Creativity – a natural talent or nurtured skill?

The question of nature versus nurture is a paradoxical one, an age-old debate, much like the question of what came first, the chicken or the egg? Specific skills, such as riding a bike or reading, are undoubtedly the result of deliberate nurturing, whilst personal characteristics are arguably more innate. But, what about creativity? Is creativity inherent, a talent acquired at birth by a select few; or is it a learned skill, honed with patience and practice, and available to the masses? We believe this is an intriguing argument, and so we set out to try and uncover a definitive answer…

 

“Is creativity inherent, a talent acquired at birth by a select few; or is it a learned skill, honed with patience and practice, and available to the masses?”

 

WHAT IS CREATIVITY?

Answering this question presents somewhat of a challenge, with creativity itself being difficult to pigeonhole. Heck, a quick Google presents at least 100 varying definitions of the word. Type ‘define creativity’ into the search engine, and you are firstly offered the rather basic view that creativity is the ‘use of imagination or original ideas to create something’. But it’s a bit more complicated than that, isn’t it?

Jerry Wind, marketing professor at Wharton, argues creativity is, first and foremost, about “an ability to challenge the status quo and come up with new and better solutions”. Thus, by its very nature, creativity is ambiguous, subjective and often divisive. Interestingly, Seth Godin, a bestselling author, points out that creativity often means being able to say, “this might not work”, but pursuing the idea anyway. Here at Shine, we believe creativity is all about the idea, and being able to confidently express that idea, throwing all caution into the wind.

 

“Creativity is all about the idea, and being able to confidently express that idea, whilst throwing all caution into the wind”.

 

THE IMITATION GAME

So, what of the argument for creativity being taught? Tina Seelig, the executive director of the Stanford Technology Ventures Program, certainly believes it can be. In her 2012 book, inGENIUS: A Crash Course on Creativity, she offers a practical set of tools to drastically enhance creativity and foster innovation, by introducing a progressive new model called the ‘Innovation Engine’.

Yet, we believe the prescriptive nature of methods such as the ‘Innovation Engine’, diminishes creativity, reducing it to a structured process – a formula. These methods then become far less about the kernel of a creative idea, and more about the end result – the popcorn if you will. We could even look at these methods as a microwave, simply a tool for reproducing bowl after bowl of popcorn. In this sense, they only offer imitation at best. But, whilst imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, it is not creative!

 

TWO WRONGS CAN MAKE A RIGHT

When you consider the truly original imagination of children, their ability to connect the seemingly uconnectable, it could easily be argued that everyone is born creative. In fact, George Land conducted a remarkable study in 1968 to test the creativity of 1,600 children, at the ages of five, 10, and 15. Among the five year olds, 98% scored at the ‘Genius Level’, whilst only 30% of the 10 year olds, and 12% of the 15 year olds reached this level.

So, it would seem that children lose their capacity to be creative as they get older. Why? Well, because too much emphasis is placed on wrong and right, according to George Land. In schools, for instance, the focus is often on mathematics and science, both highly logical subjects which provide little room for creativity. Even in English, when asked for a personal interpretation of a poem or book, there seems to be a right or wrong answer.

According to George Land, children use divergent thinking when they are younger, by subconsciously imagining original ideas – which may be rough initially. But, throughout school, children are taught to try and use both divergent and convergent thinking simultaneously – which is nearly impossible, as convergent thinking involves consciously judging, criticising and refining ideas. Yet here at Shine, we would argue that in order to retain our creative abilities, we must allow our minds to wander freely.

 

FEARLESS THINKING

Ron Schrift, marketing professor at Wharton, points out that creativity often involves failure. At Shine, we believe fear crushes creativity. Fear of being wrong. Fear of saying ‘it might not work’. Fear of going against the status quo. The key, then, is to create an environment where the seed of imagination can be planted, and creativity allowed to grow without restrictions. This means making time for daydreaming, logging off social media once in a while, and even turning off your phone occasionally.

But, whilst particular environments certainly help foster creativity, can creativity actually be taught? A person can indeed be taught methods that allow for more creative ways of thinking, but that does not necessarily generate a creative idea. Someone can also be taught how to solve problems, for creativity does not exist without a problem – but that, again, does not necessarily guarantee a creative solution.

If you ask us, creativity is ultimately about being fearless, and that is not something you can teach. It is about disregarding niggling doubts, laughing in the face of uncertainty, and sticking two fingers up to the status quo. Do you think David Bowie gave a second thought if people thought his trousers were too tight, or his eyeliner too heavy, or his lyrics a bit odd? Absolutely not. And it is that fearless attitude that allowed him to unleash his genius into the world.

 

“Creativity is ultimately about being fearless and, if you ask us, that is not something you can teach”.

 

So, whilst children may all be born creative, it would seem the world has a way of forcing it out of them. Yet, there is some hope. John Maeda, former president of Rhode Island School of Design, believes creativity can be rekindled in people, if they are in an environment that encourages convergent thinking. Perhaps, then, we are all like Peter Pan’s Wendy, capable of returning to the creative realm of Neverland if we so wish. But, it is only the truly genius creatives, the Peter Pans or David Bowies of the world, who never left.

We firmly believe creativity is an innate talent – one that can be turned into pure magical genius, if given the right environment and encouragement. And, of course, if fear is left behind. Here at Shine, we unleash our inner Peter Pans everyday, churning out unique and exciting ideas – all with a generous dose of Tinkerbell dust sprinkled on top, to help these ideas soar. You might even say we’ve created our very own Neverland, right here in the charming pintsized village of Hartley Wintney!

 

Do you think creativity can be taught? We’d love to hear your thoughts – so, tweet us @shine_creative! Or, if you would like to see how our creative genius can help your business, please email craig@shinecreative.co.uk.