Innovation

Can creativity training really improve your creativity?

Some people still debate whether creativity is something which only certain people are born with, or whether it can be developed in everyone.

Well, we have already previously seen that creativity is determined more by our nurture (upbringing) than by our nature (genes we are born with).

However, we have also seen that children appear to be more creative than adults, and that divergent thinking creativity rates fall as we age.

So is it possible for people to improve their creativity, even if it has fallen over time?

This is what a large body of research into the effectiveness of creativity training has set out to answer.

Creativity training can encompass a huge variety of activities and training methods which aim to help people better able to come up with creative ideas, and may include things like:

  • Teaching them techniques to multiply the number of ideas they come up with during ideation or brainstorming sessions
  • Practicing divergent and convergent thinking and coming up with creative solutions to problems
  • Help them understand the neuroscience of how ideas are formed
  • Help them understand the biases which lead to ideas being blocked
  • Have them engage in artistic activities, such as painting, music, improvisation or dance (often in a group setting)
  • Developing a habit of continuously generating and producing creative output and refining skills
  • Multiple other activities

But can these techniques actually improve someone’s ability to generate and execute new creative ideas?

After all, we have previously seen that most corporate creativity training is not actually designed to deliver results.

Research into the effectiveness of creativity training

There have now been hundreds of peer-reviewed studies into creativity training. Here are some of the noteworthy results:

  • A 1978 study showed that creativity training can be highly successful
  • A 1984 meta-analysis of 46 studies showed that around 22% of variance in creative performance could be attributed to creativity training
  • A 2004 meta-analysis of 70 previous studies showed that creativity training was effective in improving participants’ creative performance, especially when the training exercises was aligned with the domain
  • Another 2004 meta-analysis of 156 training programs showed that there were around 11 types of creativity training, some of which were particularly effective (idea production & cognitive training) while other types were less effective (imagery training)
  • A 2005 study showed creativity training in the workplace can result in people feeling and acting more creatively (at least temporarily)
  • Another 2005 study showed that creativity training was useful for students in a classroom setting
  • Another meta-analysis of studies from 2006 also found that the older a participant was, the more of a positive effect the creativity training apparently had.
  • A 2015 study of 180 participants over 9 weeks showed that creativity training not only significantly improved the participant’s view of their own creativity, it resulted in those participants producing more creative output
  • A 2016 study showed one 1.5 hour cognitive session (where students were simply taught about creativity techniques) was enough to result in a small improvement in creative performance
  • A 2018 study showed that teams who had been trained in creative idea-generation techniques outperformed groups who had not been trained, and that simply following a process designed to facilitate creativity was enough to enhance performance
  • A 2023 study showed that training participants of the value of persisting in creative challenges resulted in them being more creative

One study I was especially impressed by is from 2013, where Danish researchers Dr Morten Friis-Olivarius and his team taught people about how the neuroscience of their brain affected their creative performance.

This is similar to the work I do with clients and companies to understand the science of creativity. See my services here for more information.

His team found that this training improved creative performance in students by over 28%.

Applying the neuroscience of creativity to creativity training

Applying the neuroscience of creativity to creativity training

In his TEDx talk, Dr Friis-Olvarius also noted that when they tried this training with a small group of 25 experts, the improvement was over 71%.

I asked Dr Friis-Olvarius by email why this was not published yet, and his response was:

The experts creativity training was done on an it-department from a big danish insurance company, but there was only around 25 people involved and we did not have a control group. We therefore never attempted to publish it.

It was, however, remarkable how much the training affected them. I guess when you have been doing the same work for 10 years and you all of a sudden see it in a new way, it has a big effect.

See his TEDx talk on the subject below:

Can creativity training improve your creativity?

The research is pretty conclusive: Yes

When creativity training is well-designed, and appropriate to the domain and work you want to do, creativity training can have a significant effect on people’s creativity and creative performance.

However, not all training is created equal.

The types of training which appear to have the strongest effect are the ones which are either:

  • Tactical: Give individuals and teams specific techniques, frameworks or processes to follow in order to generate more creative ideas
  • Cognitive: Helping people understand the reasons why they and their brains generate (or struggle with generating) ideas, and provide actionable ways to address challenges, blockers and biases when they arise
  • Domain-specific: Providing practice and insights in the specific skills and techniques which a person will actually use day-to-day

The types of training which appear to be less effective are creativity training which get people to engage in a “creative activity” for a period of time, such as painting, improvisation, music etc.

While this can be a fun way for fun team-building and teams to spend time together, it is less likely to result in longer-term improvement in their ability to solve problems or come up with creative solutions.

So if you or your team have ever felt like their creativity could be improved, training can have a strong impact.

If you are interested in finding out more, contact me here.

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Creativity & Innovation expert: I help individuals and companies build their creativity and innovation capabilities, so you can develop the next breakthrough idea which customers love. Chief Editor of Ideatovalue.com and Founder / CEO of Improvides Innovation Consulting. Coach / Speaker / Author / TEDx Speaker / Voted as one of the most influential innovation bloggers.

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