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Can creativity be taught?

I recently returned to my previous employer in a new capacity as a guest speaker giving a talk entitled ‘Creative Writing in the Workplace’. Given that the organisation is a public sector body, the audience was an eclectic collection of individuals from a predominantly corporate working environment. Why should they have an interest in applying creative writing in the workplace? Even I thought at first that the title of the event might be something of a contradiction…

The talk was part of a Festival of Learning, a week-long series of events aimed at encouraging staff to learn new things (good start) that would benefit their performance in the workplace (so here is the catch). In the absence of learning dead languages, obscure crafting skills or circus routines, creative writing seemed like a reasonable theme but my challenge was to find a way to make people bring creativity into their professional lives where it was not necessarily expected or desired.

In the end, my pitch was simple.

Creative writing is one form of expressing creativity. It is (by many definitions) just a process of stepping outside the expected norms of writing, of using the imagination to writing in a way that is considered new or novel. And we know creative writing can be taught; I spent much of my talk presenting theories and practices around storytelling structures, plot devices and traditional concepts such as the different perspectives of the reader.

So if we strip the word “writing” out of the title, can we teach creativity in a wider context in such a way that can be beneficial to any work environment?

The answer is, of course…yes we can!

Creativity is not a magic trick, it does not require elaborate qualifications, it is not a gift for the chosen few. The potential for being creative lies in each of us, embedded in that portion of our brain that oozes imagination (it's on the right hand side, by the way). Sometimes all it needs is telling somebody that it is okay to be creative; after all, we encourage it so much in childhood but then give into the conformity of adult life. There are so many clever ways to draw creativity from your staff like poison from a wound (a creative if unpleasant analogy).

But why should we do it? I discussed with my group the varied benefits of bringing a creative mindset into the working environment including:

  • Building a Professional image;

  • Developing Leadership Skills;

  • Challenging yourself intellectually;

  • Delivering Better Communications;

  • Improving teamworking and team bonding;

  • Enhancing your Education;

  • Making an impact with your words/actions;

  • Increasing staff morale and wellbeing.

When organisations benefit so much from creative people and mindsets (look to great examples like Pixar and Google for benchmarks), it raises the question of why more businesses do not invest effort into empowering people to be creative. Learning and applying new skills and capabilities can have measurably positive impacts. That is the intention of events and movements like a Festival of Learning, after all. So if you are wondering how you can bring more creativity into your own working environment ask yourself the following questions:

How can you make your work environment more conducive to creativity?

Think of your relationships with your colleagues, team or managers – do you get to express your ideas openly? If not, how can you change that?

Is your area ready to listen to others’ thoughts and observations about your work? If not, can you encourage this in a positive way?

Is there space on your floor for just being creative, even just a corner or a section of a whiteboard?

The talk was very successful from my point of view and the positive feedback from the audience indicated that they definitely left the room with something to ponder. One of the exercises we did – to come up with a brand new fairy tale in 2 minutes – showed that everyone in the group had the potential to think of new ideas and concepts. If they can each take something back to their workplace, they will eventually find a way to make creative, imaginative contributions to their organisations. And I did not really teach them anything except that it is possible to do anything and find a way to bring creativity into the world.

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