Don’t be Afraid to be Creative

Being “creative” is an essential skill in most business environments. When I was an undergraduate engineering student, I learned about how to be creative. I didn’t learn it from classes, though; I learned it through the books by Edward de Bono. I will always be grateful to my friend Richard for introducing me to de Bono and the idea that creativity can be learned.


As I’ve grown older, I’ve expected schools and businesses to teach their people to be more creative. To my great surprise, they have seldom done so. A recent article on Quartz explained some of the issues.

Who is a creative?

Some years ago I toured a client’s offices. They pointed out the computer server room, the offices of the executives, and so forth. Near the end of the tour, they introduced me to the “creatives.” I was surprised to learn that these were the artists and marketing people – the software designers, writers, and programmers weren’t designated as creatives. The Quartz article indicates that this is still the case in many places.

I’m offended. I am a learning designer, a software designer, and a writer. To me, all three require immense amounts of creativity. So does delivering a course.

What is creativity?

Well, that requires a book-length answer! Authors like de Bono and von Oech have written on that, and I’ll share some links later. But for now, I want to say that creativity is far more than “innovation.” Colleagues have said to me, “I’m not creative. I could never invent something” or “I could never write a song.” Sure, those are creative activities, but any activity requiring thinking that isn’t pure emotion or pure logic is creative.  True, not all creative thinking is productive. Successful inventors often have myriad failures before a single success. Does that make them more or less creative? No! It makes them creative and tenacious.

How can you be more creative?

That requires another long answer. Here are two steps to help you release your creativity. I used the word “release” on purpose because those who research creativity have made it clear that we are all creative as children. It is as we grow older that we teach ourselves not to be creative – to ignore the creative ideas that pop up in our heads.  We hear from teachers and friends criticisms like, “that’s a dumb idea” or (the one I love to hate) “ It’s never been done that way” or “that will never work.”

  1. First, stop the blocking. When you have an idea, write it down or record it instead of squashing it in your head. I try to do this continually. It infuriates my wife sometimes when I have a pen and pad at the dinner table, but it’s necessary to keep from forgetting ideas.
  2. Second, actively look for new ideas. Say, “Can I improve this” at least two or three times a day. At the end of just a week, you will have some new ideas. They may not be new in the sense that nobody has ever thought of them before, but they will be new to you, and that’s the idea. The goal is to get into the habit of thinking creatively.

Resouces to grow creativity

I teach a Learning Tree course on critical thinking and creative problem solving if you’re looking for more ways to grow your creativity. Here are additional books on creativity that you can use as a resource.

  1. Edward de Bono – He’s famous for the concept of lateral thinking.
  2. Roger von Oech – His book Whack on the Side of the Head has been used in businesses for years.
  3. Gerard Nierenberg – His book on creative thinking is a bit old, but the ideas are still good.

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