I took a Psychology of Creativity elective class in college, one of the best courses I ever took, and I would say an individual's creativity can definitely be maximized. Some of the basics of creativity such as the ability to brainstorm multiple ideas, divergent thoughts and to spin variations on concepts are refined through practice and adopting new techniques. Some are much more gifted than others in this area, but most can improve their creative output.
I completely agree with you, Al. I'm not so sure creativity itself can be taught, but the tools in which to foster creativity and spark a certain type of thought pattern can definitely be learned. Acclimating aspiring engineers in the disciplines around collaboration and brainstorming, as well as being open-minded to the ideas of others, is where it all starts.
I agree that creativity can not really be taught, but the right tools can spur creativity. Utilization of quality CAD systems can help to create designs through relatively free trial and error of different concepts before publishing the final design.
I read Edward de Bono's book, "Serious Creativity", about 30 years ago. This book helped me learn creative thinking and it has made a significant improvement in my creativity. I really don't think you can teach creativity very effectiviely but I do believe it can be learned as has been proven by many that have used de Bono's information.
I don't think that creativity needs to be taught. Most children have bags of it, there are very few that don't. I don't think that you can teach those few to be creative, they just don't have the mental makeup. However, the majority don't need to be taught.
So why are so few adults creative?
Well, it is probably because we have been taught that the flights of fancy needed for creativity are childish, mature people don't do that. We have also been taught that we must perform instantly on cue. Creativity doesn't work that way. Even the idea of "creativity on cue" which was mentioned as desireable opposes this truth.
Creative people think of a problem from all angles, they put their enthusiasm and love into it, they spend time on it. And after a time, the ideas begin popping. The issue is that they must believe in their ability to solve the problem, they must believe in the importance of the problem, and they must believe in their freedom to devote time to it.
Whether they are technically great has very little to do with it. They only need to be able to see farther than the problem.
This applies to Art as well. The "problem" is how to express the desired idea or feeling.
We get our creativity beaten out of us through incessant demands for instant results. The resulting stress and lack of time blocks the creative process.
There is an old story of a young manager visiting an engineering department. He sees an old engineer with his feet on his desk, staring out the window. Scandalized he talks to the engineering manager. "Don't you know he is just sitting around wasting his time?" "Shh!" answered the engineering manager. "Last time he looked like that he came up with an idea that netted us $100 million!"
It can't be taught but can be encouraged or stiffled. Sadly most creativiy is beaten out of people. Ever notice the really creative people don't do well in school?
I think I was lucky in that moving 5 x's in a yr made me fail 9th grade ending my schooling. This kept it from being beaten out of me, not like they could in my case but most are not strong enough to go against the flow.
Yet since then I've done things that according to engineers can't be done like 3D rounded bilged boat hull from 2 flat sheets. And designing, building 32' boats that go 25mph under power or sail. Others are cost effective wind and tidal generators that still after 30 yrs haven't been beat.
I drive my EV's at 20% of the price of a similar ICE using 1900-1960's tech others passed by simply by designing out their bad points and enhancing their good ones.
Unless you actually do creative things it doesn't mean much. Too many can't draw outside the lines because they are afraid to be different.
Creative people are those who are not afraid to fail, in fact we expect it or we are not trying hard enough. Most new things take at least 3 versions to get right, failing is a normal process we creative types expect.
You might have noticed that I go to the beat of a different drummer from my other posts.
A number of years ago I had a cube mate that couldn't design a fly swatter. He was one of the more brilliant engineers I ever met and was my first resource whenever there was something I couldn't understand. Without hesitation he drop everything, sit down with me, draw some graphs and carefully explain the lost concept. However, when he was called upon to create he could only waste time, hope that the deadline would pass and someone else would get the project. It wasn't long before he finished his PhD and returned to academia as the most gifted professor in the department.
Being creative is something that can certainly be nurtured and encouraged...or squelched. I think a person's creativity is also partially a result of his or her cultural influences. I agree that diversity in the workplace stimulates creativity because it brings new perspectives to light. I don't think an engineer is inherently less creative than anyone else, just because they are an engineer. Brilliant engineering solutions have been due to creativity. Just like any other skill or ability, each of us has been uniquely formed and some of us will naturally be more creative than others.
Some of the examples remind me of a musician and how the lines blur when talking about creativity. Some musicians can play a song that will bring tears to your eyes but can't compose a note on their own. Other musicians are brilliant composers. Some engineers intuitively understand any circuit or design that you place in front of them, but can't design one of their own. Others can design things that no one has ever thought of...
One thing that I have always tried to drill into my kids is that just because you are good at science and math doesn't exclude you from being artistic. A successful web page designer writes code and does graphic design. You can do anything that you set your mind on and desire to achieve. Maybe not as brilliantly as someone with a natural talent, but you can make up for natural talent in other ways...you just have to have the "want to."
If creativity can be taught, then we should be seeing Thomas Edisons graduating every year. If one can take a class in it, then there should be hundreds of Steve Jobs cranking out devices we didn't know we had to have, changing the world every day.
