Innovation and creativity at work: innate abilities or learnable skills?

Is creativity a talent we’re born with or a skill we can learn? A quick search on the internet will show that it’s probably both. We are all born creative, but are educated out of it, and then have to re-learn it as adults, for example how to draw.

My attempt at blind contour drawing: an exercise to improve observational skills and hand-eye coordination. It’s also an example for setting artificial limitations.

To be innovative needs creativity. As most companies and entrepreneurs want to be innovative, they will aim to be creative, create an environment that is conducive to creativity, and either higher creative people or train their staff to be creative if they believe it is a learnable skill.

Today, I listened to Episode 8 of the podcast by LearnJam (one of my favourite companies to work for) on innovation. I’m not going to try to summarise it, but I have taken a few notes, which I would like to share. It’s worth listening to the whole 45-minute conversation.

My notes

  • creativity in a company – not something unstructured and just for fun, but something that has value for the company
  • creativity can be learned
  • innovative climate at a company – what is the reaction to failure and mistakes, punishment or a frame of mind that accepts mistakes as ‘lessons learned, how we move forward’
  • sometimes innovation is like Apple’s iPhone – completely new, big leap, but more often it is like Amazon – small, incremental improvements that lead to a great success in the future. The first type of innovation is extremely rare, but by making everything a little better each time, you can also innovate over time
  • cognitive bias: familiarity bias: ‘It’s working, so leave it and continue doing it the same way’ OR ‘If it’s not broken, break it.’ Look at your processes and procedures, or products. Perhaps it’s working/selling, but if we spend a bit of time and think about how to do it better, perhaps we can improve it and either save time or improve the product.
  • So, innovation is not about making huge sweeping changes. It’s not really about breaking things especially if there are repercussions for everyone involved, it’s about making ‘micro changes’.
  • So, how do you train people to become creative? Give people structured ways of thinking: tools, processes systems, such as design thinking, divergent and convergent thinking, imposing artificial limitations (read this article for more on how limitations can increase creativity), etc.

Nick mentions an innovation adoption theory, which is explained clearly and entertainingly in this short video.

Are you interested in finding out more about innovation and creativity in entrepreneurship?

All the above ties in very well with the information in this course by the University of Bristol on FutureLearn I took not long ago (Well, I have to admit I sped through it in two weeks just before the course ended): Unleash Your Potential: Innovation and Enterprise (it will run again in February 2021). If you don’t have the time to work through the whole course, there is a plethora of links and downloadable resources, such as related videos, articles, exercises and materials that you can bookmark and go back to when you have time or when they becomes relevant.

Innovation and creativity in language education

Both creativity and innovation are important in EdTech, material design, learning experience design and teacher development. Here’re a few books that you might want to check out if you are interested in this topic, and all of them are available for free:

Innovating Pedagogy Reports – Open University annual innovation reports in collaboration with different partners each year. From the website: ‘This series of annual reports explores new forms of teaching, learning and assessment for an interactive world, to guide teachers and policy makers in productive innovation.’

Creativity in the English Language Classroom – A British Council publication. ‘The focus of this book is on practical classroom activities which can help to nurture and develop our students’ creativity.’

Creativity in English Language Teaching – by the ELT Council, Malta. ‘This book presents the views of a group of teachers, trainers and researchers, all of whom share the belief that creativity needs to be an intrinsic aspect of English Language Teaching.’

The Image in English Language Teaching‘All of the papers in this book urge teachers to use images critically and creatively, and encourage students to resist the passivity they might feel towards images. Every single contribution is meant to help both teachers and students become more active viewers and more visually literate.’

The Innovations in… series by the British Council, for example, Innovations in learning technologies for English language teaching

Some questions to think about

  • How important is creativity in your field and for you personally?
  • Do you believe creativity and innovation can be learned?
  • Have you tried to improve in this area? What did you find out? What worked for you?
  • Do you have any resources on creativity and innovation that you’d like to share?