Creativity can and should be taught

Organizations must put creativity at their heart, but that requires more than hiring great creative leadership, says WeTransfer's CEO and founder

Ideas are the currency of the 21st century — and all great ideas are rooted in creativity.

That’s why we recently commissioned research into America’s views on creativity, art and advertising.  By understanding what these concepts mean to Americans, companies have a real opportunity to connect with their audience and stay ahead of the competition. 

Creativity surrounds us every day of our lives, yet a wide majority of the U.S. population believes creative people are born, not made. Only 5% of Americans adhere to the idea that creativity can purely be taught, according to our research. That said, 91% of Americans see themselves as creative people, a figure that rises to 98% among 18- to 24-year-olds.

But I believe that creativity can be taught, nurtured and honed. The question is, how do we identify and unlock creative potential in people?

When we asked people to identify what facilitated their creativity, it was unsurprising to see that happiness is key, with two-thirds (66%) claiming it is a vital factor. Half (48%) of respondents said they feel creative in the workplace, assuming they are given a degree of freedom. Bosses demanding creativity doesn’t help this, apparently, with just a third (35%) of people saying they feel creative at work when under pressure to be.

Perhaps most surprising: Respondents said they are more likely to feel creative at work than with their friends. Taken together, these findings suggest that creativity thrives when people have a purpose and a direction, but also feel relaxed and happy.

This theory is perfectly summed up by the most popular definition of creativity from our research, by creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson: "Creativity is putting your imagination to work." To be creative, our respondents seemed to be saying, you not only need the freedom to let your imagination run wild in some shape or form but also need to maintain some direction and have a goal to meet a drive behind the dreaming.

This is great news for creative businesses. Yet when asked if advertising counts as a creative pursuit, fewer than half (47%) of Americans said yes, and only 38% expect to be emotionally stimulated or inspired when viewing an ad. The good news: There’s a strong potential to change this. Almost nine out of 10 (86%) Americans agreed that advertising can affect popular culture, and half (49%) have seen an ad that’s compelled them to tell a friend or family member about it.

I’d argue that advertisers and indeed the business world in general must put creativity at the heart of their organizations. That means doing more than hiring great creative leadership. There’s no excuse for relying on a select few people for all your creative ideas.

Instead, companies should strive to instill an environment and mindset throughout a business that helps people in every department feel empowered to realize their creative potential. You’ll find that new concepts will come from unexpected corners of the business.

For example, designers not tech gurus led the development of our WeTransfer smartphone app. And to stop us from getting stale, we bring in inspiring people to both complement and challenge our team’s way of thinking. Right now we’re asking 10 external designers to give us their perspectives on WeTransfer and its features.

From my experience, the heart of fostering a creative environment is in keeping your staff happy and on their toes, giving employees a true sense of purpose and direction, challenging both yourself and others around you to improve and making each person’s job a vocation.

Create that environment, make everyone an advocate. Then watch as the ideas flow.

Bas Beerens is the CEO and founder of WeTransfer.

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