You're right, Sylvie. In addition to Edison, most of our technology heroes are the same, from Bill Gates to Steve Jobs. They used the creativity of others and created applications that took that creativity to the masses.
In my opinion, "creativity" cannot necessarily be taught, but it can be encouraged. Having worked with numerous PhD types, I realize that many of them have been encouraged to be quite "creative". Unfortunately, just creativity alone does not alway result in a problem solved or a good product design. Creativity must intersect with logic at some point. Unfortunately, only a few of the afforementioned PhD types could routinely produce creative ideas that could pass the logic test.
Picking a combination of known options is not my definintion of creativity. True creativity comes to play when there are no options to choose from - when one must create the option(s) as well as the intended project.
This is only open to the specially gifted. (Or in some cases by sheer accident.)
creativity is a talent/gift/capability that many engineers have. I don't think creativity can be taught. BUT ! there are strategies and techniques, that can be taught, that focus the creative effort and encourage the identification and development of creative ideas.
Yes, creativity can be taught just as it can be untaught in current schools. Everyone has ideas every day but they are seldom harnessed.
As young Rockwell engineer over fifty years ago, I came up with a novel pump design by looking for a specific reciprocating/rotary motion and realizing that it existed in a universal joint. Creativity is often a matter of seeing unobvious connections to come up with a novel result.
When I became a Deere patent attorney over fourty years ago, I started asking inventors how they came up with their ideas. Often, they said that they thought about a problem from many different ways and saw connections between various structures, equations, circuits, software, or other technologies so the solution became evident.
Over thirty years ago, Fluke Instrument needed to increase its patent portfolio. At that time, customer focus groups were being used for product improvement and new product development had just started. I asked engineers to meet in focus groups to come up with patentable ideas. This met with moderate success but the engineers in the same product line often had the same ideas.
Over twenty years ago, AMD faced Intel and needed a drastically increased patent portfolio to remain competitive. This time, I tried group meetings with engineers from different product and process areas to brainstorm for ideas related to specific areas. After some experimentation, it was discovered that two day meetings of inventors previously having patents directing their attention to a specific area would exhibit the greatest creativity. The invention disclosures went from less than a hundred a year to multiple thousands per year resulting in the patent filings going from 80 to 1,200 per year.
Over my years with my own patent law firm, I have continued to ask questions based on my knowledge of many different technologies and inventors have been able to greatly improve their inventions once they thought of the connection of their ideas with other technologies.
Creativity comes in at least six different forms and the above is just one of the forms. However, it does show that creativity can be taught...and more importantly learned.
Musashi I agree. Creativity can be taught and yes by making connections or associations creative and innovative solutions can be derived. The Mindmap is the tool I use to assist in the generation of making connections or associations. Freemind is an excellent mindmapping software tool to assist in making connections. I use Freemind software whenever I'm creating lab experiments and project assignments for my students or developing products and gadgets for my technical books and engineering customers. By using Freemind software creative elements are generated based on the attribute connections/associations for the device/product I'm working on. I've included a link for Freemind below.
mrdon, I agree on the usefulness of the association tools you use. The use of these tools really help those who are creatively-challenged and are fantastic in the hands of those who have high levels of creativity. You are a teacher with the right idea for fostering creativity in your students and an entrepreneur with the right mind set for serving your engineering customers.
One of the keys to this discussion seems to not just the ability for people to be creative, but also the need to combine creativity with practicality. judgement and other constraints to achieve, in the case of products, true innovation. Creativity by itself isn't the only goal.
While a number of comments point out some general characteristics about creativity, the idea of it being taught is possible. I do agree that not everyone may have the capacity, or desire, to be creative. Some people are just too limited in their internal thought processes, or just too timid, to go outside the narrow "accepted" line of "correct answers." Thankfully, this is a small minority. Most of us do have the ability to be creative, and come up with unique thoughts/solutions when given the chance. It is true that too many of our institutions, educational systems, jobs, social behavior... tend to discourage truly creative thinking.
When correctly done, creativity can be taught. Perhaps teaching it may be slightly exaggerated. It is more likely that it is already there, lying dormant, but can be encouraged when given the right circumstances and tools. There are programs that do promote creative thinking on the part of school-age children. One successful program is Destination Imagination. This is generally referred to as a Creative Problem Solving program. It involves over 100,000 children each year to come up with creative solutions to various Challenges. When one is familiar with the program, it becomes clear that the participants do learn to be more creative. They tend to be more open to take on different tasks/jobs that are typically beyond one's normal comfort zone, and looking for "outside the box" solutions.
Creativity taught or encouraged? Basically it is the same thing.
@RickNY: My two kids have done Destination Imagination for years and have both actually been on teams that made it to the Global Finals. I agree that this program's approach has definitely "taught" them to think more out of the box, but most importantly, to facilitate collaborative and creative problem-solving. One of the more valuable lessons, I think, is that creativity can't be accomplished in a vacuum. It's the notion of building on ideas and brainstorming with others that really produces the best results.
