The Practice & Art of Thinking

Question – Is Everyone Creative? Answer – YeNO.


Creativity is as important as literacy and needs to be treated with the same status by our educational system – paraphrasing Ken Robinson.

Before addressing the question as to whether we are all naturally creative, I will look at what the educational system’s attitude to creativity is and I will also briefly look at the importance of creativity to our economic future.

The educational system up to now has treated creativity with total disrespect In fact, some would argue that we are educating people out of their creative capacities.

The problem is that the educational system does not treat creativity with the same importance as say mathematics, science and literature – the “important intellectual” subjects that will ensure well paid jobs.

Ken Robinson’s talk illustrated by RSA Animate – I recommend you watch the video.

Ken Robinson’s talk illustrated by RSA Animate – I recommend you watch the video.

The reason for this (as explained by Ken Robinson) is that our schooling system was created in the late 18th century with its main objective being to train people for the Industrial Revolution that was unfolding at the time. Today, we become educated for other important reasons as well but the premise remains – we, as a society, need a workforce and a society that can maximize economic benefit for individuals and the ‘country’ at a basic level.

From this perspective, our economic landscape is very different – acknowledging that change is a constant. We cannot know what the future will be like (see for some hints of the future) but, if we consider the YouTube Video as presented by Airbus below, for me the fundamental ingredient for the future is creativity that will be driving the economy. You be the judge.

The schooling system has treated us as products, churning us out in batches like in a factory – ‘one size fits all’. The tertiary educational system goes even further and trains professionals into narrower fields of focus. The creativity and innovation that we do manage to see emerges from individuals and groups that have broken the mould and look outside of their training – the truly creative people.

By RSA Animate.

By RSA Animate.

The philosophical point of view that created the system we currently have is failing us as a society. We desperately need to design a new system that will recognize what true intelligence is (or at least one that suits the new reality). I like Robinson’s definition of intelligence:

  • It is diverse. We think in all the ways we have senses (visually, kinaesthetically, orally, in abstract terms, in movement etc.
  • It is dynamic and highly interactive. This is the root of creativity. Creativity very often emerges from the interaction of diversity, not from the silo mentality or isolation.
  • It is distinct.

The current definition of intelligence is: the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills to a problem. This should not be a surprise – it is simply the result of the system’s reinforcement of itself. This means that we value the professions (who are nothing more than monopolies of knowledge) who service the ‘system’!

If we look at the figure below, each professional body will place a boundary around its view of what the problem is, leaving many aspects of the actual problem unresolved. Is this an intelligent and ethical way to solve ‘the problem’? Are we really solving ‘the problem’ or are we just creating other problems in the process?

Professional Silos. By Rui Martins.

Professional Silos. By Rui Martins.

The act of elevating creativity (and having it recognized as an important aspect of intelligence and to better problem solving) will have resistance from those that have flourished in the current system because they have been very good at playing in the current rules of society. But modernity has come and gone – we are using very old methods to address a different world. The cracks are showing and we are slow at recognizing the real world we live in. This is not difficult to understand because the ‘left-brain’ still has a grip on the rules of the game and they are not going to let go that easily. Change is painful, especially if it is going to hit the back pocket of the people in the drivers seat! After all, the explanation we get is things are going through a little adjustment but all will soon settle down (we must not forget the story of the frog in warm water).

In a previous post, I suggest that creativity is a sliding scale. By this, I mean that some of us are born creative and whilst others are not. However, it does not mean that the rest must sit and watch from the sidelines. I believe that creativity needs to be learned just the same way one needs to learn to read. If we learn to read, we are not expecting to become best selling authors. It simply means that we need that skill to navigate and make sense of this world, as well as make a contribution. The same with creativity – we need that basic awareness of creativity to be able to engage more fully, not only in the future, but as richer humans.

I know it might be a little controversial to say that creativity is genetic, especially when Robinson suggests that we are all naturally bursting with creativity, implying that we are all equally creative. I obviously say this based on intuition but that would not be very ‘scientific’. To be more plausible, I make reference to Torr, who has been a creative director for JWT (fourth largest advertising agency in the world) and author.

“ … creative people are different from other people … in a way that we’re only beginning to understand. And everything we know about them suggests that they’re creative because they’re different, not that they’re different because they’re creative. It’s a vital distinction.

