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Do you think you can teach creativity and innovation?


We have a real problem in our organisation in that when you ask managers and staff to look at solutions to problems / plan for the future etc etc they come up with the same dull suggestions. For example they were recently asked to come up with a plan for each division to increase its customer service satisfaction levels and they came up with all the usual.... standard signatures, font etc which is just plain dull and rubbish.

So...... creativity and innovation? something which can be taught or something which is within the person?

If it can be taught, what is your opinion on how?
craig mitchell

14 Responses

  1. Creativity and innovation
    Hello Craig,

    I have not read any research yet on this. I do have many hours of experience working with varied groups of folk.

    Some of these were adamant that they were not creative types and we still managed to work together and to produce and implement some very creative ideas.

    I have been thinking about the common factors with all such groups in getting to solution implementation and these are the ones that seem most important:

    1. Agree on the objective that the person or group is aiming to achieve.

    This needs to be in some detail. I use a goal setting method called POACHER and it is interesting to notice that many ideas have generated from this initial scoping exercise.

    A detailed description of what is to be achieved is very important with groups as many people will be aiming at different goals to start with. Whilst this is creative in itself it can be unproductive later on when people start to discount some ideas because they are not aligned properly to “the goal” that they have.

    2. Be clear about roles. It is essential to have a facilitator who does not get involved at all in the content of the ideas or their merits. Ideally I would have someone who has no background in the content at all. Most of the sessions I have facilitated have been for groups where I knew nothing such as car engine design, actuarial valuations, sea fishery protection and many others.

    3. Are you trying to change behaviours so that people are more creative or to use creative techniques to produce a solution to a problem?

    Solving a problem using creative techniques is relatively straight forward if the facilitator knows which techniques will generate what in terms of ideas.

    It is also important to scope the session, however long it is so that the group test the problem, clarify the goal, produce ideas and an implementation plan, at least at high level.

    This approach usually gets fast and effective results (sounds like a painkiller).

    In this way many solutions have been produced in as little as two hours. The fact that a result is achieved often attracts further interest by the participants as to the techniques and how they are used.

    If the objective is to help people take a more creative approach and change their behaviours by doing something different I start with self awareness sessions initially so that the target audience start to appreciate other perspectives and see the value in them. This will also help them respond more positively to techniques which are not aligned to their own learning style etc.

    4. Have a great opening exercise for any creative session which shows how important it is for everyone to participate and be included. If you want one of these please get in touch.

    N [dot] hindley1 [at] btinternet [dot] com

    Cheers and good luck.

  2. Teach Creativity? Not exactly ..
    Hi Craig, a couple of thoughts on this. Whilst I would agree that some of us are more creative than others, I sometimes think creativity can mean different things for different people. For a long time I didn’t believe I was a creative sort of person as unlike my mum and sister, I can’t draw or paint to save my life, neither can I sculpt or do things with pottery. However I can put steps to a piece of music and create a dance. I can write a training course from scratch and I can compile (what I hope will be) a sensible answer to your question. So therefore, I must be creative!

    I think the first issue here is the employees have no incentive to produce worthy answers to the problems posed to them. If the request came as part of a competition for example, you may find they produce the most extraordinary suggestions. Essentially they’re saying what’s in it for them? And on the face of it, nothing! So if there is something to gain from their brain drain it just might do the trick.

    Secondly, it is very easy to fall into a nice comfortable trap with job and life where inevitably, creative juices are not used and simply run dry from lack of use. You may want to consider running some ‘fun sessions’ perhaps over a couple of hours with lunch or coffee and doughnuts thrown in (another incentive!) where you put people through team building games and activities to challenge these creative juices. I can recommend books by Gary Kroehnert which can be purchased through Amazon for around £15 to £20 as they come packed with all sorts of games which challenge thought processes, perceptions and insights. Just a couple of hours of thinking and behaving differently can be an amazing catalyst and the team orientated environment can work wonders.

  3. Where are you coming from ?
    Your question sounds like a ‘them and us’ situation – as they say, if I were you, I wouldn’t start from here.

    If ‘they’ are not coming up with the answers you want, is training the answer because it’s their fault? I think not.

    Who is driving the initiative and why? Are you saying that business managers are not interested in the future of their business ? If not, address that conundrum first. If so, why are they not on board with what you are trying to do? How will you get them on board ? What IS your agenda and and approach and how is that helping or hindering ?

    To answer your question directly, creativity can be encouraged in everyone, not least by good facilitation using a few tools and the right motivation, as suggested previously. Usually, it does not need to be ‘taught’. A lack of creativity ‘skill’ is not the problem here.

    Peter Dunn

  4. Yes You Can!
    It is possible to teach creativity and innovation but the real issue is building a culture of contribution in your organisation. All contributions have to be welcomed; the vast majority implemented and no stigma attached to failing. On the back of this simple creativity processes can generate shedloads of brilliant contributions.

