Posted April 1, 2014
By Mark Runco

My last blog for this site summarized the five problems educators are likely to face when they attempt to enhance creativity in the classroom. I just had a paper accepted for publication, the focus of which was that “many of the things that educators must do in the classroom to support the creativity of their students parallel the things that managers must do in an Organization to support the creativity of their employees.”

Here I want to summarize another article, this one titled “Creativity Training.” I was sole author. It was published a year or two ago in The International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences (N.J. Smelser & P.B. Baltes (Eds.), Oxford: Elsevier Science Ltd., pp. 2900-2903).

I can bullet point the main ideas about “training creativity,” though I must say that “training” was their term. The ideas below apply to the enhancement of creativity, though my preferred way to look at efforts along these lines is that they fulfill creative potentials. I believe that is the most accurate descriptor for creativity, instead of education, training, enhancement, and the like. As a matter of fact, that idea about potential was the first of the main points in the Encyclopedia article. Here is the complete list:

•  Enhancement is best viewed as the fulfillment of potential. Some people have more potential than others, but everyone has potential, and educational or enhancement efforts, if done right, can fulfill the individual’s potential for original and creative expression.

•  Cognitive enhancement efforts usually focus on (a) meta-cognitive tactics or (b) higher-order cognitive processes, such as problem solving, analogy and metaphor, and divergent thinking. Basic cognitive processes (e.g., attention and information processing) are less closely tied to creative thinking but are not irrelevant.

•  Many tactics for creative thinking (e.g., question assumptions, change one’s perspective) are interrelated.

•  Tactics usually focus on improving originality because originality is a requirement for creativity.

•  Some tactics focus on defining the problem while other tactics focus on solutions.  Some recognize that not all creativity involves problem solving so they target self-expression and the like.

•  Although many definitions of creativity presume that it is a kind of problem solving, problem solving is not always creative. The assumed relationship of creativity with problem solving has a large impact on the training procedures.

•  There are multi-faceted programs that aim to improve creative thinking, such as Destination Imagination, Synectics, Odyssey of the Mind, Future Problem Solving and Creative Problem Solving. These vary in terms of how well they are justified by sound theories of creativity.

•  “Creative Problem Solving” often involves brainstorming, but brainstorming is only modestly effective. Simplifying some, brainstorming may often fail because creative thinking tends to require autonomy rather than teamwork. Teamwork may come into play, but ideas tend to be more original when a person works alone.

•  The best enhancement programs recognize cognitive, metacognitive, motivational, and attitudinal facets of the creative process.

•  Enhancement is most likely when the individual is informed, and the information is of quality of information. However, the individual should avoid the assumptions and routines that may preclude original thinking. The relationship of information with creativity varies with the tasks and domains and individual, and there is an optimal level of information.

•  Many enhancement efforts attempt to change attitudes about creative work and assume that improved attitudes will motivate the person or organization.

•  When an individual is motivated, he or she is likely to benefit from training that includes tactics, explicit directions, or resources.

•  The motivation to do creative work may be difficult to instill because creative efforts are typically intrinsically rather than extrinsically motivated. In addition, extrinsic factors can undermine intrinsic motivation.

•  Enhancement may result from the manipulation of setting context, environment, and interpersonal processes. [It is not mentioned in the original Encyclopedia article, but the rCAB includes a useful “Creative Settings and Climate” assessment.] There are two sides to this: some contextual variables are related to the fulfillment of potential, while others should be minimized or avoided because they lead the other direction, they inhibit creativity.

•  Creativity is supported by environments which are flexible, which allow autonomy, and which provide resources and respect.

•  The most effective enhancement will take most or all facets of the creative process into account and is long lasting.

•  There is a “technology of generalization and maintenance” that can be used for exactly this purpose, to insure that creativity training is long-lasting.

As a reminder, this blog is one in a series. I will post another blog on the Fulfillment of Creative Potentials in a few weeks.