommend for your perusal.
1) Creativity as a skill to be lost
That’s my take in reading a piece on the World Economic Forum titled This is the one skill your child needs for the jobs of the future. The co-authors Mirjam Schöning and Christina Witcomb, who both hail from LEGO, write:
“The Torrance Test of Creative Thinking is often cited as an example of how children’s divergent thinking diminishes over time. 98% of children in kindergarten are “creative geniuses” – they can think of endless opportunities of how to use a paper clip.
This ability is reduced drastically as children go through the formal schooling system and by age 25, only 3% remain creative geniuses.
Most of us only come up with one or a handful of uses for a paperclip.”
So where do we lose our creativity?
“It goes on to underline how schools tend to focus primarily on developing children’s cognitive skills – or skills within more traditional subjects – rather than fostering skills like problem solving, creativity or collaboration.”
But here’s the real kicker:
“A study in New Zealand compared children who learned how to read at age five with those who learned at age seven.
When they were 11 years old, both sets of children displayed the same reading ability. But the children who only learned how to read at age seven actually showed a higher comprehension level.
One of the explanations is that they had more time to explore the world around them through play.”
A hypothesis that favoring greater creativity earlier in life could lead to greater comprehension a few years later, sounds like a test worth exploring. Especially when the economics community is calling creativity an important skill in the future.
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2) How we might get our creativity back
Changing one’s environment, surrounding ourselves with creative personalities, and plain old-fashioned hard work are elixirs for finding “everyday creativity.” However, that’s not the same thing as “groundbreaking” or truly “imaginative” creativity.
Perhaps it can, if we understand how creativity works:
“There are two phases to creative imagination. ‘Divergent thinking’ is the ability to think of a wide variety of ideas, all somehow connected to a main problem or topic.”
Though it may seem counterintuitive, good creatives also need analytical skills for the second phase: ‘Convergent thinking’ is the way to distill the long list of ideas down to those worth focus.
Knowing how to identify these ideas may come from experience:
“The longer you have worked and thought in a field and learned about a matter – and importantly, dared to make many mistakes – the better you are at intuitively coming up with ideas and analytically selecting the right one.”
Though it’s not a perfect dichotomy, divergent thinking sounds more like a natural ability, or talent while convergent thinking sounds like a skill, like data analytics.
3) The future of creativity
The machines are coming for our marketing jobs. Every industry has heard similar forecasts as stories of artificial intelligence have whipped up concerns.
Yet Joseph Pistrui takes a pragmatic focus on people for a piece in HBR titled The Future of Human Work Is Imagination, Creativity, and Strategy. He wrote “…what is important for corporate leaders right now is to avoid the catastrophic mistake of ignoring how people will be affected.”
He outlines four ways including the following:
“McKinsey [the consulting firm] has been studying what kind of work is most adaptable to automation. Their findings so far seem to conclude that the more technical the work, the more technology can accomplish it. In other words, machines skew toward tactical applications.
On the other hand, work that requires a high degree of imagination, creative analysis, and strategic thinking is harder to automate…Computers are great at optimizing, but not so great at goal-setting. Or even using common sense.”
I enjoy his point but might add, that people aren’t always good at goal-setting or common sense either.
* * *
It’s easy to think of creativity as an infinite array of options, but thoughtfully designed constraints can have a profound effect: it forces creative thinking and that’s like mental exercise.
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