Work-in-Progress: Creativity

Part of a larger puzzle I am trying to build, assemble, and turn into a self-directed alternative learning game — FlexQuest — to improve soft skills in student interns. I’ve written about this venture before, as I proposed to present it at the 2020 SXSW Edu (it was declined). As title acknowledges, it remains a work-in-progress.

To assist people trying to improve their soft skills — which we call “futureproof superpowers” — the game materials provide guidance about selected soft skills. Specifically, we describe what the soft skill is and how it is demonstrated or observed, as well as examples. As part of our P-TECH program, we have access to IBM’s highly developed Workplace Learning Curriculum, which likewise focuses on soft skills. While these provide excellent content for specific skills such as communication and collaboration, we focus on a couple of additional soft skills that curriculum does not directly address.

One of these is creativity. Here’s my initial effort at scripting a short video clip, with thanks to Sir Ken Robinson for his ideas on defining and measuring creativity.


Creativity is highly prized and greatly valued but widely misunderstood.

creativity iconWhen we hear someone is creative, many people think only of the arts or music or some similar endeavor. Yet, people can be creative in any effort. A chef who adds that personal touch to a traditional dish is creative. The carpenter who figures out a different way to build custom shelves in a specific location is creative. Creativity can even refer to business processes. Michael Dell offered build-to-order computers directly to customers to create the tech giant Dell Computers.

Not only can anyone be creative — everyone is creative in their own way. And everyone can work to improve their own creativity.

Creativity can be defined as a process of having original ideas that have value. There are 3 key components involved:

First, creativity is a process — not just a flash of inspiration. True creativity involves trial and error, repetition and refinement. You never see the first draft of a best-selling novel. You rarely hear a song that has not been worked over repeatedly to alter both words and music. A film involves multiple steps in a lengthy process involving lots of people — creativity is a process.

Secondly, creativity involves original ideas. Here’s where it gets tricky. How do we come up with original ideas?

To get original ideas, we usually combine existing ideas. That is, new ideas are usually mash-ups of old ideas. Chocolate had been around for centuries; peanut butter for years. But combining them into a peanut butter cup confection took creativity. A lot of people need to get somewhere while a lot of privately-owned cars sit unused much of the time. Mash ‘em together and you’ve got ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft. Westerns, like “Wagon Train” were popular on TV  in the 60s but the new space program piqued public curiosity — Star Trek was pitched as “Wagon Train in space.”

Adding value is the third part of creativity. Again, if we consider how ride-sharing works, the rider gets where they want to go, the driver earns money for the use of their car — and the ride-sharing company makes money, too. Win-win-win.

The point is that we do know how to use a specific process to come up with original ideas. We start by brainstorming new possibilities, but then the creative process involves trial and error. Not all new ideas will work. Creativity is not free-wheeling and formless. We can use the steps of a design process to refine raw ideas and see if they will provide real value.

Can we teach creativity? Yes, but not in the sense of “direct instruction” where a teacher tells you exactly what to do and how to do it. Teaching creativity involves giving students opportunities to explore and expand ideas while providing encouragement and guidance, mostly in the form of encouragement and mentoring.

How can we assess a person’s creativity? Again, we can reflect on the 3 components to ask: Did they use a process to refine a raw idea? Was that idea original in some way? And did the end result provide some kind of value?

Once we learn to think of creativity as a skill that can be learned, practiced, and improved instead of dependent on divine inspiration, we can help interns increase their own creativity.

About bullersbackporch

I am a native Austinite, a high-tech Luddite, lover of music, movies and stories and a born trainer-explainer.
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