10 Reasons to Flex Your Creative Muscle: From Foursight

Here’s an excerpt from the upcoming creativity book “Wired to Innovate: Thrival Skills for the 21st Century,” by Gerard J. Puccio, PhD, John Cabra, PhD and Nate Schwagler MS. Published by Sage due out Fall 2014. It was announced in the Foursight February newsletter and serves as good inspiration for gearing up for World Creativity and Innovation Week April 15 – 21.  Thanks guys!

10reasons10 Reasons to Flex Your Creative Muscle

#1.  Creativity trumps intelligence.
How can you tell who will grow up to be a genius and make an extraordinary contribution to society? Measuring Intelligence Quotient (IQ) seems a logical place to start. Stanford psychologist Lewis Terman and his colleagues followed a group of intellectually gifted children (with IQ scores ranging from 135 to 200) for 70 years. Surprisingly, as the group matured, they produced few successful writers, musicians, artists, innovative scientists, or creative mathematicians. Taking another approach, researcher Paul Torrance measured divergent thinking—the ability to generate multiple options, ideas and solutions. He found that high childhood scores on his divergent thinking test were 300% more likely to predict how many inventions, how much creative writing, and other creative outputs were produced in adulthood. Intelligence may be a component of creative achievement, but it is a relatively weak one. Capacity for divergent thinking—which can be trained—appears to be the best cognitive predictor of outstanding creative achievement.

#2.  Stoke creativity. Get prosperity.
Today, it’s hard to find an organization that doesn’t have “innovation” in its mission statement. Professor Felix Janszen stated, “After the age of efficiency in the 1950s and 1960s, quality in the 1970s and 1980s, and flexibility in the 1980s and 1990s, we now live in the age of innovation.” And for good reason: Researchers tested whether innovation translated into bottom-line value for organizations. They compared more than 300 firms in their study and found that the most innovative firms enjoyed more than 30% greater market share, compared to the least innovative companies. The most innovative firms were the most active in applying creativity to develop new knowledge. The researchers concluded that, “creativity in problem solving is the main driver of new knowledge creation and innovation.”

#3.  “Future-proof” yourself.
Not so long ago, workers were celebrated for being stoic, reliable, independent and predictable. Comparing the results of a 2012 global IBM survey of both students and CEOs, there is a striking consistency in what both groups see as top personal characteristics for success in the workplace. Standing head and shoulders above all the others were “communicative,” “collaborative,” “flexible” and “creative.” These four personal characteristics “help the employees and leaders of tomorrow become ‘future-proof’ —able to continuously adapt by acquiring skills and capabilities that may not exist today.”

#4.  Lead in complex times.
In times of change, we need creative leaders who are not only flexible and quick to react to change, but also effective at driving change. Managers often promote the status quo. Leaders, by contrast, are expected to identify opportunities and bring about change. As creativity researcher Michael Mumford discovered, they have the ability to facilitate a group towards the attainment of meaningful goals, while solving problem along the way—embodying the very definition of a creative problem solver.

#5.  Solve “wicked” problems.
You face a problem whenever there is a gap between what you have and what you want. Some problems are “algorithmic,” meaning there is a single, logical solution. Other problems are “heuristic,” meaning that the solution is cloudy and indeterminate. The heuristic gap is much harder to bridge. These problems require creative thinking. Using our imagination deliberately enables us to generate novel breakthrough responses to problems, thereby bridging the gap and reaching new solutions.

#6.  Build resiliency.
Strengthening your ability to solve problems creatively makes you more powerful in the face of life’s ups and downs, improving your resiliency and psychological wellbeing. At-risk youth who have underdeveloped cognitive abilities may actually have difficulty seeing any possibilities beyond the present. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi showed that seeing alternatives improves coping skills, giving people the ability to choose how to respond to stressful situations. You are at the greatest risk when you see no alternatives. Creative thinking is about seeing, and generating, many different possibilities and the more alternatives available to you the more likely you are to find a productive way forward.

#7.  Embrace your human destiny.
Humans are creativity machines. Evolution made us that way. Our brain chemistry evolved in such a manner that humans have the unique ability to see in the mind’s eye—to imagine and picture new ideas. Economist Richard Florida reckons that more than 30% of adult Americans are now members of what he calls the “Creative Class”—individuals whose occupations demand that they apply imagination to develop new knowledge. When humans create they maximize their talents and capabilities. They achieve greater levels of satisfaction. They feel in control, confident and powerful. Creating becomes a journey of self-discovery.

#8.  It’s practically patriotic.
Historian Arnold Toynbee pointed out nations who actively seek to nurture creativity hold larger and more significant roles in making history, while those that ignore the creative potential of their people are inevitably surpassed by other nations. Indeed it was America’s concern for self-preservation that provided a strong impetus to creativity research in the 1950’s and 1960’s. With the backdrop of the Cold War, the US government expanded support for scientific research, founded NASA, initiated educational programs focused on science and technology, and provided financial support to creativity research. These actions clearly indicate the crucial role creativity played in sustaining and advancing society. And it is precisely this concern today that has fueled China’s interest in tapping into the creativity of its citizens.

“If we knew what we were doing, we wouldn’t call it research.”

— Albert Einstein

#9.  Be a life-long learner.
Creativity involves experimentation—a willingness to try new things, have new insights, and acquire new knowledge. Of course, knowledge can be gained through rote memorization, but this does little to develop higher-order thinking skills. Active learning through experimentation is more likely to engage people, both cognitively and emotionally. Through experimentation people learn to question, challenge, and combine existing knowledge in ways that leads to new revelations. Leading educational researcher Robert Marzano has argued that in the 21st Century learning environment, cognitive skills must play a dominant role in the curriculum. Knowledge fades quickly. Effective thinking skills are transferable, sustainable and vital in the 21st Century.

#10.  Dare for greatness.
Creativity lets you stand out—with the possibility of being outstanding. Creativity researchers Robert Sternberg and Todd Lubart describe their “investment theory” of creativity. Highly creative individuals, they said, can identify original ideas that at first have no or little perceived value and convince others of their merit, thus moving the value of the idea from low to high. Your greatest potential for gain is striking upon those novel ideas that others have yet to embrace, whether that be a new product or service, a new policy or process, or a revolutionary approach to teaching or performing. Of course, this is risky. You are defying the crowd. Thus creativity takes patience, persistence and courage. Heed the advice of Theodore Roosevelt when he said:

Far better is it to dare mighty things,
to win glorious triumphs,
even though checkered by failure…
than to rank with those poor spirits
who neither enjoy nor suffer much,
because they live in a gray twilight
that knows not victory nor defeat.

© Puccio, G. J., 2013. Draft chapter for Puccio, G. J., Cabra, J. F., & Schwagler, N. Wired to Innovate: Thrival Skills for the 21st Century. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Due out Fall 2014.

Gerard Puccio PhD and John Cabra PhD are both professors at the International Center for Studies in Creativity, in Buffalo New York. Nate Schwagler MS is a professor of business and entrepreneurship in Tampa Florida.

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