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Anyone can be groomed to be creative

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Research from the Ohio State University has developed a method based on divergent thinking and perspective shifting that allows people to regain creativity lost during schooling and generate unexpected actions.

Two Ohio State University researchers, Angus Fletcher and Mike Benveniste, have developed a new method that empowers people to be creative. The results are published in the Annals of The New York Academy of Sciences.

The new method, based on narrative theory, helps people to be creative like children and artists: inventing stories that imagine alternative worlds, change perspectives and generate unexpected actions.

The narrative method works by recognizing that we are all creative, explains Angus Fletcher, developer of the method, in a statement.

“We as a society radically underestimate the creativity of children because we are obsessed with the idea that some people are more creative than others,” adds Fletcher. “But the reality is that we’re just not training creativity the right way.”

Divergent thinking

The current foundation of creativity training is the technique known as divergent thinking, which has been used since the 1950s. It’s a “computational approach” to creativity that treats the brain like a logical machine, explains Fletcher.

It works through exercises designed to, among other things, expand working memory, encourage analogical thinking, and promote problem solving.

Although divergent thinking has not delivered the results that many hoped for, because its computational approach is based on data and information about past problems and successes, the new method takes advantage of the brain’s narrative machinery to generate creativity.

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The narrative method of creativity training uses many of the same techniques that writers use to create stories. One is to develop new worlds in the mind.

change of perspective

For example, employees in a company might be asked to think of their most unusual customer and then imagine a world in which all of their customers were like that. How would that change your business? What would they have to do to survive?

Another technique is the change of perspective. A business executive may be asked to respond to a problem by thinking like another member of his team.

The point of using these and similar techniques is not to make the scenarios we envision actually happen, Fletcher said.

“Creativity is not about drawing the future, but about opening yourself up to imagining radically different possibilities,” he said. “When we do that, we can respond more quickly and agilely to the changes that occur.”

just like the kids

Fletcher noted that the narrative approach to training creativity through storytelling resembles the way young children are creative: Research shows that young children are more imaginative than adults.

But children’s ability to perform creative tasks declines after four or five years of schooling, according to studies. It is then that children begin intensive logical, semantic and memory training.

The narrative approach to creativity can help people unlock creativity they may have stopped using as they progressed through school, Fletcher said.

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Create Creativity, Don’t Hire It

An advantage for organizations that train employees to be creative is that they no longer need to go out of their way to hire “creative people,” he said.

“Trying to hire creative people causes problems because the people leaders identify as creative are almost always people like them. Therefore, they promote conformity rather than originality,” Fletcher said.

“It’s better to hire a diverse group of people and then train them to be creative. That creates a culture that recognizes that there are already creative people in your organization that you are not taking advantage of.”

It works

While this narrative method of creativity training has already been received positively, Fletcher and colleagues have initiated a more formal evaluation.

They are conducting randomized controlled trials of the creativity curriculum in more than 600 US Army commanders who are part of the Command and General Staff College.

The new method for training creativity has been devised at the Ohio State University Narrative Project. It has to do with how stories work in the brain. It is the foundation that helped put together this new way of thinking and empowering people for creativity, according to its creators.

Reference

A new method for training creativity: narrative as an alternative to divergent thinking. Angus Fletcher, Mike Benveniste. Annals of The New York Academy of Sciences, 10 March 2022. DOI:https://doi.org/10.1111/nyas.14763

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