The Case for Creativity

Creativity is the basis of innovation and change.

Complex challenges demand creativity – the process of using imagination and critical thinking to generate new ideas that have value.

Creativity is the most important quality for the future of work, civic life, and personal fulfillment.


Creativity: The top need for a changing world

Life and work are dramatically changing.  Entire industries are being upended through disruptive innovation and automation.  According to the World Economic Forum Future of Jobs report (2016), five years from now, more than a third of the workforce skills that we now consider important will have changed. The top three most important professional skill-sets for the future are complex problem solving, critical thinking, and creativity.   Being prepared for the careers of the future means being prepared to navigate constant change.

Global challenges of an unprecedented nature demand imagination, critical thinking, and collaborative action – creativity – of everyone, and this need for fresh thinking and innovation comes right to our doorstep.  Communities reel from thorny issues of poverty and addiction, assumptions divide families and friends, fear inhibits us from empathizing with those around us, heated rhetoric trumps civil discourse around the issues that matter to us the most, and feelings of disempowerment hold us back from imagining and creating change.  Grappling with these challenges requires the mindsets and sense of agency that come with creative thinking and action.

Creativity prepares us to engage in an unknowable future, and it supports us to be active agents in our lives now.  Creativity is deeply intertwined with personal fulfillment, empathy, perspective taking, and change.


Moving Past the Myths

Experts from diverse fields are increasingly emphasizing the need for creativity. At the same time, several commonly-held myths about creativity and about education hold us back from building our own creative confidence and capacities.  It is important to acknowledge these myths and the biases around them so that we can move forward in fostering creativity for ourselves and others.

The Myth of the Lone Genius

For example, many people consider creativity something intrinsic to “creative types.”  According to this myth, special people are born with genius; you either are or are not “creative.”  Instead, creativity is a process anyone can engage in; the habits that support divergent thinking and originality can be practiced and strengthened. The impact of this myth is similar to the impact of having a fixed mindset rather than a growth mindset, per the research spearheaded by Carol Dweck.  People with a fixed mindset see intelligence and talent as fixed traits; in their minds they either are or are not smart, they either have or do not have a particular skill.  In contrast, people with a growth mindset recognize that intelligence and skill grow as the result of effort.  Research suggests that individuals with this growth mindset learn more and faster, and are better able to recover from setbacks.  Believing that creativity is something we are born with, holds people back from engaging in the creative opportunities all around them, and building the habits that support creativity.

Creativity isn’t something that special people are born with. Creativity is something we can all practice and participate in by imagining, experimenting, synthesizing, collaborating, wondering, responding, questioning, and reflecting to create ideas that have value.

Distinguishing Skills from Ideas

Another common myth is that creativity is about the traditional skills of art making.  Often people believe that if they are not readily talented at drawing or at playing the violin, that they are not creative.  Responses like these often result from unfairly comparing ourselves to people who have dedicated significant time and energy to building skills and technique.  More to the point, skills like drawing or playing the violin are just that – skills.  Drawing is one way of bringing an idea into the world.  From the stand-point of creativity, the common practice of illustrators copying works by other artists in order to build their technique and visual vocabulary is a very different act from that same illustrator using their skills to bring an original idea into being.  They are both valuable and support one another, but one has more creative value because it involves using imagination and critical thinking to generate a new idea with value.  Similarly, practicing a well-loved composition can have great value for a musician; composing an original piece (even if it doesn’t rise to the same level of critical acclaim) is the more creative act.

Creativity and skill (or technique) can feed one another, but they are different.  Highly unoriginal ideas can be manifested through drawing and painting, and – more to the point – profoundly creative work can be found in any discipline.  Incredibly original thinking can be expressed with low-levels of technical execution, or indeed (as is often the case even in the arts) in objects fabricated by someone other that the person who came up with the idea.  It is ideas that are creative.  The products of creative ideas can be a poem, a mathematical proof, or a device that revolutionizes the way we fold fitted sheets.

Skills and techniques are the way we bring ideas into the world. Ideas are what is creative, and creative ideas can be manifested in products of any kind and in any discipline.  Limited skills in a given technique is never the same as limited creativity.


Thinking like an Artist

Art and artists do not have a monopoly on creativity.  However, both play distinctive roles in society and yield lessons for creative thinking.  Art and artists can give us fresh perspectives on understanding and engagement in a complex world.  Close investigations with art can push us to surface new insights and perspectives – stretching our imaginations and upending our assumptions.  Artworks manifest ideas, and exploring works of art can in turn activate creative and critical thinking in viewers.  Moreover, the practices of artists can be broken down to give insights to foster our own creative development.  Artists are models of creative thinking.  The habits of artists engaged in creativity are the habits of creativity in any domain.

The Columbus Museum of Arts seeks to foster creativity in the community by cultivating the habits that characterize artists’ creative processes, and by crafting intentional engagement with art through strategies that provoke critical analysis, empathetic thinking, complexity, and imagination. These ways of thinking advance personal fulfillment, foster social bridging, and form the foundation of professional engagement in a rapidly-changing world.

Exploring the creative process of artists can help us build the habits for excellence and empowerment in any field.

We know through research that the public values creativity¹, and that engagement in creative pursuits fosters a sense of well-being.  We also know from the research that business and public sector leaders identify creativity as a top level need for the future of the economy², and that professions that require creativity are less susceptible to automation that others³.  Finally, we know that uncreative behavior is learned – that as children get older, they perform worse on assessments of divergent thinking, with significant drop-off happening in the first few years of formal schooling ⁴.

So, what does creativity look like in learning, and how do we nurture it?  

¹ Adobe State of Create, 2016
² Americans for the Arts, Arts Navigator Guide:; IBM global CEO survey 2010
³ ‘Creativity vs. Robots: The Creative Economy and the Future of Empolyment’ Nesta, 2015
 ⁴ Newsweek, Most Likely to Succeed