    Basically you need to unlock some of the potential in your staff. They need to be engaged and feel valued and they need assurance that someone isn’t belittling their contributions.

  5. Idea Generation techniques
    I run a half day Innovative Thinking Course that goes through a number of techniques for coming up with ideas. If people like to think in a structured way, giving them a structured technique to work with can really help. I ask people to come along with some problems that they would like to have new insights on and we always come up with some new ideas.

    I recommend “Instant Creativity” by Brian Clegg and Paul Birch and “Thinkertoys” by Michael Michalko and there are a number of good websites too.

    Hope this helps


  6. If you always do what you have always done…
    Hi Craig
    So can you teach this or not… interesting… the truth lies somewhere in between.

    You say they come up with the same things – what ways have you tried to spark creativity? if they get asked different things in the same way – ultimately they will get into a pattern of thinking.

    Creativity takes new ideas form all – sometimes to give and sometimes to receive (the idea). A lack of creativity is a two way thing.
    Have you read the work of Byrd and Brown? (The Innovation Equation) They look at what innovation is from a behavioural point of view and explore ways of eliciting creative behaviours to contribute to the innovative culture. In their mind Creativity does not equal innovation – but creativity is but one factor. many people focus on the creative part but at the cost of ignoring other parts of the equation.

    Some times the best solutions are dull. Dull does not equal ineffective or demonstrate lack of innovation. If currently your email signatures lack consistency then your customers will pick up on this and this will be a sign that parts of the organisation do not communicate.

    Have you encourages activities to contact other customer service providers to see what they do – especially those in other sectors to you.

    How is customer service satisfaction being measured – it is in the eye of the beholder – all you need to do is deliver on what is being asked on your survey questions – better to focus on what is being measured than ‘blue sky’.
    Mike Morrison

  7. Just give it Time
    Have your managers attended any workshops? Most organisations don’t put much value on creativity training – they want it done in one or two days due to pressures of normal business.

    Change takes longer than this and it should include a drip feed approach to keep reinforcing a different way of thinking about problems, in addition to workshops and optimising the culture for improved innovation. I wrote and implemented an intranet program of constant creativity stimulation to complement workshops whilst at abbey national. After a month or two people were starting to say that their thinking was beginning to change.

    If you spent most of your working life thinking in business mode you can’t expect to jump to creativity mode when you need to. If you want evidence, look to research studies on exercising the brain which shows definite improvements in thinking ability. As an aside, people who say they can’t draw can show remarkable results after training to remove the interference of the logic.

    So your problem is how to convince management that spending time on developing creativity is worth it. Will they see it when they believe it or believe it when they see it? The alternative is coming up with the same old ideas, which eventually lead to business extinction.

    I’ve spent the last 15 years wrestling with this issue and conclude that it can be done – Just give it Time.


  8. Setting an example is the key
    There is a lot of good advice already given. I find that brainstorming is really helpful. Not just once on a course but as a routine tool. When they see creative ideas are not going to cause them embarrasment you will find they become more and more creative in their ideas. Use a proper brainstorming tool like mind genius to facilitate the sessions. It needs to be done on many occasions then as attitudes change they will ask for further information and techniques to develop creativity.

  9. creativity & innovation
    Can you train people to BE creative? Probably not, but you can give them help to think in a more creative way. If you want people to get out of the rut they are in, and think differently, it sometimes helps to physically remove them from their usual surroundings. Alternatively, another way to look at this particular issue you want them to innovate around, is to ask them to think about something they do really well, something not to do with work perhaps, and map HOW they do it: what motivates their excellence, what reward to they get from it, whats easy about it, what’s worth doing about it, how do they respond when it’s difficult, (and any other questions that seem relevant to you and them) and apply those skills and attitudes to the area they are being ‘dull’ about. Scarily easy, with some issues and some people. Good luck. Cherry Potts

  10. If you run out of ideas you go out of business.
    In this context we are talking about creativity which involves coming up with fresh novel ideas.

    This can be taught, but my belief is that this type of thinking often opposes that which is used to run the normal processes of business. That’s the problem. If we spend 95% of the time thinking in business mode then it will swamp the 5% of time when we need to think in creativity mode.

    Don’t accept perception at face value – spend lots of time on problem exploration – restate ‘increase customer service satisfaction levels’ multiple times. What does satisfaction look like? Immerse them in it.

    Doubt more and break assumptions about satisfaction

    Make things simpler – don’t be over influenced by ‘smart talk’ Drill down into the issue by asking ‘what’s stopping us increase ….’

    Avoid brain draining (getting same solutions), by using external stimuli and force fitting it to the problem

    Break patterns by starting from an illogical start point.

    Think from the future not the present.