Believing that everyone has the capacity to be just as creative as the next person is as ludicrous as believing that everyone has the capacity to be just as intelligent as the next person …”        (Gordon Torr, Managing Creative People, 2008)

According to Torr, there are three factors that make creative people different:

  • Biology. 
Research shows that creative people have different brain activity than others – lower levels of cortical arousal. This explains why their thinking is less inhibited and they can easily come up with ‘more absurd, dreamlike and just plain weird’ ideas than other people.
  • Motivation. Professor Amabile’s work demonstrates that creativity is strongly linked to intrinsic motivation. Torr adds that creative people are distinguished by ‘an all-consuming preoccupation’ with creative work, regardless of whether it brings them money or fame.
  • Personality. 
Many personality studies confirm the popular impression that creative people can be childlike, impulsive, fantasy-oriented, emotionally sensitive, anxious and ambitious. Torr’s work confirms the stereotype.

This view might not be a trendy one, however, it does fit intuitively with what I know and have experienced over time and by meeting seriously creative people. They are different, rebellious, individualistic and have great difficulty in conforming to the ‘norm’.

The tile: Is Everyone Creative? I suggest that we all can understand, appreciate and profit by learning about creativity. We can then help to facilitate its emergence more often in our world and not resist it because of blind ignorance. 

Author: Rui D S Martins

Creative Director and founder of MindVision Technologies

5 thoughts on “Question – Is Everyone Creative? Answer – YeNO.

  1. Just a question on the Professional Silo diagram.
    1. Is the mess/mystery the glue/interaction/missing piece between but not within the professional silos?
    2. Is there also a mess/mystery dimension within each professional silo?
    3. If 2 is yes, then is it the same as 1?

    Perhaps there are multiple planes of mess/mystery at different levels of hierarchy of each silo? So I would perhaps see (much like your purple cloud another lets say magenta and orange cloud with different forms, factors and contexts… ie parallel mystery planes based on context/worldview?

    Or have I missed the point?


    • Thanks for your comment marinehero.
      The silo diagram is meant to schematically show that the ‘problem space’ is a continuous amorphic entity. If professionals are to attempt to solve it from their professional knowledge domain (I suggest that professional knowledge is a monopoly – e.g like the guilds in the Middle ages – secret skills and practice), they will not solve the problem as such, because there will be aspects of the problem that ‘slips through the gaps’ between the knowledge domains of individual professions.

      The construction industry is a good example. We have Architects, Quantity Surveyors, Construction Managers, Civil Engineers etc. Yet, there are never 100% successful projects that run on time, on budget etc. Someone is always unhappy. One assumes that there is overlap of the silos but there is always some aspect of the problem that is neglected – simply because of the protective nature of the boundary established around the interests and selfish focus of the profession.

      We need broadly educated people who are creative and transcend boundaries – that is the objective of the visual. I am all for the liberal arts form of education.

      Hope this helps.


  2. Thanks for your response. I almost agree that the problem space is a continuous ‘amorphic entity’, excepting that I would like to propose that there are multiple ‘amorphic entities’ AE’s one per context/diminsion. Let’s say we have 3 levels of AE that cross-cut some or all of the professional silos.
    Let’s say AE (label A) is the problem space as viewed from project management perspective. AE (label B) from a Governance point of view which perhaps only covers 4 of the 5 silos, then AE (label C) which covers/touches only 3 silos from a shareholder’s perspective.

    See figure below: (hope this shows!)


  3. Sorry, I did not get the image.

    Are you suggesting that because there will always be different points of view, the problem is constantly being redefined? This implies that it never gets solved – correctly – and that in itself is ‘the problematic’.

    I suggest that the people/group who feels the pain or has a need defines the problem. It is up to any professional – be it one or 100 professionals (of no consequence how many ) to solve that problem fully, as described by the ‘client’. The different perspectives by individual professionals becomes noise, posturing and even politics. They are behaving within the constraints of their worldview.

    I am simply saying (my opinion) that the sociological history of professions could be re-cast as a history of the monopoly of knowledge (see above – Medieval). What do monopolies do? – they behave in a selfish manner and they are not very good at sharing and playing in the sand pit. I am not saying anything more, nor does the diagram try to model more than that.

    Looking at the end of your comment again – there appears to be a suggestion that there are different problems because there are different perspectives? No – there is one problem. The number of stakeholders does not make the problem different, it simply makes it more complex. The number of silos and its footprint is academic.


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