I retired from GE—Appliance Division and I can state categorically that right to left program scheduling was instrumental in squelching a great deal of creativity.It's really tough to be creative on demand and most of the "good work" was accomplished after hours when management went home. Another very real situation existed when a creative solution was found but current tooling had to be factored into the decision thereby negating the "fix".I know there are very real monetary constraints to any manufacturing issue, creative or otherwise, but sometimes the best solution is not always the most trouble-free solution.Thinking out of the box can be disruptive and heart-stopping if you are an accountant. Many times, I repeat many times, we do it that way because we've done it that way.
@bobjengr: I respectfully disagree with your contention that "the best solution is not necessarily the most trouble-free solution." I think a big part of engineering creativity involves understanding and working within constraints, including tooling constraints. A solution which can't be implemented without completely re-tooling a part may not be an economically feasible solution -- and if it's not economically feasible, it's just plain not feasible. If the part can't be made economically, it simply won't be made.
Economic realities are part of the design space in which we work, just as much as physical laws are. A creative engineer figures out ways to get around the limitations of the manufacturing process. Spending some time out on the shop floor is invaluable in this regard.
I'm with you Dave. As much as it pains me to say, management is not always without a leg to stand on. After all, if we are creative but don't meet the price point or miss the ship date, the business will eventually fail and we have to look for new jobs. In my career it's been more time than cost that's been the depressing constraint.
Other side of the coin: If a business wants to stay ahead and it looks years down the road (instead of the standard 3-6 months), IRnD money and hours MUST be available to do creative things (without the risk-averse management fear of failure). That way you are ready to drop a solution in when it's needed (luck favors the prepared).
I think most (if not all) successful Engineers are very creative. But their target audience demands their output work and meet the requirements. Creativity does NOT trump competence.
David, I certainly agree.I suppose I was just venting a little.As a matter of fact, since necessity is the mother of invention, I would say that most creative design result from "have to" and not "want to".I'm thinking back to the Apollo 13 era, you know—"Houston, we have a problem".The engineers were certainly faced with life vs. death problems in getting our astronauts back home. Their creativity under stress was the difference.I suppose guys like us will never really have unending budgets or time and that's probably a good thing. At GE we had a "kill the engineer" or drop-dead date.The only thing that would move the deadline was a safety issue.The real problem we had was meeting deadlines for the various trade shows, regardless of the program progress.A real pain that one.
Creativiity is inborn in some and can be nurtured in others. Just after we are born our parents and all next of kin are our best creativity promoters. They teach us how to create sound, walk, talk and the whole enchilada. Once we start talking the promoters become resistors. Dont do this and don't do that instead of "what if you did this instead, approach."
The moral of the stroy is that as long as we feign helplessness we are allowed to be and do things freely. As soon as we develop some talents, the same promoters turn in to objectors to anything one wants to do for the first time because one gets told that "the idea has already been tried several times in the past and it failed everytime."
Nurturing creativity needs permission from the various actors participating in ones play, to allow one to remain open and curious and childlike. The development of ones creativity starts at birth and nearly stops when one starts school.
Can people like parents, elders and teachers collaborate to let the creative juices continue to flow, in the way they were flowing in each child at birth. Working on projects with the creativty hat on, in the current environment, requires courage to bear criticism if the idea fails, even if one is in ones own business.
Those bold enough to practice creativity at all times, reap great rewards. Most important being non-financial, the feeling of satisfaction. My request, to those on the fence, is to jump on the side of creativity and satisfaction so you can sing, "I did it my way." In time, financial rewards will also come.
Perhaps, as some have suggested earlier, "creativity" does not come naturally to Engineers or perhaps it has been "beaten" out of them by the "system", but some Engineers are very creative, and I would argue that creativity is a huge asset to an Engineer. What do Engineers do? - they solve problems. Some times the solutions demand a fair bit of creativity and some times creativity just affords the best solution. I would suggest that the Engineer that brings exoboxic thinking to any problem has an advantage over the Engineer that can't.
So can it be taught? Well, I'm pretty sure it can be learned, so presumably it can be taught. It's obviously inherently stronger in some individuals and therefore they might be easier to teach, but all could benefit from some instruction. I myself have had some fascinating instruction in creative problem solving and I would definitely say it made me a better Engineer.
So, yes it can be taught. Not all individuals will attain the same level of creativity but all of us can be made more creative, with some effort.
Most people are generally creative, and most people agree that creativity can be taught in some degree. Some people are most creative when given time to think and others under stress with many people creative inbetween.
With the Internet, it seems that information, resources, and opportunity to benefit from that creativity are there as well as the ability to benefit from the creativity of others.
Perhaps the better question would be, "Given the creativity of people generally, why are we not being flooded by the results of that creativity?"
I think another reason why some engineers do not reach their full creative potential is that we tend to enjoy working on our strengths (math and science) instead of spending more time developing our weaknesses (creativity, innovation, art, etc.).
I'm not suggesting that any engineer can be another Leonardo just by putting more time into creative activities. I'm just saying that an individual's creativity can be improved by focusing more time and effort in this area.
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