    Disrupt thinking – Reverse brainstorm how to decrease …

    Use different senses – role play, collage, models to represent your problem

    There is a whole series of mental strategies which can be taught and which do have an effect on how we tackle ‘wicked recurring problems’. It takes time to change thinking but the business mode can’t be bothered to wait. Your managers have to get back to real work! Of course there’s no guarantee, but you only need one great idea to make it worthwhile.
    It’s difficult to run a business and be creative at the same time. That’s why most businesses eventually fail – because they run out of ideas.


  11. Innovation yes – Creativity maybe?
    I was a consultant for a problem solving consultancy firm in the US for many years and they used to teach a problem solving methodology that was unbeliveably far from being creative or innovative. However having studied an MBA and specialised on innovation within projects I truely believe that innovation can be managed and taught and have based a company on it for the past 7 years.

    HOWEVER…there needs to be a distinction between Innovation and Creativity. In my humble opinion they are 2 separate skills and concepts. We have worked with some of the most innovative companies worldwide (mobile phone manufacturers, media companies, food and beverage companies etc.) and they actively plan to be innovative! It sounds very odd, but using an integrated innovation process or framework they plan to be innovative and are very, very successful at it. ‘Innovation’ being the practical application of ideas for a business end.

    On the other hand ‘creativity’ (which is the generation of ideas) is only a part of the innovation process and some very successful organisations have even looked to “outsource” this using Open Innovation concepts (very successfully too!). As to teaching people to be creative – I have seen how creatvity processe can be used to help staff think differently but I’m not sure about the results as yet.

    However I am absolutely convinced that companies can become more innovative and can teach managers to manage innovation much more effectively. So much so that I believe that Innovation Management is one of the core managerial competencies for this century and fundamental if UK businesses are going to be able to compete on a global stage. The 6-P Integrated Innovation Framework is a very good start – happy to talk it through if interested.


  12. be clear about what you want
    Hello Craig,

    My view on this is that creativity means very different things to different people. Get the meaning commonly understood and it helps people work together better.

    Yes, you can train people to be creative, if you measure ‘creativity’ by the quantity and quality of ideas produced.

    There are some good processes around, based on solid research. See: for this. People have very different styles for solving problems. See: It may be that your own style prefers more radical ideas, but remember that most changes in large, successful organisations are incremental. Look at these over 12 months and they really add up.

    You ask how to teach it.

    My approach is first, to give people feedback on their preferred style. I’m trained in Kirton’s measure, and rate it highly. They then understand why diversity of styles helps effectiveness, and isn’t just a corporate social responsibility tick.

    Second, I’d typically, get people working in diverse teams, with facilitators trained to help the team think creatively.

    A final thought, in your organisation, who decides if the ideas are any good? Sometimes the panel that makes this decision is biased one way or the other in their preference for types of ideas.

    Best wishes,

  13. innovation..creativity…
    This thread is developing in some interesting ways…
    Have a look at the work of J Byrd, based on the work in the 60s & 70s from Dr R Byrd on Risk Taking and Innovation.

    In her book by the same name she talks about “The Innovation Equation” where:

    Innovation = Creativity * Risk Taking

    Where Creativity is the ability to develop NEW ideas

    Risk Taking the ability to DRIVE new ideas forward in the face of adversity

    and Innovation is the ACT of introducing something NEW.

    Yes definitions are important if we want people in our organisations to buy-in to the change (its all about clarity).

    Byrd defined these as behaviours that can be developed.

    Interestingly in the context of this thread and question, maybe it is not the creativity that is actually required to be developed, but the risk taking part – which is the ‘putting in to action’ the creative ideas. Maybe these individuals think of interesting new ways but for reason of culture or experience are reluctant to show the ideas in public. This is not uncommon.

    Byrd has a simple inventory called “The Creatrix“, which is psychologically sound and is a great non-threatening development tool.

    Certainly diversity is a strength in any form of change and using and celebrating the different ‘Orientations’ identified by Byrd can also be a valuable approach.

    Craig having re-read your post again it is interesting you use of
    [quote]plan for each division to increase its customer service satisfaction levels and they came up with all the usual…. standard signatures, font etc which is just plain dull and rubbish. [/quote]
    If your manager hear the terms Dull and Rubbish – that is how they will reach – these are judgemental and sometime… just sometimes the very simple things if done consistently work. There are many groups of individuals that spot a ‘fad’ a mile away.

    From a customer service point of view the evidence is clear as to what makes good customer service – the goods easy to order – the right goods delivered on time and paper work easy and smooth, with polite staff throughout. The the real excellence in customer service – going beyond expectation when things go wrong or the customer has to change the order at the last minute – and that requires a certain type of culture to allow responsibility and authority for low level decisions.

    Useful sites include:;col1

  14. In summary…
    Hello Craig,

    Your question got a wide range of views. What value, if any, did you get from them?



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