The Calculated Creative

Rethinking Creativity Training: How to Cultivate Your Creative Potential

The structured optimism of research-backed instructional design is our path for progress.

Creativity is often seen as an innate talent - you either have it or you don't.

But what if creativity could be taught?

More and more research shows that with the right instructional approaches, creativity is a skill that can be developed in anyone, even those who don't consider themselves particularly "creative types".

We may need to rethink our assumptions about creative ability.

The Flaws of Standard Creativity Training

Standard programs that claim to teach creative thinking often fall short. A few common flaws include:

  • Over-emphasis on "brainstorming" wild ideas
    • While brainstorming has its place for generating new concepts, creativity experts argue it has major limitations in developing practical creative skills over time. Brainstorming introduces too much randomness rather than helping learners practice and incrementally improve how they come up with, evaluate, and refine ideas.
  • Encouragement to purely "think outside the box"
    • Lateral thinking outside established paradigms is valuable, but even inside-the-box solutions can be highly creative in the right context. Creativity depends enormously on contextual constraints and objectives. Training that doesn't incorporate real-world goals into the creative process over-indexes on ideas that may seem clever but have limited practical application.
  • Lack of structure and concrete personalizable strategies
    • Creativity requires both divergent AND convergent thinking - generating many ideas then critically analyzing and focusing down on the best options. But many creativity programs overly focus on the first at the expense of teaching structured skills for the second. They fail to personalize training by identifying each individual's creative strengths and development needs.
  • One-size-fits-all approach
    • Creativity is domain-specific. A mathematical proof requires different creative insights than a novel, poem, product design, or scientific hypothesis. Effective training should be tailored to both the areas and skill levels that matter for particular trainees.

While good in intention, these flaws severely limit standard creativity training programs from achieving consistently positive and practical real-world impacts.

A Better Way: Evidence-Based Instructional Design

An instructional design approach can address many weaknesses of existing creativity training:

  • Focus training on authentic creative challenges learners face in their roles to cement new skills
  • Guide learners to practice both divergent thinking (generating many ideas) and convergent thinking (pruning down options using critical analysis)
  • Provide structure and scaffolding designed around validated learning principles to support incremental skill building
  • Develop interventions customized to knowledge domains and base difficulty on skill levels and growth needs
  • Draw from the expanding evidence base for what factors actually appear to develop creativity in order to continually optimize training

Properly designed instruction transforms creativity from purely right-brain "magic" to evidence-based and actionable left/right brain skill development.

Some examples of scaffolds in instructional design that can expand creative skills:

  • Deconstruction of existing high-creativity examples to understand and adopt principles
  • Divergent thinking warm-ups to strengthen ideation muscle before addressing harder problems
  • Convergent thinking cooldowns by evaluating classes of ideas against contextual success metrics
  • Creative pattern databases tailored to different domains from which to borrow template solutions
  • Gradual progression in problem complexity and solution requirements to ratchet skills

This approach draws on empirical insights about real-world creative performance - not stereotypes about eccentric genius personalities. The focus stays on nurturing the creative potential in every learner rather than seeking innate pre-existing talents.

Optimism for the Future

Evidence-based creativity training focused on unlocking potential gives us ample reason for optimism. We can cultivate creativity as a skill in all types of learners rather than viewing it as a fixed trait some possess and others don't. This has enormously positive implications across education, scientific research, technological innovation, business leadership, and society as a whole.


The Takeaway

With more research, we can continue refining training approaches.

Though developing broad and lasting creative skills may require more targeted effort than simply encouraging initial brainstorming, creativity becomes an achievable goal.

The structured optimism of research-backed instructional design is our path for progress.

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